The idea makes total sense. Bring the team concept to track & field. The ITA tried it in the early 1970s, and I remember watching the meets on TV as a teenager. But, besides the Olympics and World Champs, team events are few and far between. This time, with all of the trappings of the other pro sports, the Tracktown Summer series is premeiring tomorrow, and on ESPN as well!
Lori Shontz, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon, who, many will recall, worked with RunBlogRun.com to manage a team of journalism students to write daily about the Olympic Trials for RBR, is one of our two writers covering the Tracktown Series tomorrow evening.
Here is her piece on the press conference that preceeded the event.
By Lori Shontz
EUGENE, Oregon–As Tracktown USA president Vin Lananna previewed his latest innovation, the Tracktown Summer Series, which is attempting to frame track and field as team sport, Robby Andrews sat in one corner of the conference room. Alone.
Andrews, who will run the 1,500 meters Friday at Hayward Field for the San Francisco team, was surrounded at Thursday’s news conference by three directors chairs, filled only by red team t-shirts draped across the seats. Casmir Loxsom–Team New York, which had its full complement of four seats filled across the room–snapped a picture, drew stick figures in the other three seats and noted, “Team San Fran out in full force.”
When Team San Francisco was called to the podium to speak, Andrews’ face flooded with exaggerated relief as three teammates joined him from the audience. When asked what it was like to compete again at Hayward just a couple of weeks after the Olympic trials, Andrews joked, “It’s nice to be supported by my teammates up here on the stage.”
Forgive the athletes–it’s been a while since most of them have been a part of a team. “Since probably college,” said sprinter Barbara Pierre, one of Andrews’ teammates.
The event–just one meet in its inaugural year, not a series–is putting into practice some elements Lananna has been promoting for a while. One is a team format, something that American sports fans can better understand and something that he believes can make track and field more visible. Another is giving U.S. athletes a chance to compete against top competition without traveling to Europe or Asia.
And the other is helping athletes support themselves–the top six finishers in each event will earn between $4,000 and $750, and there’s an extra $1,000 for members of the winning team. Athletes also earned bonus money based on where they were chosen in a draft.
About a dozen of the 36 athletes who will compete Friday attended the news conference, and they were all enthusiastic about the concepts–and willing to talk a little trash and laugh as they hyped the team concept.
Loxsom, who will run the 800 for Team New York: “New York just has such a rich winning championships sports tradition–we’re just going to let the results speak for themselves. Just bring another another championship home to the Big Apple.”
High jumper Erik Kynard picked up the metaphorical baton–see below for information on a real one–and added, “I want to say, we’re going to win. Team San Francisco. All the other teams, deal with it. Get used to us.”
Phoebe Wright, running the 800 for Team Portland: “We’re too polite to trash talk. And we do have plans. We’re going to do some team bonding with eating gluten free muffins and playing on our iPhones. Together. In the same room. In silence.”
That light-hearted tone prevailed throughout the press conference. The team concept isn’t particularly formal–there aren’t official coaches or managers, although Kynard nominated Andrews as the captain of Team San Francisco as a reward for being the only athlete to actually sit in the proper section.
Andrews, however, demurred. “That’s very kind of him to say that, but we all know that he’s the team captain,” he said. “Tall, dark and handsome, obviously. Look no further.”
Team San Francisco cracked up, with Kynard laughing the loudest.
But the competition will be tough, with 17 Olympians in the field and prize money at stake. It will be televised live on ESPN starting at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time. The final event will be a mixed 4×400 relay, with men running the first and third legs and women running the second and anchor legs.
All of the athletes hope the fans will embrace the new format.
“As a fan, it’s easy to get behind a team,” Wright said. “There’s too much turnover and there’s too many new faces coming and going in track to get behind each individual athlete. I know for me, I know one player on the Seahawks team, and that’s Richard Sherman because he ran track. But you best believe I’m a Seahawks fan.”