Last night, on a Runnerspace.com program, “Fireside Chat”, I was fortunate to be part of the program. John Godina, finest shot put/discus thrower of his generation, noted that TV has good coverage only during major events such as Olympics.
Think of that when you read Jeff Benjamin’s reviews of the NBC coverage of this 2016 Olympic Trials.
Subject: The First Day of the Olympic Trials on NBC Friday 7/1
Once again, this writer is hunkered up in the Man-Cave on Staten Island unable to join all of my great friends and devotees to the Sport across the country in Eugene. But fear not- for the magic of television does come in handy, especially the coverage brought to those of us at home by NBC Sports.
Here is a summary of the Opening Day at Hayward Field.
Day 1 – Mix and Match! But saved by a Rupp Home Run!
The opening episode of the Trials took place on Friday night prime-time for 1 hour right after a previous hour of NBC showing the Swimming Trials. This seemed to make sense in that the scheduling of a few key finals would be taking place within that 60- minute bubble. Tom Hammond brought us right into the Women’s 400 heats with the Great 4-Time Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross who as Hammond stated would be retiring. Ato Boldon then brought up her injuries, with the tape on her hamstring. Boldon then mentioned how Dee Dee Trotter and Ross have been in the past 3 Olympiads together.
At the start, Ross, who Boldon stated had started tentatively, also said that, ” maybe she can salvage something over the last half.” But it was not to be, as
Hammond stated that she pulled up right after the 200 mark and stopped.
Boldon stated that,” We will have a new Olympic Champion as the NCAA star Courtney Okolo wins the heat. With Ross acknowledging the ovation of appreciation from the crowd,
Lewis Johnson, to his credit was able to get Ross right away, who said “I’m grateful for an amazing career and amazing fans”. When Johnson asked Ross what was next, the Olympic legend said she’d like to write a book and start a family, but she also said,” I do want to go into broadcasting, that’s what I’m passionate about. “
After this Heat both Hammond and Boldon, to set up the drama, emphasized the brutal but fair system of selecting our team. As Hammond stated, “Past accomplishments don’t mean anything” which led Noldon to exclaim that this is “the greatest track meet anywhere in the world” Boldon then focused on Allyson Felix in the second heat. However, as Boldon said, ” she has injury problems and her Ankle still very sore”. At least in this heat, Felix seemed to be ok as, according to Boldon, “it looks like business as usual for Allyson Felix”, as she went out in her usual show of force. Even though the heat was won by Quanera Hayes, Felix, who finished second. Boldon noted of Felix, “Looked a little off on the home straightaway”, emphasized that she probably has to “shake off the rust” but, for the most part, “she looked like last year’s Beijing Allyson Felix.”
After the Commercial break, NBC went to swimming with Michael Phelps. Now, this writer is acutely aware as to the groans heard by our track fans and purists. But, let’s face it. As many know, the Sports’ popularity is not, so to speak, where it once was. The average fan, as pointed out by IAAF President Seb Coe, is not comprised of the twenty-somethings or tweens, which has prompted Coe to emphasize that the thinking has to be more “out of the box” in order to get more fans on board. Perhaps getting these swim fans to stick around and latch on to the happenings at Hayward Field was an idea put forth by the NBC production people, perhaps not. But the format sure was different.
It was then on to Todd Harris’ calling of the Men’s Shot Put, where 2012 4th place finisher Joe Kovacs was profiled quick along with his first Coach, his mother Joanna. At this point of the competition, Kovacs was in that precarious position known as 3rd place, with lots of throwing to happen!
After the next commercial break NBC showed a preview of the 10K. Led by the commentary of Craig Masback and Tim Hutchings, the only focus was on the great accomplishments of Galen Rupp, from his 2012 London 10K Silver to his Marathon Trials victory performances. Hutchings said that,”in 2012 I saw Galen as a track runner, but now I see him as a marathon runner. That’s how good he looked in February.”
Masback mentioned that the 82 degrees temperature, combined with the low humidity, would probably not affect the runners, whereas Hutchings stated that race would probably comprise a slow first half, then a wind up in the last couple of miles. True to form, the pace was slow, with Rupp in second. Masback then went on to talk about Rupp’s preparation for the heat.
“Rupp has been doing 2 hour runs on his treadmill while raising the thermostat to 80 degrees with a 75% humidity factor in his house….I wonder if his wife is upset about their electricity bill!” Another extra factor, according to Masback, was Rupp helping out another NIKE Oregon Project teammate in the race, Erik Jenkins .”If Rupp could throw in some surges and weaken the runners a little bit then Jenkins who has an excellent finish can come through in the end,” said Masback.
As the 10K progressed, NBC then went back to the Shot Put, where the end of an era was shown with Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson failing to qualify. In a total changing of the guard. Kovacs, who Harris said,”turned himself from a glider into a spinner!”, netted his spot on the Rio team along with Darrell Hill and victor, Ryan Crouser.
When the coverage of the 10K was now shown around 9 minutes into the race, Rupp had surged with what Hutchings described as a “vicious acceleration”, but then slowed and allowed the pack catch up, echoing Masback’s statement about Rupp helping out Jenkins.
After another commercial break the racetracks with 13 laps to go, Rupp, once again surged, according to Masback in an attempt to “soften the field”. Only this time the ageless Bernard Lagat and Army athlete Shadrak Kipchirir went with him. It was then onto another commercial break (redundant, I know, but I guess you gotta pay the bills!) which showed with 20 minutes into the race Rupp leading Kipchirir with Lagat falling back
Quickly, NBC went to Harris who interviewed the rookie American Shot Olympians Put. Crouser, who is from Oregon, said, “It’ an honor to do it on this field” Echoing those sentiments was Hill, who said, “These are the best fans here!”, while Kovacs said,” I’m happy to pull this out and to have my teammate Hill with me!”
NBC then showed quickly who they would be up against in Rio, as they showed the top world competitors including Poland’s Tomasz Majewski, New Zealander Tom Walsh, and Germany’s David Storl.
It was then back to the 10k, where, to the surprise of Masback and Hutchings, Lagat dropped out. As the race progressed with Rupp leading Masback talked about
Kipchirir, an Army runner who is coached by the last American to attempt to do the Olympic 10K/Marathon double in the Olympics- Dan Browne. In the meantime, his Army teammate Leonard Korir, who had run collegiately for Ionia, was in 3rd. With Rupp doing all the work for most of the race, it made sense for Kipchirir to try and jump into the lead just before the bell lap. But he couldn’t shake off Rupp, who was right behind him. Then, just before 200 to go, Rupp blasted past the Army runner, prompting Hutchings to say,”Boy did he make that look easy!” Easily crossing the line before his legion of fans, Rupp struck a Robert Redford-type pose from “The Natural” albeit right-handedly. Masback then talked about Rupp’s strength, as he received congrats from the “Mayor” of TrackTown Vin Lanana. “He’s running 145 miles a week and some of that is in the underwater treadmill.
As for Rupp’s attempted Olympic double, Hutchings said,” I have some mixed feelings about that,” emphasizing that he feels that Rupp is now more of a marathoner.
Marathoner, which was said as Rupp was embracing his Coach Alberto Salazar and leading Hammond to exclaim,”he (Rupp) hits this one out of the park!” prior to another commercial break.
After the break and a replay of Rupp’s last lap, Johnson got to talk with with Rupp, who said,”It’s such an honor- the 10,000 is kind of like my baby so I didn’t want to lose that.” Then to some surprise Rupp said, “so now I’ll rest up and run the 5000.”
Asked by Johnson about his marathon training, Rupp said, “Training for the Marathon is really hard – you have to put in a lot of miles …We have a fine line of sometimes overdoing it.” But he did say that Salazar gave him a “crash rest course– I’ve only run a couple of miles this week…It’s all just about resting doing the mileage, doing the speed and I’ll be ready.”
As the broadcast was ending Masback said to the audience and to Hutchings that “I believe the double is possible and we’ll have some disagreement over the next few weeks over this,” which was met by a skepticalHutchins.
“Rupp has an emotional attachment to the 10,000 but I see him as a marathon runner now and I’m astonished to hear him say he’s going to run the 5000 meter heat and final beginning on Friday– I think he should focus on the marathon or else he’s going to blow it!” to add to the drama.
With this respectful schism between the two distance experts, Boldon concluded with a preview of tomorrow’s100, emphasizing that, with the appearances of Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie, more drama is coming.
More drama? More fireworks? Stay tuned!