The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taking Track (and Field) to the People

The special downtown "street shot" put held last night as part of the Kansas Relays was well-received.  The reports are that over 2,500 people came out to see it.  The photo might not reflect that, but think about the vantage point of the photographer--a second- or third-story window--and that many of the adjacent businesses are restaurants or bars with balconies, and you've got yourself a nice little stadium.

Tonight they're trying it again with a street long jump.  This follows a general trend we've seen lately, which is to take an event or two out of the stadium and into other kinds of spaces.  It allows people to see the athletes compete in a far more intimate atmosphere than would otherwise be possible.  And when they see them close up, the insanity of the speed or strength of these athletes becomes much more appreciable.

Pole vaulting has done this for a long time, with street vaults and beach vaults and whatnot.  Next week the Drake Relays is reprising one of their more popular stunts, in which a pole vault competition is held inside Des Moines' biggest shopping mall.

High jumpers have done these kinds of things from time to time, too, even in their high-jump only tours held in basketball gyms.  Over in England, they've done some on-street sprint and hurdle races, bringing in big names like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix.

Road racing, of course, is the original "outside the stadium" sport.  The Boston Marathon is estimated to have half a million live spectators, and going out to see it in person is a major Hub tradition.  ESPN's "Sports Guy", Bill Simmons, explains it in his usual entertaining fashion.

The people who put these on are well aware of the novelty of their acts.  They don't like to wear out their welcome.  The mall pole vault in Des Moines was only brought back due to huge public demand for it.

If there's one part of track and field that gets left out of this, it's the long throws.  I joked about waiting to see a street javelin.  If we do want to keep on taking track and field to the people, what are some new ideas?  And how can we incorporate the hammer, discus and javelin?

Hammer throwers have already figured this out in Germany.  The Sparkassen Hammerwurf-Meeting in Fränkisch-Crumbach is an all-hammer competition in a park in a small German village, complete with beer and bratwurst and a party atmosphere.  Friend of the blog Martin Bingisser has thrown there and says it's the best hammer meet in the world.  Here in the USA, it wouldn't be too hard to add a hammer competition to an outdoor summer German/Polish/Russian/whathaveyou ethnic festival.  Toledo has a German-American festival, and has the space, and I may try to get together with local throwers and the festival organizers and see what we can do.

We need to keep on doing these in whatever way we can.  I joked about the street javelin, but I have an idea for something kind of like it.  Take the javelin to a minor league baseball game.  Either before or after the game, put down a temporary foul line between home plate and the mound and throw to the outfield.  The jav does the least damage to turf, and doesn't require a cage, so it's an easier sell than the discus.  You just have to make sure that the athletes aren't good enough to put it in the stands...

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