Minimal, broad-based funding has long been a useful mechanism to advance the cause of sports in the USA. In the late 1970s and early `80s runners had to join The Athletics Congress (precursor to today’s USA Track & Field) in order to run the Boston, New York City and Columbus Marathons. Today, a similar mechanism is utilized by USA Triathlon where every competitor must purchase at least a one-day license ($10) in order to participate in sanctioned events. Running USA, itself, was stood up in 1999 in part with funds provided by then New York City Marathon director Alan Steinfeld who pledged a $1 per U.S. entry to the fledgling organization. That funding gave rise to Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes which developed Deena Kastor’s bronze and MebKeflezighi’s silver medals at the Athens Olympic Marathons in 2004.
While the mandatory TAC membership model fell away in the 1980s as more and more fitness runners came into running, and the governing body proved unwilling or incapable of providing services for fees, and RUSA withdrew its support for Mammoth Lakes at the end of 2009 as the trade organization turned it focus inward toward servicing industry members rather than outward toward the sport, the minimal $1 per entry practice was resurrected this March by race director Steve Nearman of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon scheduled for October 2nd in Alexandria, Virginia WOODROW WILSON BRIDGE HALF MAKES MAJOR AMERICAN PLEDGE.
Nearman’s funds will be used to support America’s distance running training camps. Several other events have since joined the Dollar For Distance Development pledge, and USA Track & Field Foundation continues with its own program “to attract and guide funds to new and innovative track and field programs, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for youth athletes, emerging elite athletes, distance training centers and anti-doping education.” USATFF generates its funding from donations from its Board of Directors and from generous fans of track and field.
Yesterday, Team USA Arizona coach Greg McMillan revealed that he has received a contribution from Tagg Running of Tucson from its July 4th Freedom Run.
“A BIG thanks to Steve Taggart of TAGG Running Events,” tweeted Mr. McMillan. “A man of his word, he donated $1 per entry in his July 4th race to our training group. His generosity just paid for 10 massages for Olympic hopefuls. It’s amazing how a little goes a long way to helping athletes. Thanks Steve!”
As Mr. Taggart told me in March, “I can only do what I can do, and though this won’t change anyone’s life, it is something. A lot of distance runners are living below the poverty line, and I believe in running. I remember Greg McMillan from San Diego when he ran with Adidas for Movin Shoes. Now he’s in Flagstaff doing great things. So I can do a dollar per entry to help.“
Perhaps it’s coincidental, but this week Movin’ Shoes stores owner Carl Brandt announced the creation of a new post-collegiate Olympic development program in San Diego.
“It’s not just for distance running,” explained Carl, who co-owns three Movin’ Shoes stores in the San Diego area. “It’s Olympic development for all disciplines of track and field. You know, post-collegiate running is bizarre in this country. The upper crust is moderately well taken care of, and another 10% knows somebody who knows somebody who has access. But the rest are struggling to survive, figuring how to stay in the sport. We hope to be a bridge for some of those people.”
Still in the early stages of development, Brandt’s project will initially supply shoes, apparel, and gear, not stipends, coaching, or travel money. They are also working on developing standards by which to judge applicants (SEE COMMENT #4 BELOW FOR UPDATED STANDARDS LIST AND CONTACT INFO).
The idea for a post-collegiate Olympic development program in San Diego was actually conceived by Mick Gieskes, who has worked at Movin’ Shoes for 18 years, and been the sprint coach at UCSD for the past 14 of those years.
“It came to me several years ago,” Gieskes told me. “I noticed in the San Diego region more support for distance running than track and field events. Primarily it focused on road racing. But in San Diego we had numerous people close to making the Olympic track and field team who couldn’t even get shoes. So I thought we should fund people to A) give them support, and B) help motivate them to stay in the sport, because once you leave the college environment, the support that you felt all but dries up.”
The trigger which put Mick’s idea into motion was the talent he saw coming out of UCSD, athletes who had just graduated, yet were close enough to the Olympic Trials level, and perhaps even the Olympics themselves to warrant post-collegiate support.
“There were a slew of them,’” according to Gieskes, “and this could bet he impetus to set the parameters for who else in San Diego would fit into such a program. We have athletes coming out of Point Loma Nazarene, UCSD, Cal State San Marcos, San Diego State. And we have a close relationship with all those programs.”
One person who personifies the need is Kelly Fogarty, one of Coach Gieskes’ sprinters from UCSD. Kelly ran third at the NCAA D2 200 meters, and 4th in the 100. But she came up .04 seconds short of the qualifying time needed to run in the USATF Nationals in Eugene in June.
“Kelly is an excellent example. She’s been a developing athlete since she walked in, and she has more to give. But she can’t do it
The key, according to Mick, is “everyone who stays active in the sport will push those in front of them a little harder. And that’s how you build a higher peak. “
“We are getting some coop money from our vendors,” explained Carl Brandt, ”and we want to use it wisely. Some (vendors) said they think what we are doing is interesting, but it hasn’t progressed beyond that yet. But given the U.S. population base and wealth, it seems there should be more of a dominating factor which is devoid in this area.”
“We want to do what we can locally,” agreed Mick Gieskes, “to keep pushing those at the national level.”