The USATF Convention is where athletes, coaches, regional association staffs and volunteers meet with the national office to celebrate the sport and plan for the future. We asked Elliott Denman to provide us with his insights into the Convention. This is his story on the opening day….
Dr. Leroy Walker was remembered at the convention….
Usatf opening day
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sure 2012 was a tough year in the American track and field community.
The sport said its goodbyes to such notables as Dr. Leroy Walker, Milton Campbell,
Reggie Pearman, Jack Davis,George Mattos, Boo Morcom and Pat Porter.
But it was a glory-filled year, too.
Ashton Eaton, Allyson Felix and Aries Merritt – and all their red-white-and-blue-clad
teammates – did us proud, in Eugene, London
and beyond. They hauled in 29 medals in London – in the face of increasingly brutal
worldwide competition. Pretty darn good.
And so USATF, the national governing body, had a whole lot to celebrate at its
festivities marking the opening
session of USATF’s annual meeting at the Daytona Beach Hilton.
Here’s to report they did it up in style.
Past Olympic-year assemblages at USATF’s meetings were, relatively speaking, humdrum
affairs, devoid of
sizzle, not very much to incite event-goers into any kind of emotional response.
This time, it was different. This time, it sizzled
The bulk of America’s London Team was invited to Florida – to be paraded into the
annual meeting, to rounds and
rounds of applause – then to adjourn to Orlando for an Olympians’ summit gathering.
The parade – it seemed like at least half the team was there – was terrific.
In they came, single file, America’s gals and America’s guys. To anyone who hadn’t been
to London this summer, this
was just about the next best thing. If this didn’t get your patriotism flowing, don’t
know what else could ever do it.
Along with the athletes came the men and women behind the scenes – the official
team coaches, the athletes’ personal
coaches, and the array of support personnel, the managers, the medical teams, the
facilitators, all the folks who’d paved
the way for all the others
“I am excited and thrilled to be here with everyone of you,” said USATF president
Stephanie Hightower, doubling as
“What an Olympics it was for Team USA,” said CEO Max Siegel. “We talked trash in the
stands, believe me.
“But this was a united team that gave a sense of excitement that was truly, truly
A special kind of salute went to Manteo Mitchell.
All he’d done was run the second 200 meters of the opening lap of the men’s 4×400
relay on a broken leg.
If track and field had its own version of the Purple Heart – he’d have won one.
“I felt something pop about halfway through,” he’d say. “Didn’t think it was much at
the time I just brought the stick around,
the way I was supposed to.
“I couldn’t let those other guys down.”
That single act of courage was rewarded quadruply the following day. With Mitchell and
two-time Olympic 400 hurdles
champion Angelo Taylor stepping up to anchor as pinch-runner, a battle-scarred USA quartet
still hung on for the silver medals back of
Bahamas, the inspired island team that wasn’t about to be bullied by its big next-door
It was a day Bahamians may remember forever, but a day that Manteo Mitchell fans won’t
ever forget either.
A new and enlightened touch saw Olympians honoring the men and women who’d helped them
get to the
Games and up onto the podium,
Special medals went to the coaches of the medalists.
It got pretty emotional for all concerned at this phase of the scenario, and none more
so than for
Olympic decathlon champion and world record-breaker Ashton Eaton, as he draped his medal
around coach Harry Marra’s neck.
Marra is one of track and field’s great guys, a New York Stater, a graduate of
Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s College,
a man who has always loved this sport and the challenges it offered, who held coaching
jobs in New Jersey
and California, and then went north to destiny in Oregon.
For very good reason, Marra has been named USATF’s coach of the year.
WIth his world record and his Olympc deca-gold, Eaton should be acclaimed “the greatest
athlete on earth”
Trouble is, no one is doing the acclaiming these days.
With all his dandy deeds, Eaton got no Hollywood contract – as Olympic deca-predecessors
Glenn Morris, Bob Mathias and
Rafer Johnson did. He got no celebrity deals as Bruce Jenner and Dan O’Brien did. He got
no invitation to
decorate Wheaties boxes, as Bryan Clay did.
All he got was precious little attention from NBC. As he was running-jumping-throwing
to his Olympic gold in sensational fashion,
and rolling up the points in profusion, the TV execs were opting for the prelims of beach
Gentleman that he is, Ashton Eaton said he wasn’t going to let any of this get him down.
Best of all, he said he’s to hang around the track and field whirl for years to come.
“My motivation is still there, because I just love this sport,” he said
So how could anyone in this sport – or any other athletic activity – not love Ashton
More good news was delivered in Daytona Beach,
There’s every hope of future Ashton Eatons arising just over the horizon, too.
While the Olympians were running through their London warmup routines, over 8,000 kids
assembled in Baltimore gave some rousing performances in the nearly week-long USATF
To those who truly love the sport, TV’s declining interest and the print media’s
diminishing space devoted to track and field can be a definite downer.
Fortunately, that feeling doesn’t tend to linger.
Anytime you hear the latest exploit of an Ashton Eaton, an Allyson Felix or
an Aries Merritt, it sure does perk you up.
And if the celebrities ever slacken their pace, it’s oh-so-so encouraging to
remember those 8,000 Junior Olympians waiting in the wings.
They’ll need to parade into some future USATF gathering, bedecked in their
Olympic threads, sometime soon, too.
Just you wait – they will..