Make no doubt about it, Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field loves his job this week. There have to be times, as he is put under the microscope by friends and foes, that the pressure gets old, but Masback should be about to have the best ten days or so of his career. Much of that is thanks to the strong and youthful USA Track & Field team that is in Osaka, Japan for the World Champs.
Masback was made for this job. Youthful in his early fifties, Craig was a former world class miler (3:52.10), a former sports broadcaster and former lawyer, specializing in sports issues. His love of the sport is evident. His ability to represent the sport in the best light is part of the job. But there is more to Masback and his CEO title-most of the time, you can get Craig to smile and he will note, in the quiet moments-and there are not many with his family, travel and the strains of the job–that he loves his job.
This interview took place on August 22, 2007 in a series of three emails between Craig and myself. Craig has learnt, and some of this is him and some of this is his press czar, Jill Geer, that interviews are important. Masback makes a point of writing and doing interviews.
(For the best picture of Craig in his racing prime, read the Golden Mile, by Kenny Moore in Best Efforts, 1980).
The process worked for the echat as follows-I sent questions, Craig answered them and told me not to worry about editing. Neither he nor Jill Geer asked to edit the piece:
Larry Eder: With all the you deal with as a CEO of USAT Track & Field, are the World Championships the icing on the cake, or just another day in the office?
Craig Masback: The World Championships and Olympic Games are special for our organization and for me. The performances of our athletes are at the top of a pyramid that includes every participant in our sport, all of whom “contribute” in
some way to the success of our very best performers.
LE: As a former competitor on the international scene, how has the elite part of the sport changed since you competed?
CM: It is a much more professional sport today then it was in the late 70s and
early 80s. We would race three times a week for the meager under-the-table money being offered and very few athletes were professionally managed or supported. On the plus side, we had very personal relationships with the meet directors and federation officials from other countries. On the minus side, we had to stay up until 3 am to collect our money, had little or no medical support, and ran ourselves into exhaustion every season.
LE: This year’s WC team, from Alyson Felix and Jeremy Wariner to Jenn Stuczynski, to Adam Nelson to Alan Webb and Breaux Greer, seems to be one of the best ever assembled. Do you look at this team and see that initiatives you put in place over the last near decade have had some effect?
CM: We have an incredible mix of established stars and exciting newcomers. We’ve won, on average, about 19 medals per World Championships over the history of the Championships and I think we have a shot of doing better than that. The emergence of this generation of stars results from many factors, including some that USA Track & Field plays a role in and others where we don’t . . . plus a little bit of luck. In part, I think that this team is a positive aftershock of the 1996 Olympic Games — our young
stars were an impressionable 8-14 years old when America last hosted the Olympics. Plus, we have the best development system in the world — our high school and university track and field programs. Finally, USATF has significantly improved our High Performance Development Programs, our organization and staging of our National Teams, the opportunities to compete at a high level domestically via the Visa Championship Series, and our financial and other support to our athletes. All of those factors make a difference.
LE: What event have you learnt the most about that you did not appreciate when you competed as a middle distanc runner?
CM: I was always interested in every event in track and field — whether I could do them or not. In Junior High, I was a long jumper and triple jumper in addition to running the 300 yards and 440 yards. Essentially, all of the world records are outrageous when you think about them or pacethem off. Given that I am still a pencil-necked geek, I guess the idea of throwing a 16 pound shot 75 feet or long jumping 29+ feet is pretty amazing — for those that have never done so, get out a tape measure and measure out those two distances some time . . .it’s a very entertaining thing to do at a party.
LE: How are the conditions in Osaka? How is the team spirit?
CM: It is very hot and humid in Osaka. Having said that, we have a great team staff led by Pat Henry and Amy Deem and they have the athletes in a very positive frame of mind — “This weather reminds me of the south,” one athlete said.
LE: What will be the winning time in men’s 1,500?
LE: How does the world view the US team? How do you want the world to view
the US team?
CM: Recent years have resulted in our Team USA being put on an even higher pedestal than before. In part, this results from our “World’s #1 Team” branding campaign, but it also has to do with the fact that we have reliably produced signature athletes that win key events. Also, we have had charismatic champions whose personalities transcended languages and cultures. The team was incredibly warmly received by our hosts at our training camp here in the Osaka area — the Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences.