The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week at the USA Track and Field Championships?

Chaunte Lowe is the new star.  An American Record win in the high jump (2.05), and then immediately following that she took second in the long jump.  That kind of two-event ability is basically unheard of.  I have no idea if she's planning on doing much, if any, long jumping over the remainder of the season, but on the high jump alone she's getting deserved attention. 

Des Moines should not get the 2016 Olympic Trials.  Drake tends to bring in the crowds, as the Drake Relays has sold out for 45 straight years, the Iowa High School Championships are the best-attended in the country, and two years ago they broke the NCAA Championships attendance record.  But the attendance here was very disappointing, failing to get 10,000 fans in on any day, even when hometown hero Lolo Jones was running.  That, along with the long throws being held outside the stadium and a seating capacity of only 14,500, should disqualify Des Moines from winning the next round of Trials bidding.

To be fair, the fields were not of national championships quality, as is common in the off-year.  But Indy's attendance in 2006, with similar heat issues, was only 2,000 less, and no one thought Carroll Stadium warranted another Olympic Trials due to a strong fan base.

Jen Suhr is back to top form.  In just her second meet back after a one-year injury hiatus, she won the pole vault and took some shots at her own American Record.  I didn't think she had it in her yet; I'm glad I'm wrong.

More is not better.  The weekend's events saw unprecedented levels of coverage.  The meet was on TV for seven hours, and two different websites did live webcasts.  Unfortunately, the TV coverage was of unbelievably poor quality.  Even worse, I can't say it's a new low.  It's just more of the same: no excitement about anything longer than a mile, horrible to non-existent field event coverage, and the producers prefer talking heads and replays between commercials and distance races during them, rather than the other way around.

I did not see the Runnerspace webcast, but apparently they put some accomplished announcers in the booth for those, such as Paul Swangard.  Also, the webcast during the TV broadcasts were "field event specials".  I appreciate the effort.  But how in the world is anyone supposed to watch a webcast AND the TV at the same time?  It's as if they've given up any pretense that our sport is track and field, or that the jokers who do the TV coverage could ever get it right.

Javelin throwers are BIG.  As a fan and not a journalist, I rarely meet top athletes or even get to see them up close.  Javelinists get such little attention that you don't get to see them on screen much.  And, when you do, they're always on the field surrounded by no one but other throwers.  So, when I got to meet Breaux Greer a few years ago my first thought was "Damn, he's big".  Not shot-putter or hammer-thrower big, but a well-muscled well-proportioned guy who is just 10% to 20% bigger than your normal athlete.

Ditto for new javelin AR holder Kara Patterson.  The woman who does post-competition interviews for ESPN is almost always taller than the athletes.  Not with Patterson, whose big and muscular upper body was striking on camera.  Yet she still looks feminine to me, whatever the heck "feminine" means.  It certainly does not mean weak.

Track and field is treated just like the NFL and the NBA playoffs.  In that ESPN has broken into all of these broadcasts to show the final innings of a no-hitter.  On Friday night, the end of the men's 5k and all of the men's 100 were cut off in favor of Edwin Jackson's eight-walk no-hit performance.  Turns out they are contractually obligated to do so, and took pains to replay the missed portions multiple times on Saturday and Sunday.

USATF rolled out part of its Project 30.  It's mostly a big pile of money for athlete funding, directed at those who are financially struggling but good shots at medaling in 2012.  But all the athletes had to sign with Nike, so those with other companies were left out in the cold.  Of the 31 athletes in the program, eighteen were already with Nike.  This made some observers question just how much new money there really was, and whether there was undue influence by Nike.

I'm looking at it from a different perspective: grants to athletes are not the most effective use of federation money.  Grants to training groups are.  The Oregon TC.  The World Throws Center.  The Mammoth Track Club.  John Cook's training group.  The old Santa Monica TC.  Mac Wilkin's throws group up at Concordia.  These places are where the not-quite-good-enough athletes make huge steps forward.  If I had $1 million to improve US distance running, I'd start up ten more Hanson's Distance Projects, and I think we'd have depth second only to Kenya.

Who's #1 in the 400?  LaShawn Merritt famously shot himself in the foot.  Jeremy Wariner hasn't been up to his own standard, and was a DNF yesterday.  David Neville beat Wariner early but scratched in the semis.  Angelo Taylor has run some good races, but only dabbles in the event.  Calvin Smith looked good early in the season but has really fallen off since then.  Ditto for Tavaris Tate.  So it fell to journeyman Greg Nixon to win yesterday.  Kudos to him--he put up the world leader--but the event as a whole isn't setting the world on fire.

USATF is thinking outside the box: good.  I don't know anything about it besides the press release, but USATF had a "member appreciation weekend", which included a hospitality tent at the stadium and other goodies for USATF members.  This is new thinking.  Previously, membership in USATF was reserved for athletes, coaches, administrators and officials.  The member appreciation weekend potentially adds another type of member: fan.  The idea of USATF having a booster club is long overdue. 

I'm shocked at how few college track/XC programs have their own booster clubs, and even more shocked at how few do anything for their members.  So far as I know, only Ohio State's Olympian Club makes its members feel special, with pre-meet tailgate parties and reserved seating at home meets.

On Friday night I worked a fund-raiser for my cross-country team at the Toledo Speedway, our local stop on the ARCA circuit.  At the table next to ours was the Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club,signing people up and selling hats and shirts, and we weren't even in Michigan.  Does US track have a fan club?  No.  It's high time that we do.

USATF is thinking outside the box: bad.  CEO Doug Logan mentioned the idea of a track reality show.  Ugh.  The whole point of reality TV is that it is not complimentary to the people on it.  Maybe it could be done well and drive some interest, but I am not confident.

Yours truly is still in the hunt.  I entered the weekend in second place in the USATF Pick N' Win Game, and at one point I was first.  Now I'm fourth.  I was eight points out of first, now I'm six points out.  First place wins $2,000, second is $150, and so on down to $50 for tenth.  Unless I have a bang-up day at the Pre Classic, I think I'm going to win a nice dinner instead of a new computer.

Some people know how to run races and some people don't.  The USA has some pretty good milers, but even more impressive to me is how tactically aware they are.  You lead the second and third laps and you usually are well back of the winner, but Leo Manzano darn near won after doing so.  Lopez Lomong is just as savvy and came up for the win.   On the women's side we've got great depth and similarly good tacticians in Anna Pierce and Shannon Rowbury, first and third in the championships.  While Erin Donahue doesn't quite have the talent to run as fast as the others, she does know how to make the most of a slow race and took second on Saturday.

And then there's Bridget Franek.  I hesitate to call her out, as I have a distant but personal connection to her family, but she's a professional athlete now and it comes with the territory.  She's tough as nails, but I have yet to see her run with any plan besides overpowering her opponents.  She was outfoxed today and got eaten alive.  Had I been smart enough to listen to my doubts and pick Lisa Aguilera to win (who did), I'd be tied for first in the fantasy league.

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