Dave Hunter wrote this piece on New Year’s wishes for our sport. Dave is working on his second and third career, as a journalist and announcer!
Read Dave’s piece slowly, consider this thoughts on your walk and run tomorrow. There is much good to savor in our sport, the key, if we want to make our sport better, is to realize we are all, or should be all, on the same side–making the sport a better place.
Jenn Suhr vault competition, from Global Athletics
New Year’s Wishes For American Track & Field
Since we are already well into January and before most of our well-intentioned earlier-avowed resolutions for 2015 have all been broken, now is a good time to pause and offer some new year’s wishes for American track & field. There are dozens of well-grounded hopes we could present. Here are 10 for consideration:
Enhanced Novelty In Event Presentation. There are moments when track & field can step out of its often-stodgy mold and be fresh and innovative. Conducting the Olympic Trials hammer throw on Nike’s Beaverton campus, holding the USATF championship shot put event in front of Sacramento’s Capitol with funky music and food trucks, and staging a supermarket high jump
and mall pole vault as a prelude to the Drake Relays are just tastes of the entertainment feast that could await track and field if it is willing to experiment with new and creative methods to showcase the sport.
Less Melodrama In The Sport’s Governance. Track & field – like all sports – has moments of management crisis. The recent furor arising from the USATF convention is widely seen as a dysfunctional, relationship-bruising turmoil that certainly won’t help encourage outsiders to embrace – or invest in – our sport. Realists appreciate that the governance of big-time sports is not always a haven of democracy. The more successful sports have governance structures that more closely represent a type of benevolent despotism. Track & field seems to have the despotic part down. Now we have to work a little harder on the benevolence.
Inspiring Comebacks. Success in track & field is hard-earned, fragile, and often fleeting. The performers in our sport live on the edge – training at a high and intense level, all the while knowing they are only an Achilles tendon injury away from oblivion. One of the many inspirational aspects of our sport is witnessing a determined athlete successfully battle back from injury. Here ‘s hoping that 2015 can be a year when a good number of our sport’s wounded warriors – like Jesse Williams, Aries Merritt, Jason Richardson, Nick Symmonds, Ryan Hall, Bershawn Jackson, and others – can find a way back to good health and top flight performances.
A Bumper Crop Of Breakthrough Years. The U.S. has a handful of track & field athletes who have achieved significant success in their respective event. But deep down we suspect there is more there. Could 2015 be the year they elevate their game even higher? Jenny Simpson: Will she win a third world championship medal and set a new AR in the 1500m? Mary Cain: Can this maturing and now more experienced athlete begin to show even more influential dominance in the middle distances? Molly Huddle: Can the 5000m AR holder crack the code and become more competitive when she is on the world stage? Matthew Centrowitz: Can the master of track positioning re-craft his big race strategy to take better advantage of his superior top end speed. Galen Rupp: Will 2015 see Galen – ranked #1 in the 10,000 last year – step up to more domination in the 25 lap event? These performers are all accomplished athletes to be sure. But might this be the year we witness them take that next big step?
A Broader-Based Acceptance Of An Athlete’s Redemption. For many, the sparkling, undefeated year of dash performances by Justin Gatlin – which included the greatest one-day 100m/200m double of all time which he rang up in Brussels – was a shining jewel of the 2014 year in track & field. For others, the Olympic medalist’s continued sprinting ascent after coming back from a 4 year drug suspension – combined with the notoriety his post-suspension accomplishments have received – is viewed as a disgraceful stain on the sport. In no other segment of our society – which widely recognizes and acknowledges the importance of extending “second chances” – would a young person’s self-inspired transformation, rededication, and resulting success be viewed with such disdain. Olympic medalist, commentator, and sprint guru Ato Boldon might have said it best when he proclaimed, “If this were a young man who had committed a crime and went to jail who had come out and was doing well and appeared to be doing what he needed to do to carry on with his life, we’d say ‘Hey, look at that, that’s great. He’s paid his dues and good for him.'”. Our sport should celebrate those who utilize a second chance as a precious opportunity to reform and succeed.
Another Successful Domestic Venue. For the dyed-in-the-wool track & field fan, few venues – maybe no venues – can compare with the multi-faceted bliss of Eugene and its fabled Hayward Field. The venerable facility, the knowledgeable spectators, the city’s prideful embrace of its “Track Town USA” heritage all make Eugene a truly magical place for our sport. There will never be another Eugene, but even the most fervent of Track Town’s track & field family will candidly admit that the sport would be aided by yet another site where our sport could regularly flourish and be celebrated.
A Return To Simplicity. One of the attractive elements of our sport is its purity. Originally created as uncomplicated, track and field is founded upon the simple concept that the winners are those who run the fastest, throw the farthest, and jump the highest. The persistent utilization of qualifying standards – our old friends “A” and “B” – has tainted the clarity of track & field. Why should those governing the sport insist on employing these qualifying standards? They quite frequently lead to grotesque “games playing” in the middle distance and distance races at the Trials level. We do a disservice to the heritage of the sport when we inject the unnecessary and complicated overlay of these conditions. If the U.S. would require a qualifying standard and a top three Trials finish for global team membership, suspense and excitement would return to the Trials as the competing athletes would sort it all out on the field of battle.
A Strengthened Post-Collegiate Support System. The present U.S. system for talent cultivation for track and field in the high schools and the colleges, while not perfect, is one of the better models worldwide. The U.S.A.’s record in international competition shows that America’s experienced coaching, support systems, and healthy competition in the school systems – although sometimes uneven – have helped identify and produce well-prepared competitors on the track and in the field. But except for an exceptional few, that critical supportive system essentially disappears after college. While several isolated training outposts [e.g. the Oregon Project; the Mammoth Track Club; Hanson’s; the Oregon Track Club; IMG] are helping a select few post-collegians get the support they need to reach their full potential, there can be no question that a broader-based, economically-viable post collegiate support system would go a long way to help those promising “near elite” post-collegiate track and field athletes that far too often fall between the cracks.
A Year Of Growth. May the coming year witness continued growth in our sport such as: an increase in the numbers of participants; the emergence of new areas joining cities such as Eugene, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Fayetteville, Gainesville, and College Station as hubs of track and field activity; and the continued addition of new meets and the strengthening of established ones. Growth in and of itself is important, of course. But demonstrated growth could also be one of the critical keys that could help unlock the gate to more corporate support, enhanced domestic popularity, and higher visibility for the sport. 2015
would be a great year indeed if track and field would evidence “growth” by virtually any metric.
Greater Television Exposure. If only one of this litany of wishes can come true, let’s have it be the most important one: broader television coverage. Don’t tell me that track & field can’t be popular. Track and cross country represent the largest participatory sport throughout our nation’s high schools. If there is room on television for NASCAR and cage-fighting, then surely TV can accommodate mankind’s original sport, the one from which every other sport arose. Track & field must connect with a visionary and influential network or executive who can appreciate the sport’s potential. Television, of course, caters to popularity. But let’s not delude ourselves: because of television’s king-making capability, many times the mere act of on-air broadcasting allows the medium to create popularity. Our sport can aid its cause by thinking outside box, by unshackling itself from outdated and ineffective methods of presentation – perhaps by considering a more European-like entertainment-based compressed presentation of 2 hours to 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Armory’s Norb Sander is working hard – and making progress – in cobbling together an indoor series of 4-5 weekly Saturday broadcasts. Add a weekly 30 minute show – perhaps a cable broadcast comprised of weekly highlights, a one-on-one interview, and a feature piece about the sport – and track & field would be well on its way. A snappy, polished, 21st century television presentation could ultimately lead to an increased inflow of funding into this undercapitalized sport. And if this wish came true – and resulted in more money coming into the sport – a goodly number of our other wishes for track & field would eventually come true as well.
It’s a pretty safe bet that not all 10 of these wishes will come true in 2015. That never happens – even in the best of years. But if just a couple could occur this year, it would help make the sport we all love even better.
Dave Hunter, who ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the highly revered Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic era, is a track and field announcer, broadcaster, and journalist. To find out more about Dave, please visit www.trackandfieldhunter.com
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