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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Millrose Reactions

IAAF report /Athlete quotes

I had high hopes for this year's Millrose Games. I thought Larry Rawson's sacking meant significant changes were in store for the TV broadcast. Sadly, no. It's still the same old tired and boring formula. Race, h/bimbo does immediate post-race interview of h/bimbo, another commercial, field events get spit on if covered at all. Complete absence of on-screen graphics to help make meaning of the action.

I've always thought track and field is an inherently interesting sport, and people will like it if you show it to them. I've also always thought domestic TV coverage doesn't show us track and field meets, but rather a bunch of disjointed races. There is no thought or effort put into how to present the three-ring circus as a single coherent experience.

The only thing they managed to do right was the Wanamaker mile. They had done some pre-production (imagine that!) and when it came time for the race, they got out of the way and let the MSG announcer do his thing. Unfortunately, they didn't give us any visual reason why Lagat should have feared Kiprop: all it would have taken was footage of the final 120m of last year's Bowerman Mile at the Pre Classic to get the point across (footage that USATF produced and therefore owns the rights for). In the end, Lagat used his two most potent weapons, the ability to accelerate on a dime and the knowledge of when to use it. Kiprop didn't look race-sharp and the result was never in any doubt.

Besides all that, for the most part the meet sucked. Aside from the shot put and maybe the 600 yards, the fields were weak. If the meet disappeared (which some rumors say it may), I wonder if anyone would notice. And if it does, we are on the verge of the domestic professional indoor circuit ending alltogether. Again, would anyone notice?

In the 30s up through the 80s, the USA had a thriving circuit of indoor track meets all over the country. The list of cities that hosted them sounds almost like "I've Been Everywhere, Man". The IAAF's indoor Grand Prix serieswas exclusively in the USA, bringing every pros all over the world to the USA. But then Europe started getting in on the action. And then the IAAF's indoor world championships and indoor world records made indoor times important. And the NCAA indoor championships started meaning about as much as the outdoor championships. So foreign stars started wanting to stay home, and everyone (college stars especially) wanted to run on fast 200m tracks rather than those tiny board ovals. And, of course, TAC's tin-ear leadership let whatever attention was paid to them die on the vine. By the late-90s, all but one traditional meet--Millrose--had closed up shop.

So it was a major reconstruction a few years back to have created a four-meet televised domestic series culminating in the USATF indoor championships. Millrose has been the most famous but least appealing of all of them, but at least it got press. It was announced a month or so ago that there wouldn't be any pro action or TV coverage at the Tyson Invitational. If Millrose goes the way of the dodo, then we're down to one domestic pro meet. Considering that even in the 21st century crossing the Atlantic isn't something you do on a whim, getting enough good athletes to be here for one meet won't happen. It would be the death of the whole thing. Like the domestic auto industry, it's been so poorly managed and of such inferior quality that while if it went away we'd miss the industry, we wouldn't miss the product it created.

Performance of the meet: Even taking the tight boards into account, none of the track events were notably fast. The vertical jumps were underwhelming. Christian Cantwell's final put, though, was huge. How big is 21.95 meters? Equal to #2 on last year's combined indoor/outdoor world list. No one but Cantwell himself threw further all of last year.

Super 60: There were track purists that described this race's mere existence in apocalyptic terms usually reserved for prominent politicians of the opposing party. It turned out to be covered as a sideshow and nothing more, like the kid's sprint races. And it was an interesting race, too. Anthony Dorsett Jr. ran a respectable 7.01 to win.

Competition of the meet: Most of the ones that were tight and interesting were because the fields were of inferior quality or performing well below their ability. The women's 60 meters was an exception, with Lisa Barber winning by .003 seconds over Veronica Campbell-Brown. Side note: while discussing Jana Rawlinson's breast augmentation/reduction drama, an insider said an unnamed US sprinter also recently recieved implants. I'm guessing it's Lisa Barber. I seem to recall her being fairly flat-chested, but she certainly isn't now. It would fit with her overall "please look at me" style.

Fantasy League: Ugh. I'm 893rd. My wife said "It could be worse. You could be last." To which I replied, "How do you know I'm not?"

One of the cardinal rules of fantasy sport is to obsessively check news about your athletes. This is especially true in track & field, where start lists change all the time. I last checked updates to start lists at 11 AM yesterday, at which time it had not yet been announced that Boaz Lalang was added to the men's 800, an athlete I would have immediately picked. Screwed myself there.

Then there were two withdrawals never announced: my picks in the women's pole vault and high jump. Two big goose-eggs. Renauld Lavillenie, who has been dominating the European circuit, inexplicably bombed here. Other than that, my only bad mistake was picking Sally Kipyego in the women's mile. My numbers system said Hannah England was the best runner in the race, and I never should have doubted it.


Jeremy said...

Well, now I don't feel so bad about being 470th! What would you have the TV crew do differently? I've grown so used to the formula I have no idea what they could do differently. The Mile setup was a start, I guess, but I don't see how it would be possible to do stuff like that for every event.

Anyway, thanks for putting in the time to write about this stuff.

The Track & Field Superfan said...

Watch BBC live feeds on this summer and you'll see how to cover a track meet.

For the most part, golf is the sport whose challenges of coverage are most like track & field, in that many things are happening in various places simultaneously. The Beeb manages with just one announcer, whose primary role is that of "traffic cop", letting us know what's going on in various field events in real time as the cameras cut to them in between and during track events.

In contrast, USATF broadcasts give us a lengthy introduction to a race, the race, a brainless deconstruction of said race, and then a commercial. Repeat ad infinitum. Field events get the usual "here's the winning effort" recap after they're all over, and NOTHING on screen tells us who's winning, where the current athlete stands, what s/he needs to overtake the lead, etc. Such would be unthinkable in any other sport.