This past summer in Osaka, it hit me straight in the face. I was listening to Tyson Gay speak after his 100 meter victory. Tyson had spoken to Asafa Powell about the race, and told the assembled media that he (Tyson), felt bad for Asafa. He also said that Asafa would have his day. Many of the media seemed surprised--this was not what they expected from sprinters. Where is the demeanor of Maurice Greene? It was then, that I knew that the times in this sport were truly changing....
One had seen this over the years with Haile Gebrselassie, and how much he enjoyed his competitors after a race. It was fascinating to watch him in Edmonton in 2001, when Haile held off twenty-two other 10,000 meter runners until the last 200 meters. Only Charles Kamathi called his bluff!
Lauryn Williams, in the 100 meters in Osaka ran that race like there was nothing else--and she was just nipped by a very fast and very focused Veronica Campbell. Great race, one of the best I have ever seen. Athletes, in shape, focused, competing, inch by inch--a race that enthralled the temporary inhabitants of the Nagai Stadium. Williams lets her sprinting do her talking. Then, came the Marion Jones affair this fall. Arguably, the most articulate blogger in the universe, Lauryn explained the dichotomy she lives in her feelings about Marion Jones-real or fake? Real enough to call and wish Lauryn a happy birthday, but fake enough to lie for a decade about her drug cheating?
And there are just a few of the thousands of athletes in our sport who are thoughtful, introspective, and in love with our sport. There is no amount of money that justifies training six hours a day, or eighteen to twenty miles a day for a decade to see if you can be among the best. If it were just a financial situation, we would have the same issues that U.S. pro sports are having.
The fans are getting tired of hearing whining twenty-year olds who make more in one season than they will earn their entire lives. They are tired of reading about football players who have dog fighting facilities. They are tired of hearing about athletes who have been catered to for their entire lives, forget what the word team is all about.
For the most part, you do not find that with track and field athletes. In the mid nineties, many of the biggest stars in track felt that they had to be complete pains to be a star. It was as if their agent had told them, act arrogant, don't sign autographs of young fans, show up at interviews late or not at all, and that will put more dollars on the table. They did it, but how many athletes from that era have developed a long lasting career after their sports' time?
For our sport to succeed, it needs to embrace many things. Articulate, thoughtful athletes who stay out of jail, and away from drugs is a big start. Developing a weekly column in local newspapers around the country on our sport would be another. Developing a weekly high lights show on track and field around the world would be another.
The key to our success may be broadband. Flotrack, MIle Split, Dyestats.com and our own Michigan Runner have shown for nearly a decade how our fans will flock to relevant broadcasts of their events.
Consider this--for TV to truly give track and field its due, it may take successful, very successful web content and numbers to be seen. This is more than possible. The success of the web sites with IAAF, USATF, Runner's World, Running Network, Let's Run,
Flotrack, dyestats.com and mile split has all shown that the audience is there, looking for a good interview with a thoughtful track athlete.
The changing of the guard needs to happen at all levels. The dynamic changes within the psyche of the U.S. distance running community is just beginning to show some positives-and the fans are thrilled!
To see the works of Running Network's Michigan Runner TV over the years,
please click: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=Running++Network+Television+-