USATF NATIONALS BEGIN

     Eugene, Oregon – USATF Nationals began today at historic Hayward Field in a dry run for next year’s Olympic Trials. Accordingly, Tracktown USA is packed with the rabid and transfixed fanatics who make up the faithful in this sport, the people who keep the flame alive even as the powers-that-be continue to search for a new CEO as well as an effective marketing and promotional approach on a scale which track both deserves and once experienced.

Skies were thick and temps low throughout the day until the sun broke out and winds fell to a lull for the evening finals.  Ideal conditions prevailed for the women’s and men’s 10,000 meters, and weren’t that bad for the finals in the women’s shot put and discus, men’s triple jump and discus.

Shalane Flanagan dominated the women’s 10,000 meters, dipping under 31:00 for the fourth time in her career.  Kara Goucher rode the pace work of Jen Rhines till moving past in the final stages to grab second place, leading the consistent Ms. Rhines, Desi Davila, and Magda Lewy Boulet under 32:00, which, from stats man extraordinaire Ken Nakamura, is the highest number of American women ever to crack the 32:00 barrier in a single race.  Flanagan, Goucher, and Rhines will reprise their 2008 Olympic 5000-meter teaming to this year’s 10,000-meter World Championships squad in Daegu, South Korea in late August. 

1 Shalane Flanagan Oregon TC Elite 30:59.97
2 Kara Goucher Oregon TC Elite 31:16.65
3 Jennifer Rhines adidas 31:30.37
4 Desiree Davila Hansons-Brooks Distance Projec 31:37.14
5 Magdalena Lewy Boulet Saucony 31:48.58

The men’s 10,000 meters followed, and turned flaccid early.  It seemed everyone was waiting on Oregon grad Galen Rupp, who wore his protective black highwayman’s mask to ward off the area’s high pollen count which forced him to withdraw from the Pre Classic Meet several weeks ago.  With American record holder Chris Solinsky opting to pass on the longer distance and ply his trade in the 5000 meters, and OTC team mate Matt Tegenkamp still a relative newbie over the longer distance, nobody felt comfortable trying to put Rupp’s health to the test, a sign of an intimidating presence.

With the pace hovering around 29:00 for much of the race, Rupp simply maintained his stalking position.  On several occasions University of Oregon star Luke Puskedra attempted to kick-start the race, but could never enlist an ally to help double team the field. In the end it came down to Rupp taking charge over the final kilometer, dropping the final 800 in 1:52 and the final lap in 54.4.  That’s world-class closing for sure, but less impressive coming on the heels of a 28:38,17 effort.  Now if he could singe the track like that in a low 27-minute race, watch out.

1 Galen Rupp Nike 28:38.17
2 Matt Tegenkamp Oregon TC Elite 28:39.97
3 Scott Bauhs adidas 28:40.51
4 Bobby Curtis Reebok 28:42.50
5 Tim Nelson Oregon TC Elite 28:43.41

A CLOSED CIRCUIT

While the vast majority of people filling the stands at Hayward Field are die-hard track fans,
there isn’t much bleed out into the general population where track is concerned. In fact, everyone who comes here is always shocked by how much presence track and field has in Eugene. Problem is it’s a singular love affair.  There’s no other city feels the same way.  Alan Abrahamson tweeted tonight that with Nationals starting in Tracktown USA, not one word on the homepage of ESPN.com, Yahoo, CBSSports, SI.com

One reason is the purity of the competition.  Each one of the 20 men’s and women’s events being contested are ends unto themselves, nothing ads up to anything except the decathlon and heptathlon.  Every athlete is an independent contractor representing nothing more than a shoe company.  Unless you love the sport or know a runner personally, what’s there to root for? When one race is finished you are essentially told to “forget about that race, because here comes another one. But it has nothing to do with what you just saw, or with anything that will follow.”

In that sense, track presents itself more like a Balkanized lab experiment, an academic exercise with a format that’s weighted with numbers, times, heights, and distances rather than blood and guts competition between and among people or teams.  It’s sterile, inaccessible, missing a building dramatic crescendo and climax to attract anyone who isn’t already a fan.

On the other hand, Saturday night the second annual Nike Track Nationals will be contested at Hayward Field following the USATF races.  12 high school teams from around the country will compete head-up for a national team championship.  Each team qualified in a season-long virtual competition with their best marks converted to a decathlon scoring table.

Under this format, every athlete scores points for his or her team regardless of the position they finish.  Places don’t matter so much as performances, and every athlete scores.  Everything, therefore, is tied to everything else.  It puts a frame around the entire meet, giving fans something to follow. Two teams, one boy’s and one girl’s, will actually win the meet.  It’s a way to contextualize the performances in a satisfying, manageable way.

Still, for fans, there is no better place to be.  More tomorrow.

END

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