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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Stars + Upset = Awesome.  Tyson Gay beating Usain Bolt was a great race to see. What I liked even more was the attention it got.  You would expect zero mainstream domestic sports media attention for an overseas invitational in a non-Olympics/Worlds year and which saw no world records.  This race, on the other hand, was the lead story on SportsCenter.  In any sport, a rare and highly anticipated matchup of top athletes/teams which results in an upset is about the biggest non-championship attention you can get.  So the fact that this was the year's first pairing of Bolt and Gay was probably a good thing for track.  Think about it: the Celtics and the Lakers only meet twice during the regular season, which makes it a very big deal when they do.

It cost an awful lot to get this matchup together.  The DN Galan's sponsors got their money's worth of exposure and then some.  This matchup was supposed to happen a week later at the Aviva London Grand Prix--and no doubt Aviva (the world's fifth-largest insurance company) is making their displeasure known to Parliament, as British tax laws pushed Bolt out of that meet.

As for Asafa Powell, I like what was posted at the Track and Field News message board: "I don't believe that Asafa [faked injury], because if there's one thing that he has proven throughout his career, it's that he is not afraid to lose". You could take that as a not-so-subtle dig at Powell's lack of form in big races.

Bolt is playing a different sponsorship game. Earlier this week, SI's Brian Cazanueve wrote a brief preview of the race, warning that late pullouts were a possibility. "Since athletes often duck and dodge rivals to protect their reputation, Bolt's participation is further sign that -- with his most recent defeat coming in 2008 -- he has no serious challengers."  We now know that was a misreading of the matchup, and in retrospect Bolt's pre-race statements that no one is unbeatable were probably signals that he knew he wasn't in top form.  But I knew right at the time that Cazanueve also misread Bolt's motivations.

If Bolt was ripe for defeat, then why did he agree to the matchup?  Because he's playing a completely different game from any other trackster when it comes to earning money.  He has gone beyond a mere athlete and is now a full-blown celebrity.  His public appearances in the days leading up to his two most-recent Diamond League outings have been mobbed.  PUMA is selling the Bolt Collection of "sportswear" (the kind you wear while watching sports rather than doing them, which is where the real money is).  They hype his upcoming races as part of the advertising spree and he unveils a new one-time signature jersey for each race.  Others have something to lose by being beaten, while Bolt has something to lose by not being seen.  To PUMA, Bolt's defeat was even better than a win, because in the celebrity game there is no such thing as bad publicity.

US distance running fortunes...a dose of realism.  You can't call a one-second PR a breakthrough race for Chris Solinsky, but Friday's fifth-place finish  in the 5k in 12:55.53 was another step up for him  He said he was disappointed in himself, as he didn't take charge of the race at a point when he could have.  With two laps to go, he was one of six runners still in contention, and looked ready to take the lead with 300 meters to go.  But he did not, and only beat one of those six when it came around to the homestretch.  His post-race interview at Flotrack made it clear that he met his product goals (fast time) and missed his process goals (racing style).

Galen Rupp was entered in the race, and there was talk of him being able to break 13:00.  He tripped and fell with about 3 laps to go and saw no reason to continue.  He was behind the group of six that had made the break when that happened, so I'm not sure whether that would have been in the offing, although he had been making up ground.

The New Big Thing, Andrew Wheating, was entered in the 800.  What would he be able to do after a major breakthrough in the 1500 two weeks ago?  As it turns out, he ran out into lane two all the way around the penultimate turn, got bumped and tangled up after that, and beat only one guy (one running his first race of the year, BTW).  In other words, rookie mistakes.  He's got a lot to learn.  One of marked differences I see between American runners and their African foes is how often they compete.  Our guys just don't race all that often, and the Kenyans do.  So in addition to all the other advantages they have, they tend to be more tactically astute.  There is no race where this is more important than the 800.  Noting how Wheating was outfoxed twice this year by a vastly inferior runner (Virginia frosh Robbie Andrews), I think he needs a ton more races.  I worry that he'll not get them and waste opportunities at the next Worlds and Olympics due to the conservative nature of his coach, Vin Lannana.

Universal Sports sucks.  My cable company doesn't carry their TV channel, and if they did I'd watch the live webcasts anyway.  The TV coverage uses the same lame American announcers (Ato, you're good but everyone else has to go) and loses a lot of action during commercials.  The webcasts, on the other hand, are direct from the BBC and kick ass.

That is, when you can see them.  There were major difficulties starting off each of the last two webcasts, costing viewers anywhere from the first ten to fifty minutes of action.  There tend to be lots of freeze-ups during inopportune times as well; lots of viewers reported such right as the featured men's 100 race was getting ready to go, and if it weren't for the two false starts most of us wouldn't have seen it.  We pay good money for these webcasts; it's not like they can't make them work right, they simply choose not to.

I sent them a nasty e-mail telling them the problems I had, and that I hoped ESPN won the next round of IOC and IAAF broadcast rights bidding.  If you're as upset as I am, try letting Universal Sports know.  Better yet, send something to Saucony, the sponsor of the most recent webcast.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Totally agree about Universal Sports. Are they really trying to get revenue off of T&F by charging $1.99/meet? They had a lot more viewers when the coverage was free and probably made a ton more from ad revenue.

-Kevin Liao
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