Whether Lananna is interested in the gig, he is certainly invested in the growth of the sport.Read that again. “Getting track and field to be a major sport”. That is my hope for track in the USA. I firmly believe it is possible, because I’ve always known that track and field is an inherently interesting sport. But I’m not certain that it will ever happen. More than anyone else who could do something about it, Lananna understands the challenges.
It frustrates him that Andrew Wheating, for example, is a star in Europe but nearly anonymous outside of Eugene. He sees grass-roots interest across the country, and yet Americans only care about track every four years.
Here’s Lananna on what his next career move might be.
“If somehow I could be influential in getting track and field to be a major sport, that’s what I would do,” he says. “Because the hard part’s done. We have the greatest team. We’ve just done a terrible job, in my opinion, of being able to demonstrate that on a world stage, or even on the national stage.”
Lananna sees Eugene as an example of what could be accomplished in other communities, and also at the national level.
Not the overall passion and intensity of interest — this place is unique. But he’d like to try to replicate the support, cooperation and cohesive organization of various entities that produce events like the Olympic Trials, the NCAA championships and the Prefontaine Classic, as well as weekly high school meets.
Track matters here, but Lananna thinks it could matter other places, too. Could he have the vision to make it happen?
Or maybe we’re just going around in ovals.
Mentioned in the article is the “support, cooperation and cohesive organization of various entities that produce events”. Track is the single most-popular sport in American high schools in terms of participation. College track is all over the country. Road runners’ clubs are ubiquitous and represent the single most-popular fitness activity in the nation. In any particular community, these three disparate groups all go their separate ways and rarely (if ever) work together. After all, that’s the norm for every sport.
But not in Eugene. The Oregon Track Club works hand in hand with the Ducks, the high schools, the road racing scene, and Nike. If you’re involved in track or cross country or road running in the Eugene area, you’re either part of the OTC or you’ve worked with them. The OTC’s organizational model, more than Duck tradition or Nike money, is the reason why Eugene is Track Town USA.
All these groups work together to put on meets and road races in Eugene. Of course, Eugene has the fan base to make these things worthwhile. But I think this is a chicken-and-egg scenario; there are meets because there are fans, and there are fans because there are meets.
Lananna has demonstrated his understanding of this. When he was at Stanford, his program hosted the NCAA and USATF Championships on multiple occasions, as well as an annual stop on the IAAF Grand Prix circuit. He led a group that bid for the IAAF World Championships, and darn near pulled it off, losing out to Edmonton pretty much only because CBC could make guarantees which American commercial networks could not (or would not). He understood that creating a fan base is dependent on giving them something to see. While Hayward has always been used a lot, that use is up since Lananna came to town.
And the USA needs more meets. The VISA Championship Series’ indoor and outdoor tours are down a meet from a year ago. Back when track was a quasi-major sport, or at least not a minor one, there were many more top-level domestic meets than there are now. (In 1970 CBS aired fifteen track meets, nearly all of them in the US.) There are a lot fewer college meets, too, as most meets are multi-team invitationals rather than the duals or tris common a generation or two ago.
There’s a lot more to bringing track out of the shadows than putting on meets. There’s TV and public relations and new media and all kinds of other things that need to be addressed. There’s improving the horribly fan-unfriendly collegiate season. And I don’t know if a USATF CEO is in a position to address these things. But I do know that anything that can be done to help Vin Lananna take his act nationwide should be done.