The TV TRials, Friday, June 28, by Jim Dunaway, note by Larry Eder

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Richards_SanyaFL1-OlyT12.jpg
Sanya Richards-Ross, 2012 Oly Trials 400m winner,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Our TV critic, James Dunaway is tough but fair. Four stars on the Friday broadcast is pretty darn good for our friends at NBC.

Track & Field has benefited so much from the digital world. As track fans left the TV coverage or lack of TV coverage, the digital world grew. Today, NBC is improving its coverage of the sport we love and we applaud that. What will be fascinating is how NBC embraces mobile apps and the digital world.  How NBC looks at this new world will determine how fans support their coverage.

The TV Trials

 by Jim Dunaway               Friday, June 28   ****


This was a busy two hours on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN).


It started with the semi-finals of the women's 200, which included the best and deepest field of any event in the Trials: the first five finishers in the 100 -- Carmelita Jeter, Tiffany Madison, Allyson Felix, Jenobah Tarmoh and Bianca Knight - plus 400 winner Sanya Richards-Ross and NCAA 200 champion Kimberlyn Duncan. All of them advanced to the final.


With only the first two from each of the three semis to qualify, plus the next two fastest finishers, TV viewers got a good look at the different ways to run a fast 200, plus one way not to. The exception was Jeter, who came off the turn in fifth in Heat 3 and had to work hard in the final 60 meters to take second in 22.64, slowest of the eight qualifiers.


It would have been worthwhile for, perhaps, Lewis Johnson, to ask Jeter why - not to criticize the way she ran, but to find out if there were any special reason. After all, she has been the leading U.S. woman sprinter for the past three years, and what she does or doesn't do is news.


The announcers also made no comment about Octavious Freeman, who, in Lane 7 of Heat 2 ran most of the turn on the line, and then ran most of the last 100 in Lane 6 and was subsequently DQ'd. It didn't affect Richards-Ross, the rightful runner in Lane 6, who was so far ahead that perhaps Freeman didn't even see her (Richards-Ross won with the fastest time in the heats, a PR 22.15. She looked devastating.


But the worst thing the day's coverage showed was the inadequacy of the starting blocks' false start system. In the 200, Sholanda Solomon had to sweat out a possible false start, but a video clearly showed that she had flinched, but not false started. And in the 400 hurdles semis, Queen Harrison was called for a false start, but a replay showed that she had flinched, then become completely motionless, before the gun was fired.


Both Solomon, 2011 U.S. 200 champion at 22.15, and Harrison, second on the 2011 400 hurdles U.S. list with a time of 54.78, finished last in their respective semi-finals today. I have to believe that dealing with the false start situation had much to do with their poor performances. Both were cheated by the false start system, which uses pressure plates in the starting block to detect movement. The trouble is, the pressure plates respond to changes in foot pressure, and cannot distinguish between the foot pressure which indicates a real false start that gives the runner an advantage, and a twitch or flinch, which doesn't necessarily give a runner an advantage.


I was certainly glad that the TV coverage made the inadequacies of this poorly conceived false start system absolutely clear, and I sure wish the IAAF Technical Committee would go back to the drawing board and develop a better system.


It should have happened years ago: remember when Jon "I didn't move" Drummond was DQ'd in the Paris World Championships in 2003? And the current shameful system will continue to cheat athletes until it is fixed.


Ato Boldon's comments on the women's 200 were excellent, especially when, noting Felix' easing up in the final 30 meters of her semi, he said "She doesn't have anything to prove today." Ato also picked up 10 style points from the Grammar Police for using "egregious" on live TV, plus another 5 points for using it correctly.


There was a useful summary of the first day of heptathlon competition, including video of the leaders in action, and a succinct description by Dwight Stones of Friday's exciting last-round come-through by Lance Brooks in the men's discus. I just wish that we could have experienced the almost excruciating tension of Brooks' last-round throw a day earlier, and live. That was bigtime drama!  


In the men's 110 hurdles, there was a very good and very visual explanation of Aries Merritt's switch from eight steps to the first hurdle to seven steps. And there were useful replays which made it possible to see who was hitting hurdles and who wasn't.


The men's and women's 1,500 semis were a study in contrasts. The women were all business, and the men's had cliff-hangers in which kickers Andy Wheating and Robbie Andrews had to work hard in the last 100 meters to make the final, and the coverage was all over their efforts.


The day's final race was the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase, and without being explicit the camera made it clear that Emma Coburn is in a class by herself in this very difficult discipline. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words!

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