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
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
"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
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
+ 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.