Stefanie Brown Trafton, first Olympic US track & field gold in Beijing and first women's gold in discus since 1932! (First Olympic womens discus medal since
1984 by Leslie Deniz)
The San Jose Mercury News, one of the most respected newspapers in the country, continues to play the same old record. Anne Killion and Mark Purdy, two of the top writers and two of my favorites ( I lived an coached in the bay area for nearly two decades) note the demise of American Track & Field, yet fail to truly do their homework. Mark Purdy, in a column on Stephanie Brown Trafton notes that the performances were sub par, and the top performer in the world was caught as a drug cheat. So, Purdy is suggesting, that even though Brown Trafton gave the US track team its first old medal, it was really an easy and sub par field. Nice way to pat a local on the back. I am not sure Mark would say the same thing about the Earthquakes, the Giants or other teams, but that is his perspective.
I wanted to provide you with a few facts, but lets start with this--that the Russian discus thrower was not here was because she made the decision to cheat, and that is what drug testing is supposed to do-test drugs. Track & field tests more than any sport either Killion or Purdy write about, including NFL, MLB, MLS, NBA combined.
Secondly, it is fine to write about the negatives, but how about equal treatment for the postive changes in our sport. It takes research so in the interest of saving the Merc some time and money, here we go....
The significance of the win of Stephanie Brown Trafton? The last time a US women won a discus medal was in 1984, when Leslie Deniz took the silver. The time before that? 1932, when Lilian Copeland took the gold and Ruth Osburn took the silver. Third was a Polish thrower named Jadwiga Wajs.
So, what does her hometown paper write? First of all, the San Jose Mercury News seems to either be in a time warp or just all using the same sources. First, Anne Killion of the Mercury News wrote a column bemoaning the fact that track has killed itself and that Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin, caught using drugs means that all athletes in track should be suspect.
So, in an effort to educate the sports staff at my former hometown paper, here we go:
a. Anne Killion is right about some things, our sport has virtually, in the sixties, seventies and eighties, committed suicide. Ignoring drugs, misunderstanding that sports was entertainment, misunderstanding that our sport is all about competition, and pushing world records, this all helped put sport behind bass fishing.
b. What Killion does not write about and it happened in her back yard, was the success of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, where 22,000 fans came to the track each and every day to enjoy great track and field.
c. What Killion did not write about was the huge success of Eugene 2008, where, Nike poured in a lot of money ( estimates on the track, facilities and event are $8.5 million) to present the singularly best entertainment value in sport over ten days, a music and wine festival and tremendous performances .
d. What Killion did not write about was that athletes such as Tyson Gay, the three time Osaka gold medalist, who is a volunteer for a revolutionary program with USADA and WADA to test athletes and keep the sport clean.
e. What Killion does not comprehend is that catching athletes who are cheats is the right thing to do. That Marion Jones cheated is a fact. People cheat in all parts of live, but most, do not.
f. What Killion does not seem to understand is that USADA and WADA have made it quite difficult for athletes to cheat. At this time, my guess is that 95 percent of drug cheats are being nabbed. To cheat now, one must amass about $60k a year in pharmaceutical masks, various drug cocktails to beat the system. Without systematic help or the athlete is making a fortune, it is pretty tough to beat. EPO and HGH are not cheap and that puts most athletes out of that realm as well.
g. Purdy's comments were just more of the same, faint praise then a slam. I think he should be ashamed. Stephanie Brown Trafton, like most track athletes will never get the money to compensate her for the her 40,000 spins a year, yes, that is the number it takes to be at the level.
g. The sport started to clean itself up a decade ago, when Craig Masback found a federation both finacially and morally bankrupt. Masback changed that system and left the new CEO, Doug Logan, still much to do, but a place from which to start.
h. NBC has been frustrated with track and field for years. First, they do not know how to produce our sport. Their inability to research what fans want show a blatant disregard and arrogance for putting on the sport. They do not care that track fans by the thousands are using websites to by pass NBC to see the sport. My hope and prayer is that ESPN/Disney puts some serious cash into their bids for the next Olympic contract as I am just tired of pretend coverage that comes a day after the event happens.
i. In the end, it is very easy to criticize the sport. It takes alot more guts to offer solutions and be part of that change. I am revitalized each day I go to the Birds Nest and note that it is full, 85,000 people full, morning and evening. I am revitalized and honored to be writing about athletes who have given up years of their lives to pursue something as silly as throwing, jumping or running faster and farther. I am honored that the majority of the athletes and coaches in this sport know that there is right and wrong and that cheating in sports bastardizes the whole reason for sports.
j. As the publisher of American Track & Field for the past fifteen years and also the publisher of California Track & Running News for the past decade, we have seen our sport hurt itself, stumble and try to regain some its former stature by asking the hard questions. I welcome both of you taking the time to analyze the sport seriously instead of the cynical commentary that does no one any good.