USATF Diaries: Why I enjoyed the USA Indoors

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The USATF Indoor champs, for much the past decade has seemed like a championships on auto-pilot. It was becoming, like the local cross country race, a meet frequented by athletes, family members and the occasional pet.

usaindoor track .jpg2016 USATF Indoor Champs, photo by PhotoRun.net

Even with very little promotions, the 2016 USA Indoors had a strong crowd, but most importantly, it had a shorter time schedule, which meant you did not have to spend a week at an indoor nationals....

The USA Indoor Champs has a tradition that is over one hundred years, closer to 130 years now. Indoor track has a tradition that dates back in many large cities to the late 19th century, starting in New York at the old Madision Square Gardens and in Boston, of course.

In the late 19th century, there were match races, where runners such as Lon Myers took on various competitors, with Myers running from scratch (the actual start) and various competitors given certian breaks, such as Myers running 300 yards and various competitors given 10 yards, fifteen yards, perhaps more. These races proved to be quite exciting to the viewers, however, indoor track became much more pasteurized over the past decades, which, along with costs, and the malaise of sponsors over the sport, lead, in many cities, to the demise of the sport.

One of my most prized possessions is a post card from my maternal grandfather, Earl Robertson. He wrote a note about Paavo Nurmi, who he had read about running US indoor races in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the US. Nurmi barnstormed around the country, setting records over arcane distances like the 1 and 1/4 miles, 1 and 1/2 miles and going under 9 minutes for two miles. Those meet directors in the 1920s and 1930s knew that they were in the entertainment business. Somehow, we forgot that.

The Millrose Games in the MSG was killed due to lack of respect for the event and the venue. Changing the night of the meet, after 80 years, destroyed generations of business guys, who had run as high schoolers, from hitting the bar for an adult beverage, watching the meet, and getting out in time to take the train home. The MSG folks did not help by sucking up any profit from the meet. Fortunately, the meet has a new home and sponsor at the Armory.

Thank God for the NB Armory in NY and the Reggie Lewis in Boston. Both sanctuaries of indoor track provide opportunities for over 100,000 athletes a year to compete in track. I recall going to the 2011 NB Indoor and speaking to several young athletes who told me that their schools did not have outdoor track, and indoor track was their sport.

We tend to shoot ourselves in the foot in this sport.

In Boston, when the USA Indoors was there, a fine meet, the NB Indoor, a sell out for over fifteen years would be one month before the US Indoors. However, with no promotions, the USA Indoors would fill less than half of the Reggie Lewis. When the USA Indoors moved to Albuquerque, the smaller facility was getting to where the event should be held, but again, the crowd (only sat three thousand) was seldom full. It was kind of like, well, we have to do this damn thing, but put as little into it as possible.

Bowie_ToriQ1-USind16.JPgTori Bowie, photo by PhotoRun.net

I have to say that I loved the 2015 USA Indoors with the mile, 2 mile and 1000 meters. Finally, trying to do something a little different. I still think we should have a guy like Vernon Norwood take on all comers, from high school kid to masters, giving them a bit of a break and seeing who finishes first. That would truly shake things up. You could do same in shot put, have Reese Hoffa or Kurt Roberts throw against two high school kids and see who throws farther!

While I still hold the belief that the powers that be feel fans will just show up, the USA Indoors in Portland actually showed some amazing advancements.

First, the facility was first class. I have visited at least three dozen different indoor facilities around the world. I would have to say that Portland was in the top two, top three.

There was not a bad seat in the house. Do not get me started on the seating in Albuquerque.

Even with many top talents resting for the long road to Rio, the combination of young and veteran athletes added excitement to the event.

Berian_BorisQ1-USind16.JPgBoris Berian, photo by PhotoRun.net

The USA Indoor had some great rivalries. Jenn Suhr, Demi Payne and Sandi Morris-Wow! The women's pole vault was fantastic. Both 1,500 meters and 800 meters-tremendous. And the women's 60 meter hurdles-dear god, that might be the best race of the meet!

On day two, the crowd was electric. Race after race after race was all about competition. Rivalries are key!

There is still time to be cut out of the schedule, but I would give the USA Indoor a strong B, which is two grades better than any other USA Indoor in the past decade.

My belief is that either we committ to doing a US Indoor Champs or take it to every other year. We can not afford to do meets that are done half ass.

I recall a talk by Steve Miller, when he was a Nike, nearly twenty years ago. Steve told the assembled masses that our sport felt put upon. He commented on the long track meets, always behind schedule. And Steve was right.

The 2016 USA Indoor Champs was a step in the right direction. Let's try and learn from the meet and plan on using those improvements to build upon in 2017.

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