Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, photo by Larry Eder
The Hyatt Regency on Chestnut street is merely a few blocks from some of the most historic structures in the city of St. Louis. The Old Courthouse is the site of the famous Dread Scott decision, where slavery was allowed in the state of Missouri, in 1821, a decision that merely put off the inevitable. The Gateway Arch, is one of the most amazing structures to view and even more amazing to visit. Over six hundred feet tall, the Jefferson Exposition gives the viewer a look into all things west.
Saint Louis is a river city. With Spanish and French influences, the city has fascinating ethnic diversity, dating from the eighteenth century. St. Louis was the place one began the journey to the Western United States. Over the past two decades, the city has been rediscovered, and some of the old neighborhoods ( I was raised two blocks from Anheiser Busch, on Lemp avenue) have become quite bohemian, with art galleries, restaurants and young families discovering the benefits of living in old homes, built of brick that date back to the nineteenth century.
The USATF convention comes to St. Louis at a critical time. It has not been held here since 1994, when the event was hosted at the Adam's Mark. Since then, we have had three very different CEO's-first Ollan Cassell and then, Craig Masback. Doug Logan, the most recent CEO, made it only 18 months as the head of USATF. The most recent CEO search gave us a candidate who did not want to hold the job, or perhaps, the candidate could not extricate himself from a current job situation. In any matter, the federation has been without a CEO since September 2010.
The truth is, Mike McNees,as the acting CEO, has stayed out of the limelight and has allowed a board that is quite activist (minus three members, Jack Wickun, Steve Holman and Max Siegel) fight among itself.
2012 is a year with many momentous decisions: 2012 Eugene, 2012 London and a focus forward. The focus for the board is 2012 Eugene and London 2012, and then, as the chairman and President Stephanie Hightower noted, and then, next summer, a renewed effort on finding a new CEO.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
ST. LOUIS - Just as lofty spirits carried the day on Wall Street, so did the expectation levels on day one of USA Track and Field's Annual Meeting.
Yes, optimism reigned as delegates flocked into the Hyatt Regency Hotel - within shouting distance of the famed St. Louis Arch - to map plans for the sport's American governing body heading into Olympic Year 2012.
"What a year of accomplishment 2011 has been," said USATF president Stephanie Hightower, citing an array of dominating American performances at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, the World Youth Championships in Lille, France, and more.
"And we plan to do even better in 2012."
She cited such athletes as Jesse Williams, Dwight Phillips, Desiree Davila and Ajee' Wilson as keys to American optimism.
Williams, a perennial contender for top honors in the high jump, finally crashed through to outleap the world in Daegu, and will be honored here as winner of the Jesse Owens Award as USA's athlete of the year.
Phillips, three times a past world champion in the long jump but a long shot heading into Daegu, beat the long odds by winning the global title for the fourth time; as Hightower put it, "he showed what it takes to show up when it counted."
The diminutive Davila came within two seconds of winning the women's title at the Boston Marathon; "what she lacks in height she made jup in heart," said Hightower.
Wilson, now a senior at Neptune High School in New Jersey, was a major surprise package at the World Youth Championships in Lille, winning the women's 800 in 2:02.40, time that broke Track and Field Hall of Famer Joetta Clark Diggs' New Jersey state record for the two laps, and taking America's first-ever medal in the event in Wold Youth meet history. Some even predict she has what it takes to follow in the footseteps of Madeline Manning, 1968 Olympic champion and still America's only winner in the event.
Wilson will be honored here as America's top junior athlete.
Buoyant, too, was US Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, the keynote speaker.
"We are depending on you in London," said Blackmun.
"Among our most memorable Olympic moments over the years are those from track and field, and we expect many more in London."
Lots more was made clear at the Opening General Session:
+ Blackmun said the USOC' had raised over $300 million in sponsorship funds, and a huge chunk of that will be allocated to the many national federations for athlete development, team organization and transport to the Games. (But some $200,000 of USOC funds had been used to back 2008 Olympic 400-meter champion LaShawn Merritt's bid to regain full Olympic eligibility, following the completion of the penalty phase of his disqualification on a drug charge.)
+ USA Track and Field's own budget for 2012 now stands at $23.9 million. As USATF treasurer Kenneth Taylor put it, "this is the largest budget inn USATF history."
And he emphasized that "USA Track and Field is financially sound."
+ When the USA hosts the World Junior Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, it will represent a major stride for the nation, which last hosted an IAAF World Championship in 1992, the World Cross Country Championships at Franklin Park, Boston. (But don't expect USA to host the World Outdoor Championships anytime soon; the financial barriers seem insurmountable.)
+ For years, many have been suggesting the staging of the first World Relay Championships, and the good news, reported by IOC Council vice president Bob Hersh, is that the IAAF has at last given approval for the event. "But the devil may be in the details," said Hersh. "They approved the idea but set no dates. It would have to be in odd-numbered year (to avoid conflicts with existing events); 2013 may be too soon, so maybe it will be 2015. Again, maybe."
+ Erin Taylor-Talcott, Shore AC racewalker from Owego, New York, will make history as the first female participant in a men's Olympic Trial event. Since Taylor-Talcott, a two-time national champion, has clocked a 4:41 for the 50-kilometer walk, with the men's Olympic Trial standard pegged at 4:45, she will be allowed to compete in the men's National 50K to be held January 22 in Santee, California (a trial for both the IAAF World Cup in May in Saransak, Russia, and the Olympic 50K in London.) Still, she'd be ineligible to compete for the nation in either event, since these are officially men's events, with no women's equivalents.
+ USA Track and Field is making a huge, integrated marketing and promotional push, led by the Max Siegel firm. Siegel, formerly a member of the USATF Board of Directors, has vast experience in such other sports as football, baseball, hockey and basketball, which he hopes to translate to track and field. Already on the books: staging of the US Open Track and Field Meet Jan. 28 at New York's Madison Square Garden, filling the date vacated by the Millrose Games, which has moved to The Armory Track Center, and a giant digital billboard to be placed high above New York's Times Square, promoting track and field on all levels.
+ USATF staged 57 national championship events in 2011, and over 6,000 sanctioned events, in all disciplines within the sport.
+ USATF meets continue to generate solid TV ratings, and heading into 2012 expectations are even higher. One thing USATF Interim CEO Mike McNees plans to amend is the financial basis for many domestic telecasts: "It's a crime that USATF buys the time for these meets," said McNees. "We are going to turn that around," McNees promised.