MONEY VALIDATES

IAAF Continental Cup logo 2014     Our friends at Letsrun.com wrote a preview of this weekend’s 2nd IAAF Continental Cup from Marrakech, Morocco comparing it favorably to the recently completed IAAF Diamond League tour.

“The prize money for the event is insane as compared to the DL meet. The Continental Cup offers $2.9 million in prize money, that’s more than 6 times what a DL event offers ($480,000) and more than three times as much what two DL events would offer. Each event pays out $73,000, plus four relays, each of which pays out $68,000, for a total of $2.9 million in prize money. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, which is allotted as follows:

$30,000 for 1st,
$15,000 for 2nd
$10,000 for 3rd
$7,000 for 4th
$5,000 for 5th
$3,000 for 6th
$2,000 for 7th
$1,000 for 8th.

That’s a HUGE increase from a Diamond League meet.”

***

Recall that at last month’s U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, Serena Williams was awarded a check of $3 million for winning her sixth U.S. Open title, and collected an additional $1 million for winning the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series. Now consider the gulf between the payoffs in these two sports, and the ramifications that develop from it.

As one pundit put it, “Mary (Wittenberg’s) got Caroline Wozniacki (U.S. Open Tennis finalist) running the New York City Marathon. John McEnroe was talking about it during Sunday’s prime time coverage. Now that’s all they’re talking about, not Kipsang, not Mutai, not Edna Kiplagat or Mary Keitany.”

How often have we heard, “well, running isn’t golf or tennis”? As if that alone explains the differences. As if this weekend’s season-ending Fedex Cup prize of $10 million (to one golfer!) was always the way golf was conducted, or that tennis always had a multi-million dollar professional underpinning. Of course they didn’t. Golf and tennis became what they are today by the concerted efforts of many people, including pioneering athletes, event directors, and agents willing to challenge a stagnant status quo. Continue reading

NEGATIVE SPACE, POSITIVE RESULT

Weltklasse logoThere was an embarrassment of athletic riches on display at today’s Weltklasse meet in Zürich’s Letzigrund Stadium, the first of two IAAF Diamond League finals for the 2014 season. Yet, was there too much of a good thing?

Today’s meet showcased 182 athletes in 14 events in the two-hour television window. For the rabid athletics fans this was a bountiful meal, indeed. But for a casual spectator the numbers quickly became so great as to create a glut .  At the beginning of the men’s 5000 meters broadcaster Tim Hutchings said of the 20-man field, ‘it’s too many probably’, before underscoring the class of the field as containing 10 sub-13 minute men, including the top 10 of 2014.

In the world of art negative space is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.  It is an often unnoticed element in creating a pleasing design or presentation, as it allows the positive space of the composition the room it needs to breathe in order to be properly absorbed by the viewer.  Negative space in music is the silence within a piece that showcases that which is heard, while in comedy, negative space is the well-timed pause that either is the joke, or tees up the punch-line.

If someone as track-savvy as Tim Hutchings can wonder about the need for a 20-man field in a season-long final in the 5000m, and a 10-man traffic jam in the 800, why can’t the Diamond League organizers?  In business they say to mass your assets, then focus people’s attention. Why is it that there is no stepping stone to the finals whereby only the top eight competitors in the laned events, or top 10 in the distance events, qualify for the Diamond League final? Continue reading

FERGUSON, MO. – THE GAP BETWEEN LIVING AND STAYING

Unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

Unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

As civil unrest continues to tear apart my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri in the aftermath of last Saturday’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer, I ran across a story I wrote, but never published, in 1996 back before personal blogs were around for just these kind of closely-held thoughts.

(Note:  this is not a running related post, so you may bail out here with that information in hand)

Back in the mid-1990s the country was in the opposing throes of the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson verdicts while trying to digest the meaning and value of the Million Man March.  In the ensuing years many other challenges and difficulties, both domestic and international, have arisen on the track of public consciousness.  But through it all, and here again with the suddenness of a piercing bullet, the issue of race has erupted to remind us how it  remains the central hurdle in America’s path toward the fulfillment of her founding charter.

Continue reading

PRESENTATION MODEL

After last week’s 2014 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, California the sport is again engaged in a dialogue regarding presentation venues.  Eugene versus Sacramento is the current exchange with Indianapolis, Des Moines, and Palo Alto also in the conversation as recent championship host sites.

2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene's Hayward Field

2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene’s Hayward Field

Eugene is Eugene, Tracktown USA.  Say what you will about Big Swoosh, the folks in Oregon understand track and field, and know how to present it.  The 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene felt like a major sporting event.  The stands were full, and a fan festival was erected right outside to entertain and inform the casual fan.

By comparison, despite the attendance figures released –- 32,783 over four days –- Sacramento’s Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State University looked consistently empty on the backstretch, and only two-thirds to three-quarters filled on the homestretch throughout the four days of competition.  Some of that may be attributed to the heat that bakes Sacramento each summer.  Who but the most rabid fans want to sit out in triple-digit heat for hours on end? (Though it was only in the 80s till the final day).

Others point out that Hornet Stadium is larger than Hayward Field , 21,000 capacity versus 10,500 (though expandable to 21,000).  So while it might seem emptier, there may in fact be more people in attendance than one realizes.  This argument only reminds us of the role perception plays and how important staging and presentation is. Continue reading

PORK STEAKS AND PRO MEETS

Pork Steaks on the grill

Pork Steaks on the grill

Being a native Midwesterner I grew up on backyard summer barbecues where a particular grilling favorite in St. Louis was the delectable pork steak.  But what made the pork steak so good was the corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad that went with it. Those side dishes added flavor, spice  and textural contrasts against which to savor the main course.

Well, it is the presentation of compatible athletic tastes and textural delights that has always been one of the track and field’s greatest appeals.   Today, two of the best T&F meets in the world arrive on the calendar, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, and the beginning of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Both meets have compelling story lines, but I wonder if my viewing will reflect a recent watching of two other top meets on TiVo?

Last week I re-watched coverage of the SEC Track & Field Championships on ESPNU, then immediately reviewed the Prefontaine Classic from NBC Sports. Surprisingly, what stood out was how much better the SEC presentation was than the Pre coverage. Not in terms of performances, camera angles or announcing. Obviously, the world-class performances in Eugene were superior to the SEC races, just as the fields in Oslo represent the very best track & field talent the world has to offer. No, what stood out was how the narrative thread of team-based competition throughout the SEC program gave coherence and meaning to the coverage that was totally missing in Eugene at Pre.

At the SEC’s in Lexington, Kentucky Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson presented the team element very usefully on ESPNU, while the efforts of Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Craig Masback and Dwight Stones for NBC at the Pre meet came in the service of unconnected, stand-alone events.  While every race at the SEC’s had an individual champion and particular story line, the linking element of team competition gave the meet a competitive arc and payoff for viewers to latch onto and follow.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m at Pre Meet.

On the other hand, while the Pre Classic produced a string of world-class performances, led by Galen Rupp’s American record over 10,000 meters, what stood out was the lack of any narrative thread beyond that. It was all a bunch of individual snapshots, not a building drama. Each non-sprint was staged as a series of predetermined paced laps with only the final lap, perhaps two in the case of Rupp, turning into a full out competition. It was hard not to fast forward to the moments of actual engagement as, once again, we were reminded why track and field has lost contact with the casual sports fan.  Continue reading

A TRIPLE CROWN FOR THE MILE?

Even as California Chrome‘s bid for horse racing’s first Triple Crown in 36 years came to a thudding halt in yesterday’s 146th Belmont Stakes, the outdoor track season swept into full summer swing last Thursday from sea to shining sea with plenty of action on the enameled plain in between.

Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival

Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival

In San Diego, Eric Avila and A.J. Acosta, two former area high school stars who have been beset by bad fortune in recent years, returned to top form to cap off the Jim Ryun Festival of Miles at the San Diego High School track.  Avila blasted a near 10-second PR 3:56.89 to edge out Acosta’s 3:57.07 in front of a small but enthusiastic gathering that came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first high school sub-4  minute mile, a crowd that included many of track’s former stars from SoCal.

Eric Finan leads four sub-4s in Concord, Mass.

Eric Finan edges out New Zealand’s Hamish Carson (blue), Providence College’s Julian Oakley and Leo Manzano in Concord, Mass.

 

Back east In Concord, Massachusetts Eric Finan of Team USA Minnesota joined Avila in the sub-4 club, his 3:58.73 leading three other men sub-4 at the 6th Adrian Martinez Classic. New sponsor Hoka One One brought in Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano as the star attraction, but Leo could only manage fourth place (3:59.31) in the tightly contested race.

 

 

Jordan McNamara captures his second FOM title in St. Louis

J Mac captures his second FOM title in St. Louis in record time

And in St. Louis, Missouri Jordan McNamara of Nike OTC Elite posted a 3:54.27 clocking to take down Leo Manzano’s 2009 event record (3:55.29) in the seventh edition of the Nike Festival of Miles. It was JMac’s second win on the St. Louis University High School track.  He captured his first FOM title in 2011.

In all there were 10 men under 4:00 on the same night, two in San Diego, four each in Concord and St. Louis.  And while all three events showcased excellent competition, giving fans much to appreciate and applaud, what also stands out is the parochial nature of it all. Even the name Festival of Miles shows how blinkered and uncoordinated the sport continues to be.

“The Jim Ryun event looks fun, though I was a little disappointed in the name choice,” wrote Ben Rosario, impresario behind the seven-year old Nike Festival of Miles in St. Louis. “But it is what it is.”

But why is it what it is? Continue reading

HOW IMPORTANT ARE HEROES?

jim-ryunSI   There will be an interesting test this Thursday evening in San Diego as the running community gathers to celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first high school sub-4:00 mile.  Local leaders Paul Greer, Tracy Sundlun and Josh Cox joined with Jim Ryun to stage the celebration at the former Balboa Stadium – now home to the San Diego High School Cavers – where Jim ran one of his most iconic races as a high school senior.

It was at the 1965 AAU National Track & Field Championships where the lanky senior from Wichita East High School in Kansas lined up against a truly world-class field in front of 20,000 fans (when track could draw that kind of crowd outside the confines of Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.)

On the heels of Dr. Roger Bannister‘s celebrated first sub-4:00 mile in 1954, Ryun became the twelfth member of the exclusive sub-4 club as a high school junior on June 5, 1964.  Running 3:59.0 while finishing eighth at the Compton Invitational just six weeks after his 17th birthday Ryun became a national sensation.  The following year in San Diego Ryun not only notched another sub-4:00 mile, he WON the national championship in an American record 3:55.3!  And he did it by out-gunning the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists from Tokyo 1964, Peter Snell of New Zealand and Josef Odlozil of Czechoslovakia, and then American record holder Jim Grelle!  It was the performance of a generation, and still resonates a half-century later.

“Imagine an American high school kid doing that today,” marveled Marty Liquori, himself a member of the five-man U.S. high school sub-4:00 club. “An American  record in the national championship against the Olympic champion?  It would be impossible.” Continue reading