Monday, July 12, 2010

Team USA MN coach Dennis Barker Talks About Trip to Europe

Several Team USA Minnesota members and coach Dennis Barker are in Europe as part of a USATF funded program to give US athletes the opportunity to compete on the European summer circuit. DtB asked Barker to provide some insight into what the experience has been thus far.

Down the Backstretch: What are you hoping to achieve, get out of this trip?

Dennis Barker: The main idea is to provide an opportunity for some young, up-and-coming US runners to gain international racing experience. One of the goals of our training group since we began ten years ago has been to help improve US distance running performance internationally. So we proposed a partnership with USATF to take runners, not only from our group but from several of the US training groups, to Europe to race. This is the second trip we have taken. The first was in 2006.

DtB: What is your “base camp” like? How much time is spent there? How much traveling to and from the various meets?

DB: Our base camp is not really a "camp." We're staying in a small hotel in Sittard in the Netherlands that has partnered with a local sports association, which has very good track and field and soccer facilities. They are marketing themselves as a place for teams to come for their final preparations before the London Olympics in 2012. The hotel provides breakfast, then we go to the track late in the morning to work out and have lunch. They have a nice building at the track that includes a kitchen and dining area. All of the meets are in Belgium within two hours of Sittard, so are fairly easy to get to and from on the same day.

DtB: Do you get a chance to meet with other coaches, meet directors, etc.? Establish contacts, knowledge that might help in future trips?

DB: I have contact with the local coaches. Other than that the contact is mainly with race directors. Having been here before has helped quite a lot. In 2006 there were not many US runners coming to Europe - only the very top runners who were already established - so it was more difficult getting our runners into races. But in the last few years more US runners have come over to race, so the race directors are more familiar with us.

DtB: What has been the highlight of the trip thus far? What have been the challenges?

DB: We have only had one meet so far but that went well. Heather(Dorniden) placed second (to a woman from France) in the 800 in a season best, Gabriele (Anderson)was second in the 1500 (to a woman from Finland), and Meghan (Armstrong) was sixth in the 1500. Many of the runners they are going against are also young up-and-coming runners in whatever country they are from. There are a lot of future Olympians in these meets.

A non-running highlight has been that The Netherlands has made it to the World Cup soccer final and the whole country has gone nuts over it. For the semi-final match they put two big screen TVs in the Sittard town square and the place was packed. Everything else in town was closed. The whole square erupted when they scored a goal and when they won. Then they all stayed up a long time honking air horns, yelling and generally carrying on. It will be crazy here if they win this weekend.(Note: this was written before the final, won 1-0 by Spain in overtime.)

DtB: What have you learned thus far on this trip?

DB: US distance running performance internationally is improving due to more promising collegians staying with it and fully developing their talent, and gaining confidence to race against the top runners in the world. It doesn't happen quickly and there is still a ways to go. But beginning with the Hanson's group, then the California group and our group, more and more training groups have popped up in the US, which means that more promising collegians are staying in the sport. Racing against other top runners from other countries helps them see what they need to do to get to that level. Gradually, the US runners are producing better results internationally.

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