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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Superfan Daily: Bucket List

It's not really spring yet, but it's March now, and there's more daylight and less bitter cold and the snowstorms are probably done.  All this means outdoor track season is coming up soon.  I'm a little more excited about it this year than usual.

A little over a month ago, a couple of friends and I booked a trip to the Penn Relays.  I've always wanted to go, but as a teacher who has also spent a lot of time coaching, it hasn't been easy to find the time.  We're going this year, though, and I'm excited.

If I'm lucky, it will be like June 6 1987, the day I became hooked on track.  A high school sophomore who missed the season with injury, I got myself down to Columbus to see the state championships.  I'd never been to a place where so many people were so pumped to watch races all day.  I sat through all three of Ohio's successive divisional state meets, capped by my teammates taking an improbable come-from-behind Division I team championship victory with a win in the 4x400.

Penn, of course, has a lot more people in the stands and a lot more races than any state meet.  It's a must-see event for any track fan.  I hope to be like Kermit Ambrose, who is still going to track meets at age 101, but I have to have a plan.  Here's my "bucket list" of track meets to see in my lifetime.

The Olympic Games are an obvious number one.  Expensive and hectic, but it's the top of the sport.

Next on the list has to be the IAAF World Championships, like the Olympics but track-only.  I've already got this one checked off.  I went to the Worlds the one time they've been in the western hemisphere, in 2001 in Edmonton.  Ten days of track all day and beer all night.

Another two I simultaneously checked off are the Olympic Trials and a major meet at Hayward Field, as I went in 2008.  Besides the track meet, it was also a gathering of everyone involved in the sport--media, sponsors, bloggers, hangers-on, you name it. I don't know if it was just 2008 because the Trials were in Eugene, but it was an amazing week and a half.  And Hayward is a fantastic place, too.

Another thing right at the top are European invitationals, the backbone of the Diamond League.  There are many of these, but you'd have to say the Zurich Weltklasse is the absolute must-do.  Oslo's Bislett Games and Stockholm's DN Galan are right up there too, with great fan atmosphere and gorgeous old stadiums.

I'm not one who thinks only bigger is better.  I'd also like to see European meets of a different flavor, like the annual small-town Finnish Elite Games in tiny Kuortane (population 3,957), or the Oxford versus Cambridge meet.

Coming back to the USA, the other must-see meet is the NCAA (outdoor) Championships.  I'm going to pick wisely when I go, though, as I'm looking for atmosphere as well as great competition.  Eugene and Des Moines packed their stadiums, Fayetteville did not.  The NCAA indoor championships don't quite have the same pull to me, but I've been to the NCAA Cross Country Championships nine times and they are a raucous good time.

Eugene and Des Moines and Terre Haute appreciate track (or XC), but I have to go to places where they really appreciate track. Like Kingston.  When in Jamaica filming Chasing Bolt, Matt Taylor went to the Boys' and Girls' Championships (aka The Champs) and said it was the greatest track meet atmosphere anywhere in the world.  All 35,000 seats sold well in advance and all anyone can talk about in Kingston in the preceding week.  A similar treat would have to be a major race in Nairobi, either the national cross country championships at Uhuru Gardens or the Olympic Trials at Nyayo Stadium.

Others that I'd like to go see sometime are Australia's Stawell Gift, and many of the traditional relay carnivals such as Drake, Florida, Kansas, Texas and Mt. SAC.

Suggestions?  Arguments?  Insults?  Feel free to comment.

Melbourne Track Classic (IAAF World Challenge, Athletics Australia Tour)
Today, Olympic Park, Melbourne AUS
Highlights: David Rudisha (KEN) 1:43.88, Kenia Sinclair (JAM) 1:59.63 800m, Jeff Risely (AUS) 3:36.71 1500m, Bernard Lagat (USA) 13:08.43
Athletics Australia story / Results / Video

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

Mmmm, that's tasty.

Kickin' it.

Ken Goe's daily Oregon track blog.

The British Olympic Association is broke.

Leonard Komon wants back on the Kenya team for the World Cross Country Championships, and Paul Tergat thinks he should be.

Another Bolt announcement: he will run the 100 at the July 22 Diamond League meet in Monte Carlo. Already announced are the 100 in Rome on May 26 and the 200 in Oslo on June 6.


KIMbia said...

I think some of the items on your bucket list may vary depending on performances and/or venue -- at least in terms of how well they deliver on the anticipation. Por ejemplo:

Olympic Trials in Sacramento? Or Olympic Trials in Eugene? Or Olympic Trials in Eugene with Oregon & OTC athletes sweeping the 800m in dramatic fashion?

In my limited (but growing) experience I'd say that the 2008 Olympic Trials exceeded my expectations (dreams coming true right before your very eyes!); the 2009 World Championships exceeded my expectations (guessing the host heavily factors into the experience but, still, every single event is loaded with SUPERSTARS); 2008 Boys & Girls (aka "Champs") in Jamaica exceeded BIG TIME; 2005 NCAA Cross Country fell a bit short; and the OHSAA Cross Country championships never, ever disappoint.

I would add to your list that the Belgian pro circuit can be charming, if not life-changing -- especially Heusden. Nothing like enjoying a nice Belgian beer (with fries) on a track-side patio on a mild summer evening. And, finally, this is very "niche," but the qualifying meet for the Millrose HS relays (held at the Armory) is as charged an atmosphere as I've experienced: for so many teams, just getting to Millrose will be the #1 highlight of their season.

I really, really have to hit Penn at some point. Fingers crossed that the Olympics comes through next year.

Jeremy Mosher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Track & Field Superfan said...

I think an Olympic Trials is a must, regardless of the site. And a meet at Hayward is a must, regardless of which meet it is. So when the two happen together, it's extra special. Garry Hill, who has been to more big meets than almost anyone in the hemisphere, says he likes the Trials better than even the Olympics.

The Worlds I went to was probably the least impressive in terms of the host city, but it was still awesome. On the other hand, the Worlds were the only show in Edmonton for that week and a half and it probably got more attention from the locals than a Worlds in Paris or Beijing would.