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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Superfan Daily: Millrose Reversing Downward Trend

Over the last couple of decades, and especially the last few years, the Millrose Games have been declining in lots of ways.  A meet that used to sell out Madison Square Garden's 18,000 seats hasn't had an attendance of 12,000 in many years.  And while it no longer maintains an important place in the domestic sports year because track in general is not important, even within track circles it just isn't that big a deal anymore.

There are many reasons for this, but one big reason is that there's not as much to see these days.  The meet has far fewer competitions.  In 1983, for example, Millrose had the following men's races:
*60 yards (plus qualifying heats), 400 meters, 500 yards, 600 yards, 800 meters, mile, 5000 meters, 60 yard hurdles (plus qualifying heats), 4x440y clubs, 4x440y colleges, 4x880y
Last year we were down to these races:
*60 meters (final only), 600 yards, 800 meters, mile, 60 meter hurdles (final only), 4x400, 4x800

If you consider heats as races (and I don't see why you wouldn't), the men's slate of events is less than half of what it used to be.  Between 1983 and 2010 the women's competition has expanded, but not by all that much, and certainly not by the amount that the men's program has been cut. 

Consider this: domestic TV coverage of track is notable for its ability to waste time and avoid showing real competition, but over the last few years ESPN has shown us all the pro races at Millrose and still run out of things to fill air time.  They've gone to including the high school boys' and girls' mile races because there's not enough pro and collegiate level content for a two-hour broadcast.

One thing that has really disappeared from the scene is the long races.  Millrose hasn't had a men's race longer than a mile since 2003, when it had a 3000 meters.  Back in the 80s, though, they had a 5000--yeah, 34+ laps of that tiny track.  Cutting out one long race is a big deal in terms of content, not only because it takes a lot of time but because it allows attention to go to field events during the race's early stages.

A large part of why these longer races disappeared is because of an inability to bring in the top talent.  European meets have gained in strength while the US circuit has all but completely disappeared.  NCAA rules changes have discouraged the top collegians from competing in the elite races.  And, most of all, US runners haven't been competitive.  A meet promoter doesn't think much of a thirteen-minute race between what he percieves the public sees as a bunch of nameless, faceless foreigners, but the 1981 battle between Suleiman Nyambui and Alberto Salazar most certainly was good entertainment.  The difference is that it was close and a well-known American was in the hunt.

Fortunately, things at Millrose appear to be taking a turn for the better under the new management of the Armory Foundation.  A Jamaica-USA challenge in the sprints has inked most of the best stars from each country who compete indoors.  A three-event multi competition has brought in all of the best American decathletes.  Bernard Lagat will likely have a tough race on his hands in the Wanamaker Mile as he goes up against the defending world indoor champion.

And, in what I think is the most meaningful new direction, on Tuesday it was announced that the meet will bring back the two-mile race and it that it will feature Galen Rupp.  The meet is beginning to look somewhat like it used to, and hopefully especially so in terms of attendance and media attention.  It should come as little surprise that the Armory Foundation has hired Tom Jordan to direct the meet.  This is the man who took the Prefontaine Classic from just another west-cost meet to one of the very best in the world.

What's On
Rider goes to Monmouth today for a dual meet.

Track on TV
Running, 8:00 PM tonight on Showtime Family Zone

News Links
Runner's World's Racing News has all the headlines.

Let's Run's The Week That Was looks at how to beat the winter blues.

Huge news in the UK: Tottenham Hotspur plans to demolish the Olympic Stadium completely and start over if they win their bid to gain the site.  They are already considered a bit behind as compared to West Ham, the other bidder, and hopefully this puts them further behind.  But it goes to show how much football rules all in Britain, even more so than in the USA.

The IOC sticks by its extended-ban rule which would knock out LaShawn Merritt for 2012, but USADA head Travis Tygart says it has unintended negative consequences, namely that athletes inclined to assist anti-doping authorities might face an especially severe penalty for doing so.

News and notes from the New York Track Writers luncheon.  Apparently there are enough of them in New York to actually have an organization.

Athletics Kenya announces its selection criteria for the World and African Cross Country Championships...sort of.

Usain Bolt will run in Rome's late-May Golden Gala.  Paired with his stop in Oslo just a few weeks later, it's almost certain he will not run in either of the USA stops on the Diamond League, as their dates are similar.

Speaking of Bolt, TrackAlerts gives us an update on construction of his new Kingston sports bar.

Kingston's Gibson Relays were canceled due to track reconstruction at the National Stadium, but the work just might be done in time to still hold the meet.

Matt Gabrielson has dropped out of the USA Half Marathon Championships in favor of the USA Cross Country Championships a week later.  XC always loses out to the roads in the USA, and this is a nice change.

Comebacking Liu Xiang will run two indoor meets in Europe next month.

The USTFCCCA has released the pre-season Bowerman Award men's watch list.

The IAAF runs a profile on Russian high jumper Aleksandr Shustov.

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