Updated Monday, January 30, 2012
The event was done, in a few months. If they promote early, they could double the crowd. But, USATF and other sponsors need to be a bit more creative on tickets. Read our opinion piece, re-edited, later today, on how to accomplish that. The US Open was a very good way to open the elite indoor season. Now, on to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
NEW YORK - Strictly speaking, this isn't a "new" Madison Square Garden.
The "really new" Madison Square Garden was scheduled to rise a block away from the current edition, west across Eighth Avenue to the site of the massive James Farley Post Office.
But then, amid the intrigue of The Big Apple's failed bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, and the concept of the giant West Side Stadium, which never happened, the politicans and the real estate moguls locked horns and the project was eventually skewered.
So MSG and Cablevision chieftain James L. Dolan settled for major renovations of the existing structure, complete with tons of marble flooring, elegant concourses linking its various areas, and, needless to say, an array of luxury suites where the corporate crowd would be spared the inconvenience of rubbing shoulders with the common folks.
And some great snacking - for a price, of course.
Pastrami sandwiches go for $14.95, chicken sandwiches $13.95, beer (imported) $10.00 and domestic ($9.50), chilidogs $6.95, hotdogs (large) $6.25 and (small) $5.75, crackerjacks $5.75, french fries $4.95, iced tea $5.25, bottled water $5.00, coke and lemonade $4.75.
So where did track and field, a staple of Madison Square Garden-going through the eras of all four Garden edifices (which rose in 1879, 1890, 1925 and 1968) - fit into this bigger, big-bucks picture?
For a stretch - after the Millrose Games headed for the exits and moved 135 blocks northward in Manhattan, 33rd Street to 168th Street, to The Armory Track and Field Center - it seemed that
there'd be no track and field in the Garden's future at all.
And that's where USA Track and Field, working closely with the Garden itself and major sponsors, stepped in. That's where they decreed that there'd be track and field at the building after all. And that's when - on just a few months' notice - plans were unveiled to create the U.S. Open.
The date would be the fourth Saturday of January, the U.S. Open to occupy the evening session of the day that would begin, as it had for 38 years, with the staging of the Colgate Women's Games.
And so it happened. A "crowd" of 5,844 turned out, attracted by major USATF advertising (including a giant billboard hovering over Times Square), and word-of-mouth encouragement within the track community. With ticket prices beginning at a most-modest 15 bucks. But nearly zero attention from the NYC media (semi-predictable in a week filled with every nugget of Giants' Super Bowl preparation.)
Vast sections of the building often called "the world's most famous arena" were closed off. The building (to the opimists) was nearly one-third full. To the nattering negativists, it was over two thirds empty.
But at least track and field was there, the message on all those "track is back" t-shirts we've seen over the years was right, after all.
Dan O'Brien did his best to rev-up the "crowd" for the compact, 17-event slate that lasted just under three hours, 7 to just before 10 p.m., about the same time attention span expected by the Knick and Ranger faithful.
And Garden-goers did get a quality, although often bare-boned show.
Starting from the end:
Asafa Powell rang down the curtain with his second, 9:55 p.m. 5.64-second 55-meter sprint victory over Nesta Carter (5.67) which again demonstrated the talents of this man who has recorded more sub-10 100-meter performances than any runner in history.
"I'm fit, but not really fast," he declared after this first race of his Olympic year season.
He was asked, too, if dash-deep Jamaica (with Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, not here) along with Powell and Carter, can actually sweep the gold, silver and bronze medals in the 100-meter final at the London Olympic Games.
(This is a feat - don't you remember? - achieved just twice in Olympic history, by the American trios of Ralph Craig, Alvah Meyer and Donald Lippincott in 1912, and Archie Hahn, Nate Cartmell and William Hogenson in 1904.)
"Yes, it is definitely possible," said Powell. "Surely (a 1-2-3) can be done. We have some amazing runners."
But he quickly reminded his interviewers, that in this always what-have-you-done-for-me lately sport, "nothing's ever certain."
Not even Veronica Campbell-Brown, the leading lady of the Jamaica women's sprint corps, who took her own 50 at the Garden in .6.08, winning easily over USA's Jessica Young (6.20 ) and Nigeria's Gloria Asumnu (6.22.)
No sprinter, male or female, has ever won three straight at the Olympic Games. Carl Lewis sprinted to men's 100-meter crowns in 1984 and '88; Wyomia Tyus won the women's 100 in 1964-68, and Gail Devers the same two in 1992-96. But it's clear that Campbell-Brown, who won the 200 at Athens in 2004, repeated at Beijing in 2008, will be right in the mix, once more, in London.
Terrence Trammell, who took Olympic silver medals in the 110 high hurdles in 2000 (Sydney) and 2004 (Athens) isn't going to fade away, either. After missing the U.S. team in 2008, he's clearly back in the picture, after his 6.45 50 hurdles win over David Oliver.
And so is Lolo Jones, winner of the women's 50 hurdles in 6.78.. Here's a young lady who suffered memorable mental trauma in the Beijing 100 hurdles final (leading over the eighth hurdles, she clipped the ninth, stumbled over the 10th and wound up a very unhappy seventh place.
But after overcoming the rigors of spinal surgery last summer, Lolo declares herself "definitely back in the picture."
There were smiles, too, for men's HJ winner Jesse Williams - after he won his season-opener with a solid 7-6 clearance. But frowns for Jenn Suhr, the number one-ranked women's PVer, who flunked her three attempts at opening height and saw the event go at 14-10 to Jillian Schwartz, the Duke grad who was a member of the 2004 USA Olympic team and now represents Israel.
Ryan Whiting turned the tables of more-honored American shot put colleagues, Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson, with a 69-5 1/4 heave.
The men's mile - forever the centerpiece of past Garden meets - was semi-disappointing.
Sure three greats - USA's Bernard Lagat, and Kenya's Silas Kiplagat and Daniel Komen - were there but some modest early pacework (60ish laps) combined with no blazing final-lap spurting produced a winning time that (ho hum) was over four minutes. We are well into the 21st century - winning miles of 4:00.65 do not satisfy the cash customers.
Lagat, however, did have the bext of explanations. He's really in super shape. He's really ready to bust one. And that will be in the 5,000 meters at the Millrose Games at the Armory on Feb. 11th.
So, on to the bottom line question:
Does the U.S. Open have a future?
Answer: It's a definite maybe..
Despite its 145-meter track, the Garden and all its amenities, which come at a price, may yet again prove itself a track and field mecca. With a little more advance notice, and continuing support of USATF and the Garden's top brass, and corporate partners, future editions the U.S. Open may indeed "catch on" and build a tradition of their own.