David Hunter wrote this piece on New Year's Eve, with his five wishes for our sport in 2016. I just landed in SFO from a week at trade shows (where we show our magazines and sites, look at new products and converse with the running industry).
David's five wishes are achievable and are needed. We have a wonderful sport, and we are going through a needed cleansing. This is more that a typical colonic, however.
The excitement of our sport really means this: with authentic performances, shown through media by people who appreciate the sport and understand sports on TV and video, this sport can be huge. It will take a visionary sponsor, more than likely a non-footwear company, who sees the promise, of elevating a global sport, that celebrates running, jumping and throwing, but most importantly, in this war torn world, people working together and celebrating their competitions afterwards.
Olympic Year Dreams
5 Track & Field Wishes For 2016
December 31st, 2015
Now that 2015 - a mercurial year on the world stage, dotted with both wonderful developments and horrific events - has come to an end, the dawn of a new year prompts us to look ahead and entertain hopeful thoughts for the next 12 months. Here are my 5 wishes for track & field for the upcoming Olympic year.
- Continued Strengthening Of The U.S. Indoor Season. Several years ago, Norb Sander - the mastermind behind the rebirth of New York's Armory - began in earnest to chase yet another track & field dream: a revitalized U.S. indoor track & field season. "The goal," outlined Sander, "is to have a 5-6 week period in the winter when on any given Saturday afternoon you can turn on the TV and see an indoor meet." With help from NBC, the New York Road Runners, and other video pioneers such as USATF.tv and FloTrack, the Armory head and his colleagues have made important strides in transforming the Sander vision into a reality. The framework is in place: a crisp, live broadcast in a 90 to 120 minute window. Now is the time to add embellishments which could include: (i) multiple camera locations - offering insightful replays narrated by experienced and knowledgeable announcers; (ii) energized and music-driven athlete introductions; (iii) expanded use of VIP seating and upscale amenities as have been introduced at the Millrose Games. Let us learn from the observed success of other sports. We needn't be shy. Combining our pure and simple sport with an upbeat and energized presentation will only expand track & field's appeal.
- An Encouraging Start For Tracktown USA's Domestic Circuit. Last June at the USATF outdoor championships, an animated Vin Lananna unveiled for the media a plan by TrackTown USA to launch the TrackTown Summer Series in 2016. The Series is anticipated to be an ambitious domestic circuit of scored track & field meets on both the West Coast and East Coast which will culminate with an ESPN-televised championship gathering at Hayward Field on July 29th. The envisioned Series could serve to fill a gaping domestic hole in the middle of the prime outdoor season and provide a number of promising athletes - many of whom currently lack the performance level and/or the financial resources to compete in Europe - the opportunity for spirited competition on American soil. The Series may have the potential - especially in this Olympic year - to promote greater television coverage of track & field as well as to cultivate a broader fan following within the sport. If this TrackTown USA brainchild can secure the requisite traction to become a regular summertime fixture, the Series could serve as an annual ramp-up to America's first-ever hosting of the World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene in 2021. Lananna and his colleagues - who have organized successful and re-energized Olympic Trials in Eugene in 2008 and 2012 - have a demonstrated track record of reshaping traditional track & field presentations in a creative and upbeat way. A successful inaugural year for this ambitious domestic series would be a wonderful dream come true for track & field.
- A Strong Performance By Team USA At The Rio Olympic Games. At the risk of sounding just a bit jingoistic, I hope that USA track & field team will display improved performance in 2016 Summer Olympic Games. While still the world's leading power in "athletics", the US of A has performed below its capability during the intervening two world championship gatherings since the last Olympiad. Going into the London Games, USATF often articulated as its target the American harvest of 30 medals in athletics during the 2012 Olympics. It was a lofty goal that was nearly achieved. With 29 overall medals [including 9 golds], Team USA topped the charts in both categories, with Russia [17 overall/8 golds], Jamaica [12 and 4], and host Great Britain [6 and 4] trailing behind. But USA has underachieved in the two most recent global gatherings. At the 2013 Moscow Worlds, Americans still topped the overall athletics medal count with 25. Host Russia was the runner-up in total medals with 17 - but their gold medal tally reached 7 to edge the USA who claimed the top podium step just 6 times in Moscow. Jamaica [9 and 6] and surging Kenya [12 and 5] were just behind. The US swoon continued in 2015 in Beijing. With America's overall world championship medal count dropping to 18 including 6 golds, Team USA barely held off Kenya [16 and 7] and Jamaica 12 and 7] - both of which captured more world titles than the US. Host China - evidencing the type of athletic improvement we can expect to see from other third world nations - won 9 medals, including a gold. While it is true that an inordinate number of injuries, hurdles crashes, and several trips added to the woes of the red, white, and blue, these are mishaps that also plague all countries. Simply stated, Olympic medalists find ways to overcome misfortune to make the podium. Here's hoping our Olympic athletes in track & field - truly the world's most talented squad - will find the way to perform to the best of their ability in Rio.
- Broad-based Support And Cooperation To Root Out Performance Enhancing Drugs. No one was happy when the recently-released World Anti-Doping Agency report revealed Russia's clandestine, systematic, state-sponsored doping program and its corresponding connection of corruption with the former leadership of the IAAF. But in reality, few were truly surprised. The anticipation of the release of yet another WADA report - expected early in the new year - is cultivating wide-spread anxiety as many fear other nations and federations will be cited for similar violations. If this proves to be the case, look for newly-elected IAAF president Sebastian Coe - whose firm no-tolerance stance on performing enhancing drugs was the centerpiece of his election campaign - to take the same type of swift and decisive action as he did in light of the Russia revelations. Certain agenda-driven members of the media have attempted to malign the sport's new leader, citing collateral issues which are either red herrings or have been rendered moot by corrective action taken by President Coe - or both. With our sport in messy turmoil, this is not the time for titillating in-fighting. It is the time for all sectors of track & field to come together in unified support of an aggressive, world-wide, thorough, independent, and evenly-applied monitoring system over drug use in track & field. Lord Coe - who was the driving force behind London's smashing 2012 Olympic success - has demonstrated his ability to successfully address large, potentially-overwhelming undertakings. In the coming year, our sport should provide galvanized support to the newly-elected IAAF leadership in its efforts to do just that.
- An Influential And Visionary Television Believer. For several years now, my premiere New Year's wish for track & field has been the emergence of a forward-thinking and influential broadcast executive who appreciates the importance and the entertainment potential of track & field. Such a person would recognize not only the unique heritage of mankind's first sport, but also the marketing and viewing potential of a pure athletic contest which celebrates running the fastest, throwing the farthest, and jumping the highest. Television is not merely the medium that offers a gateway to our world. TV has king-making capability - the power to shape our preferences and influence our viewing habits. It is true that television presents programming that is popular. But, to be sure, the power of television exposure itself can actually make popular a selected segment of our culture [e.g. NASCAR; cage fighting; etc.] Wonderful advancements in the popularity of our sport would occur if an enlightened network executive recognizes that TV could take track & field - which already sports a tidy, yet fervent fan base - and make this purest of all sports significantly more popular.
The Olympic year is the zenith of track & field's 4 year rhythm - a year in which many great performances and other fortuitous developments customarily occur. It may be wishful thinking to expect all 5 dreams I've outlined to take place in the next 12 months. But even if just a couple would come true in the coming year, that would be enough to make 2016 a year to truly savor.