In light of the recent national election there remains much to be cynical about in the American redoubt. While many on the Left feel rejuvenated, even mandated by President Obama’s re-election, a near equal number on the Right feel vindicated by the return of the House of Representatives to a Republican majority. The nascent secessionist movement underscores the deep divide in the national mood, the early eye toward 2016 – even before the sulfurous fumes of 2012 have fully dissipated – betrays the uneasy acceptance of November 6th, and next month’s fiscal cliff and the specter of an onerous sequestration – along with February’s debt-ceiling debate – promises to again cleave the body politic into a rancorous opposition.
What does this have to do with running? Not much, really, unless you seek an antidote to this growing cynicism.
All you have to do is peruse your Facebook friends to see how runners tilt easily to both political poles. And yet, running and racing themselves transcend political influence from either side. Dedication, effort, and suffering toward the furtherance of speed strips the facades of politic affiliation as they shore up the foundations of pulse and sinew now in service against that most measured and implacable foe – gravity.
As I’ve always said, get bored with life? Get a little intense. The same when cynicism creeps ahead. You don’t have to sit still and stew in it. Instead, try attending a high school cross country meet.
We can take the bitterest among us to this weekend’s Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, or to the following weekend’s Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, plop him amongst the young strivers gunning for cross country glory, and even the most hardened will emerge with a renewed sense hope.
I know where of I speak. I am that cynic, and a sarcastic one at that. I have worked both national high school competitions, and neither fails to bolster my faith in the species as it attempts to execute its prerogatives on this revolving mud ball in space, no matter how we might try to corrupt its enthusiasms.
Though the ever brittle felicity between Nike and Foot Locker ended a decade ago when Nike split off into its competing Nike Team Nationals in 2004 (now re-branded as Nike Cross Nationals with the inclusion of an individual championship in 2008) in some ways it’s been good for the kids. With Nike’s largesse in competition Foot Locker has elevated its Championships markedly in recent years. But like so much of our sport, the separate-event system guarantees that the very best will not go up against one another as kids are forced to choose between the two. Where is Pete Rozelle when you need him?
The more historic Foot Locker meet, now in its 34th year, gathers in San Diego’s bucolic, but impressively hilled Morley Field in Balboa Park, while Nike’s 9th Cross Nationals competes in the Mud Bowl that is Portland Meadows Race Track.
Best part of the week for me in Portland has been watching the old horse track rail-birds hunched over their Daily Racing Forms in the grandstands, watching the TV monitors beer at the ready, the aroma of fried something wafting through the enclosure as the fair-haired thin-clads stretch and prep for their two-legged national championship. Wonder if we could ever get the punters to take out a line on NXN? I mean, why not, the parimutuel windows are already there in working order. Besides, the spread of gambling into mainstream America is so pervasive that we’re well past questioning its service to our collective well-being, no?
This year, the girl’s race at NXN is especially freighted. Record setters from both coasts will contest for top honors, six of top seven finishers from last year will be returning. How to attach import to their race beyond family, friends and running fans? Put a line out on it.
So who’ve you got, defender Sarah Baxter, the junior sensation from Simi Valley, California, or her eastern counterpart, New York state record setter Mary Cain of Westchester County, now coached by Nike legend Alberto Salazar who mentored Galen Rupp from raw high school talent to 2012 Olympic silver medalist over 10,000 meters in London?
Gambling on high school cross country? Now that is a true cynic speaking.
But that’s just a little horseplay. What counts is the eyeballs-out competition on display. It simply destroys boundaries, and declares effort as the great cleanser of our age. And it’s all there for the seeing at Portland Meadows this weekend and Morley Field in Balboa Park next weekend. Both events will be shown live on the internet. I have the pleasure of anchoring the NXN show with Rich Gonzales. My friend and long-time producer Rich Jayne will coordinate both coverages. Bring your cynicism and see if it survives.