Eat Your Young, How we promote our sport, An Interview with Matt Taylor, by Jon Gugala, note by Larry Eder

Kara Goucher artwork, by the Shoe Addicts

How do we change the paradigm in track & field? How do we tell the story of our sport? Jon Gugala has interviewed Matt Taylor, a film maker and athlete. Read this, savor this, pass it around.

The stories of the Trials are what we will remember? How do we communicate this to new fans, old fans, and soon to be fans of the sport?

A thought provoking piece by Jon Gugala.....

Jon Gugala

EUGENE, Oregon
June 28, 2012

Matt Taylor describes himself as a "Marketer, Entrepreneur and Running Industry Insider." At least that's what his Twitter bio says. He's also a former steeplechaser for Yale, class of 2000, and his 8 minutes, 57.36 seconds collegiate best is still the fifth fastest in the school's history.

Since graduation Taylor has been putting out gritty, true-to-life documentaries on running at its most visceral level, beginning with 2005's "chasing TRADITION," which explored some of the country's best collegiate distance running powerhouses, including Iona, University of Portland, and Adams State. He's done plenty more; check out his back catalog when you have time. After leaving a four-year tenure with Puma, for the last 10 months he's been developing a video game with Usain Bolt--aptly titled "BOLT!"--for your iPhone. It releases in July.
But in June, Taylor started writing a column for, the website equivalent of the darkened parents' basement for the track-obsessed (he calls it "the Drudge Report of running"). He starts his first column with these dire words: "Running is on life support. It has been for quite some time," rallying in second paragraph to say, "But I'm an optimist. I believe that positive change for our sport is possible."

Taylor touched down in Eugene Wednesday night to witness the final half of the 2012 Olympic team trials, and we grabbed coffee on Thursday morning to talk about his thoughts on what's broken--and how to fix it.

Jon Gugala: So for someone that's not yet read your recent columns, how would you describe their purpose and what you'd like to see accomplished?

Matt Taylor: I've been involved at this level of passion for the sport for 15 years now. There's people that have been involved for twice as many years, three times as many years as me. And it seems that through every singe generation of people who have that passion for the sport as sport, they all have the same frustration. It's clear that change needs to happen--should happen--but it just doesn't.

USATF isn't able to focus solely on promoting the sport because they're entrenched with so many different areas that they're beholden to. It doesn't allow you to function in an efficient manner. Those of us who are interested in the sport are only interested in the sport.

JG: We're in Eugene, Track Town USA, and you can see the veneration of Steve Prefontaine. Does it feel like we're seeing anyone from this generation being built up the same way?

MT: I agree that the story-telling isn't there. Especially in the last four or five years, there's been such a great jump in American distance running for men and women from a performance standpoint. You've got Jenny Simpson and Matt Centrowitz winning medals at 1500 [meters] in the [2011] world championships [Simpson, gold; Centrowitz, bronze]--the thing that for 10 years prior to that everyone said was going to save the sport.

We've actually had that success. We may have it this year in the Olympics with [Galen] Rupp. We had it with Shalane [Flanagan, 2008 Olympics, bronze, 10,000m] and Kara [Goucher, 2007 World Championships, bronze, 10,000m] previously. Boston marathon in 2013 has got Flanagan, Goucher, and Davila [runner-up, 2011 Boston Marathon]. One of them could win the race. But is that going to change the race? I don't know.

JG: But you don't think so.

MT: I just don't think that alone is going to do it. I think it's an entire shift how the sport is treated that has to happen.

If you can find a way to tell the stories in a different way--even in 2005, but especially today... Anyone can find information on how [elites] train, what their times are, what their results are. That stuff, come on. There's plenty of places to find that. I think the stuff that people really want is who are these people? And what makes them tick? And just showing where people live.

JG: Why do you think that is?

MT: I think it's just human nature, right? Even our society, TMZ has made a living off of what would be our equivalent of off-the-track content. Information about somebody's life and their lifestyle, it's harder to tell that story, but if you can do it, it's much more compelling to a viewer.

JG: Yeah, the splits and the training, that gets redundant. The individual is always the unique part of the story, so if you highlight that, you'll always have a story to tell. Always.

Did you watch Erik Van Ingen's The Real Maine [Van Ingen is Binghamton grad and 3:56.37 miler. His documentary follows himself and collegiate friends through a summer of training at a camp in Maine]? When you saw that--

MT: I watched it. Loved it.

JG: Why?

MT: You know, I was just going to say: there's two seminal works for running fans, right? Once a Runner and Running with the Buffaloes. Why are they so powerful? Because they tell the stories of those people off the track. Running with the Buffaloes wasn't about Adam Goucher winning NCAA cross country; it was the story that led to that. And Once a Runner, it's the same thing. I don't even remember in the end. What does [Quenton Cassidy, OaR's protagonist] do? Does he make the Olympics? But it's the training. It's him living in solitude.

So I like The Real Maine because that's what [Van Ingen] did. Here we are now, the Olympic trials--and even at NCAAs, and it's not really about how those individuals did at the NCAA meet or at the trials. What got people excited was they went up to Maine, they lived in this cabin, they were training their asses off.

JG: I grew up skateboarding, looking at that counterculture, the subculture. And that's what's presented in all those works you mentioned. And those stories aren't told enough.

MT: I feel like [Steve] Prefontaine, we trot him out every four years when there's a big meet in Eugene, but to most of the people our age, he's like Bob Marley. Yes, he's this iconic figure, but it's not like young kids aren't listening to Bob Marley music, right? It's the old people that are listening to Bob Marley.

I look at Prefontaine in a similar way: yes, he's always going to be this iconic figure. The tragic death at a young age solidified that, there's no doubt about it. But that's not going to guide this sport in the future. That can't be the thing that we keep hanging our hat on when we tell stories about Eugene. It's got to be about the new stories and the new athletes. 

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