Andrew Wheating holds off Dorian Ulrey at Hayward Field

    “I felt good, I was running fast. Then, as everybody does, I kind of glanced up at the big JumboTron and I see this little guy over my shoulder. I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I had to pick up the pace.” – Andrew Wheating, May 6, 2012 after winning the Oregon Twilight 1500 over Dorian Ulrey.

Please, please, please, would the straw-boatered officials of track and field take control of the JumboTrons and turn them off when athletes are making the turn and heading for home?  (Note:  just change the picture on the Tron the athletes can see straight ahead. Keep the other Trons going).  How many times have we seen it, or have athletes like Wheating admitted it, that they just look up to see where their opponents are rather than having to swivel their heads to see what’s what?  I know the Jumbotrons are there for us fans, but guess what, it compromises the racing for us, too.

At the core of the racing enterprise is making decisions in the heat of battle when precious blood has been shunted to the legs at the expense of the brain which still has to make the critical calls.  Anyone who has raced at the outer limits of fatigue can recall those desperate times when you sense an attack from behind, even hear the crowd, but are too scared to turn and look.  Or, have seen a clock or lap counter, and know perfectly well the numbers as displayed, but can’t quite get your blood-starved brain to make heads or tails of what those numbers mean.

Even in road racing we see this. At the 2007 U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City, the leader Ryan Hall saw the image of former world record holder Khalid Khannouchi on the JumboTron as Ryan passed the finish line to begin his final lap of Central Park. Worried about the legendary closing speed of Khannouchi, Hall knew that he couldn’t wait, and admitted as much after the race.  He put down the hammer and pulled further away to victory.  Behind, Special K was no longer so special, coming off injury and could only manage fourth place.  But that’s not the point.  Hall was privvy to information he ordinarily wouldn’t have had, and it changed how the race was run.

Call me a purist, but it’s more what boxers call ring generalship that I expound, the ability to think on your feet under duress.  That je ne sais quoi that defines a champion: the ride along the rail, the elbowed opening at precisely the right moment, the strike for home when your rival is perfectly boxed.  It’s not just speed.  It’s the lime in the tonic, the fragrance, not just the beauty of the flower.  To dismiss it for expedience is to diminish the sport.  That’s how you sell it, with its refinements buffed and polished.

Part of racing is the consequence that goes along with leading, taking that step into that yawning chasm where all is unseen, where hope and fear co-mingle, and where knowledge now holds a price, whether in showing fear to a fast-closing opponent, or throwing off your form with the twisted strides needed to take that peak. If all you have to do is look up at a video screen, the price has been discounted, but so, too, the value and excitement.

Here’s the solution. If there are two JumboTrons, one on either end of the stadium, simply change the picture on the one the athletes will be facing when they head up the backstretch, or the one they’d see down the homestretch.  In either case, leave on the JumboTron that is at their backs so the audience can still follow along.

Modern technology should at all times be utilized to improve the sport. It shouldn’t be used to corrupt what’s best about it.


17 thoughts on “TURN OFF THE JUMBOTRON!

  1. Bob,

    Thanks for the reply. I’ll be announcing at Icahn Stadium in NYC this June 9th for the Adidas Grand Prix. I’m sure I’ll make just the kind of race call you mentioned. But there is a distinction between an undifferentiated, “And here comes So and So”, to the exact representation of that move on the video screen.

    In fact, without any more information than my acknowledgment that someone is coming, the leader may well be spurred to take a look to see how far back the chaser may be. But with the Tron available, no need, just look up. I know it’s a minor point, but minor points are what make the difference in a sport measured in hundredths of seconds.

  2. So I get the tv thing for replays. But I’m at the event, maybe the Olympics, maybe TrackTownUSA, and still just “watching it on tv”? Really? I guess my suggestion of then, “stay home and watch it on tv (meaning internet)” goes against the notion of “what the sport needs”. Then again most restaurants blast us with tv, because who would want to actually talk with the people you came to dinner with. I’m with you, Toni, but we will be called Luddites. To which I’m, like, all, whatever…

  3. It would be cool if the fans could line the bleachers up to the third or fourth lane or so and have 4-5 row high bleachers on the infield. Kind of like the Tour de France but just a tiny bit safer and then implement the Jumbo tron thing. I also think pushing the pace at the front might deserve a reward. Maybe a prime in cycling if you come through in first at 400 out, 200 out, 100 out would cover this. Doesn’t have to be huge money but still some incentive to lead out some kickers. Interesting post.

  4. I understand Toni’s argument and can sympathise with it.

    The main beneficiary of the jumbotron is the front runner though. It rarely works as a tactic and it was a pleasure at the Indoor Champs watching athletes actually fight for the lead for a change rather than be content to all sit behind (due to the banked nature of the track front-running became a credible tactic). If it helps the front runner I don’t mind in the slightest a tweak to help them out.

  5. how is this any different than a coach yelling at an athlete their position in the race? or the growing applause of the crowd indicating a “race” is about to happen? kudos to athletes who are sharp enough to use their surroundings to their advantage. thumbs down to toni trying to keep the sport in the dark ages. every athlete has an opportunity to be in front at the turn to use the jumbotron, just like AW did. there’s a lot of racing which comes into play before the influence of the jumbotron. lighten up toni and enjoy the moment…

  6. I go back & forth on this….while I understand those that want to turn off the Jumbotron for the purity of the race, I also feel why handicap someone who forges into the lead? The trailing athletes know how far behind they are why can’t the leader know?

  7. – Completely agreed about availability of added information from the screen being counter to the purity of the race.
    – Completely disagreed about the solution of switching views/events every time runners come down the straight.
    – First of all, which runners? Think of the average 10,000 (or 5,000, or steeplechase for that matter). Do you turn the view to the javelin when the Bekele or Kipruto come through well ahead of the pack (with Farah or Kemboi in hot pursuit) and then turn it back to the race as the 3rd-Nth competitors come through? Often in prelims the most place-gaming is going on around the 4th spot, not the first.
    – Who on earth is going to sit in the booth figuring out what to display, and to whom, and when? And HOW can they possibly give everyone in the race precisely zero information? Simple answer: it’s impossible.
    – Closed circuit to smartphone? Now, that’s just silly.
    – Again, agreed this needs to be addressed somehow. Putting the Trons on the stretches and not at the ends of the stadium would give the spectators a good view if one is on each side, while being nearly impossible for athletes to use during races. How about that?

    Let’s fix this!

  8. I do agree with Toni, that the Jumbotron is an influence on the development of the race. In the recent worldchamps, during the longer distances, the leaders/favorites in the latter stage of the race watch the Jumbotron every lap (or even twice) to check who’s still in contention. It seems like they are more interested in watching telly than actually racing.
    That’s not wat I want to see, nor in the stands or while at home.

    The closed circuit idea… no please… imagine over half the crowd put their head down to watch the (delayed) broadcast on their smartphone while the action is taking place right in front of them.

  9. That is absolutely the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time.

    I vote no. 🙂

    30+ year spectator at Hayward Field

    BTW, care to guess how many “Jumbotrons” we usually have?


  10. As Garry Hill says, the Jumbotron is for the spectators. The athletes are ancillary beneficiaries. But why take such drastic action (turning the Jumbotron off) just to deprive the leader(s) and upset the paying public? I want to see outstanding performances and finding a second or third or fourth gear from ANY athlete in a race, whether it be the leader or 4th place runner, makes for more excitement and drama.

  11. Your suggestion Toni is IAAF practice at World Championships and Olympic Games although they don’t turn them off, they show the field events when the athletes are on the straight facing the large screens – one at each end. The screens are considered a ‘technical aid’ and should be under the direction of the officials.

    1. While the IAAF indeed enforced such a ruling in the early days of Jumbotrons, they ceased so doing many years ago. As a veteran of the IAAF announcing booth since Atlanta’ 96, I’m pretty sure that as far back as that the IAAF took hands off and it fell into the hands of the production team. And while I see the validity of Toni’s suggestion, in terms of trying to sell the sport to the general public (which is what the sport needs more than anything else). To turn off the race at the most exciting point would be the most counterproductive thing I can think of. For many/most people in the stands, race finishes are best watched on-screen, not with the naked eye. Better angle, bigger size, etc., etc. For the few races it might impact, it’s a price well worth paying.

      1. Garry,

        Thanks for the clarification. Just saw on your own TFN website the replay of Obiri outkicking Defar at the World Indoor 3000, with the announcers saying how Defar knew Obiri was coming on the backstretch, because she could see it on the big board. While you know I am all for “trying to sell the sport to the general public”, if they are in the stadium watching, they have already ben sold tickets, and all I’m suggesting is placing the JumboTrons so that the athlete’s couldn’t misuse them. What may settle the issue in the not too distant future will be a closed-circuit showing in-stadium that would be available on everyone’s personal smartphone or tablet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.