In a response to my latest post, PRO RUNNER DAVID TORRENCE – “Don’t Blame Elite Athletes for State of the Sport”, journalist Parker Morse wrote, “Kudos to Mr. Torrence, not just for his effort, but for the wide variety of efforts he’s involved in. The real key to all this is not a dogged hunt for who is to blame, but a broad search for new solutions and new ways forward.  Being willing to try anything and everything is a big part of that. Toni, I’ve seen you throw out a few ideas here and there as well.”
Parker Morse, M34, at Moscow WC Media Race
Parker Morse, M34, at 2013 Moscow WC Media Race with UK’s Jon Mulkeen (M35)

“A broad search for new solutions and new ways forward” is absolutely the answer, Parker.  But considering the number of years that the sport has been dealing with this issue, the solution remains elusive, especially without a U.S. superstar at the forefront.  Imagine if Usain Bolt was from Louisville? That’s what any new solution has to overcome.

And yet, USATF always touts Team USA as the “greatest track & field team in the world”.  And it is.  But then USATF never constructs any Ryder Cup or President’s Cup-like competitions against other T&F teams to prove the point on the field of play.  That only happens unofficially with the Olympic medal count once every four years.

I think it is the individual event format of track meets and the individual scheduling of road races, then, that’s holding back the marketing of the sport.  Every event on the track, like every road race, is a universe of one, locked into its own silo.  Nothing links up with anything else. So while every track and field event shares the facility, none of them are tied into a comprehensible format for public consumption with any other of the other events.

It’s like Monty Python’s Flying Circus is in charge. But rather than the Upper Class Twit Competition, we have the “Everything is Separate and Distinct from Everything Else” Meet where shot put fans watch that, and the sprint fans watch that, and distance fans pay attention to that. And very few pay attention to it all, because it hasn’t been formed up to be consumed in that fashion.

“And now for something completely different.”

At least at the NCAA T&F Championships we see university teams in heated competition with every event scoring points, and the outcome often decided in the final relays.  OMG, an actual narrative to follow, what a concept.  Why can’t that format be brought into the pro ranks?

“Today, Nike Team A representing Portland goes up against Asics A repping Irvine, while Nike’s Team B from Eugene meets Reebok B out of Boston in the quarterfinals of the USA Track Circuit Championships, etc.”

Every event would score points leading to a team winner at the end of the meet.  Team standings would be maintained, an end of the year playoffs would eventuate among the top teams, leading to a Championship Meet pitting the two top teams vying for the Series Cup.

Today, domestic meets, like the Oxy High Performance, aren’t even arranged for competition to be the focus of attention.  They are nothing more than a series of qualifying races for the USATF nationals. On the international scene the Diamond League travels the globe pitting every event against itself rather than linking all the events into a team format where the cities hosting the meets would be rooting for their home squad.  How do you expect to interest new fans in that?

That the sport does as well as it does using this format is a testament to the undying nature of the sport, and the love of its true believers.

There you go, Parker, that’s one idea.  Here is another:  bring in Show Biz people who know how to stage events to take the elements we have and fashion a track meet or a road race. What’s to lose at this stage?



  1. This past weekend, the University of Michigan hosted an aquatics preseason meet that featured mixed events and downright strange ones. If I remember right, Jesse Owens used to draw a crowd racing horses. Their retired diving coach did a bellyflop from 10 meters. Mix a few of these things with a set tight time schedule and you would attract the casual and the rabid fans. I like the short race the day before Boston and the Falmouth mile. Give the citizen athlete the chance to participate as well as to spectate. (But don’t use this to lengthen the feature event schedule.)

  2. Toni, there is team based competition within USATF–it’s called the national club championships.

    Only problem with it is in track & field, it’s after the USA championships in July. Most of the top tier folks are long gone & off to Europe, and the not-quite-ready for Diamond League athletes would rather spend their own money to compete on the European B circuit. At the risk of offending people, the quality of marks at the national club championships makes the meet a Junior Olympics meet for adults.

    The national club cross country meet in December does have some decent talent running in it…

    1. Glad to see someone willing to change and join the Modern Sports Culture. We must be willing to adapt to the times in which we live. Sports Sociology studies show that sport depends upon the society in which it exists. We live in a team oriented culture and could advance the sport if 10 USA cities would develop professional teams to compete against each other in a league. The athletes would be called Professionals , not Elites and reach out and develop an emotional connection with the city and the people in the area. The NFL, NBA, MLB and Soccer have found ways to meet the needs of the present generation. The potential is so great.. Just like soccer, we must plant the seed and watch it grow…Time for Track and Field to focus on the needs of the fans…. Length of Competition… Team.. Scoring.. Entertainment.. Fun.. Emotional connection.. Rivalry…..

  3. Toni, how could you not mention the Japanese Ekidens and road relays with Corporate Teams?! I think this would be a GREAT solution! There’s already a lot of marathons doing different relays, whether 2 person or 4-5. When I ran Dallas in 2010, the big contest was a high school team relay team (I forgot how many legs) trying to beat the first man– the TV people hyped it up.

    1. Also to add, the Japanese have limitations on other international athletes competing in their Ekidens, as it’s all about having a “level field” with head-to-head Corporate Teams trying to get TV “air time”. As taken from Brett Larner’s blog,

      “Teams usually put one of their fastest runners, at least one of their best kickers, here, especially on televised races where they will have a chance of maximizing their screen time. If you’re a corporate team coach and you put one of your slower guys on first they will either not be on TV or, worse, will be shown as an early straggler behind the pack. The sponsor company will not be happy. That’s also part of the reason for the general ban on non-Japanese athletes on the First Stage in the championship races. When they allowed them, most of the time they would run away from all the Japanese competition right from the gun. You could say that this made for bad television for the home crowd along with extra logistical headaches for the broadcast companies, usually among the main sponsors. With this ban in place even at the high school level you could also say that it is reinforcing a mindset in Japanese runners that they are inherently not as good as non-Japanese athletes and that it’s better just to race other Japanese. Since the ban became commonplace the First Stage in championship races has tended to become more tactical, going to the athletes with the strongest kick.

      The International Stage
      As a consequence of the ban, Africans are lumped together in one stage, I believe without exception the shortest stage in each race. Yes, the fastest runners are forced to run the shortest distance. This is nominally to minimize the advantage that richer teams have in being able to recruit people like Samuel Wanjiru, Paul Tanui and Ibrahim Jeilan, but it’s also great for the TV broadcasters….”

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