Month: June 2014

PRESENTATION MODEL

After last week’s 2014 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, California the sport is again engaged in a dialogue regarding presentation venues.  Eugene versus Sacramento is the current exchange with Indianapolis, Des Moines, and Palo Alto also in the conversation as recent championship host sites.

2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene's Hayward Field
2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene’s Hayward Field

Eugene is Eugene, Tracktown USA.  Say what you will about Big Swoosh, the folks in Oregon understand track and field, and know how to present it.  The 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene felt like a major sporting event.  The stands were full, and a fan festival was erected right outside to entertain and inform the casual fan.

By comparison, despite the attendance figures released –- 32,783 over four days –- Sacramento’s Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State University looked consistently empty on the backstretch, and only two-thirds to three-quarters filled on the homestretch throughout the four days of competition.  Some of that may be attributed to the heat that bakes Sacramento each summer.  Who but the most rabid fans want to sit out in triple-digit heat for hours on end? (Though it was only in the 80s till the final day).

Others point out that Hornet Stadium is larger than Hayward Field , 21,000 capacity versus 10,500 (though expandable to 21,000).  So while it might seem emptier, there may in fact be more people in attendance than one realizes.  This argument only reminds us of the role perception plays and how important staging and presentation is. (more…)

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AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD

The state of the sport is never far from the minds of its most accomplished practitioners, for they are children of the game fully in the thrall of its embrace.  This past weekend in Seattle Brooks Shoes brought together 135 of the sports budding new generation for a celebration of youthful competition at the Brooks PR Invitational.  Friday before the meet, however, several of the top professionals sponsored by Brooks met with members of the press for an open-ended discussion of any and all things running.  Among the questions asked of Gabby Grunewald, Garrett Heath, Katie Mackey and Nick Symmonds was, “If you could change just one thing about the sport, what would it be?”

Grunewald, Heath, Mackey, Symmonds meet the press and press for changes
Grunewald, Heath, Mackey, Symmonds meet the press and press for changes

Not surprisingly, runners are a politically savvy group, always have been.  Among today’s pros few have been as politically outspoken as five-time U.S. 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds, who recently signed with Brooks.  He took first crack at the leading question. (more…)

BROOKS PR INVITATIONAL CONTINUES YOUTH RESURGENCE

 

Brooks PR RentonSeattle, WA.  –  American youth track and field is in the middle of one of its most vibrant stretches ever as young athletes are making their marks well beyond their years, especially on the girl’s side.  With names like Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson, Elise Cranny and Sarah Baxter leading the charge, a full renaissance in track fortunes may well be nearing as fans latch onto these precocious talents.

Besides the expansion of knowledge via the internet, one explanation for this resurgence  is the number and quality of post-season track meets that have cropped up for young athletes in recent years.  From coast-to-coast high quality meets offer competitive opportunities that many of the nation’s top-end talent has a hard time finding at home.  The better the competition, the better becomes the quality of performances.

Today the Brooks PR Invitational comes to Seattle, Washington’s Renton Memorial Stadium on the heels of last weekend’s New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Dream Miles and Dream 100-meters in New York City — part of the Diamond League’s Adidas New York Grand Prix. And waiting on the near horizon are the U.S. Junior Nationals and IAAF World Junior Championships just south in Eugene, Oregon in July. (more…)

PORK STEAKS AND PRO MEETS

Pork Steaks on the grill
Pork Steaks on the grill

Being a native Midwesterner I grew up on backyard summer barbecues where a particular grilling favorite in St. Louis was the delectable pork steak.  But what made the pork steak so good was the corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad that went with it. Those side dishes added flavor, spice  and textural contrasts against which to savor the main course.

Well, it is the presentation of compatible athletic tastes and textural delights that has always been one of the track and field’s greatest appeals.   Today, two of the best T&F meets in the world arrive on the calendar, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, and the beginning of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Both meets have compelling story lines, but I wonder if my viewing will reflect a recent watching of two other top meets on TiVo?

Last week I re-watched coverage of the SEC Track & Field Championships on ESPNU, then immediately reviewed the Prefontaine Classic from NBC Sports. Surprisingly, what stood out was how much better the SEC presentation was than the Pre coverage. Not in terms of performances, camera angles or announcing. Obviously, the world-class performances in Eugene were superior to the SEC races, just as the fields in Oslo represent the very best track & field talent the world has to offer. No, what stood out was how the narrative thread of team-based competition throughout the SEC program gave coherence and meaning to the coverage that was totally missing in Eugene at Pre.

At the SEC’s in Lexington, Kentucky Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson presented the team element very usefully on ESPNU, while the efforts of Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Craig Masback and Dwight Stones for NBC at the Pre meet came in the service of unconnected, stand-alone events.  While every race at the SEC’s had an individual champion and particular story line, the linking element of team competition gave the meet a competitive arc and payoff for viewers to latch onto and follow.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m.
Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m at Pre Meet.

On the other hand, while the Pre Classic produced a string of world-class performances, led by Galen Rupp’s American record over 10,000 meters, what stood out was the lack of any narrative thread beyond that. It was all a bunch of individual snapshots, not a building drama. Each non-sprint was staged as a series of predetermined paced laps with only the final lap, perhaps two in the case of Rupp, turning into a full out competition. It was hard not to fast forward to the moments of actual engagement as, once again, we were reminded why track and field has lost contact with the casual sports fan.  (more…)

A TRIPLE CROWN FOR THE MILE?

Even as California Chrome‘s bid for horse racing’s first Triple Crown in 36 years came to a thudding halt in yesterday’s 146th Belmont Stakes, the outdoor track season swept into full summer swing last Thursday from sea to shining sea with plenty of action on the enameled plain in between.

Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival
Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival

In San Diego, Eric Avila and A.J. Acosta, two former area high school stars who have been beset by bad fortune in recent years, returned to top form to cap off the Jim Ryun Festival of Miles at the San Diego High School track.  Avila blasted a near 10-second PR 3:56.89 to edge out Acosta’s 3:57.07 in front of a small but enthusiastic gathering that came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first high school sub-4  minute mile, a crowd that included many of track’s former stars from SoCal.

Eric Finan leads four sub-4s in Concord, Mass.
Eric Finan edges out New Zealand’s Hamish Carson (blue), Providence College’s Julian Oakley and Leo Manzano in Concord, Mass.

 

Back east In Concord, Massachusetts Eric Finan of Team USA Minnesota joined Avila in the sub-4 club, his 3:58.73 leading three other men sub-4 at the 6th Adrian Martinez Classic. New sponsor Hoka One One brought in Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano as the star attraction, but Leo could only manage fourth place (3:59.31) in the tightly contested race.

 

 

Jordan McNamara captures his second FOM title in St. Louis

J Mac captures his second FOM title in St. Louis in record time

And in St. Louis, Missouri Jordan McNamara of Nike OTC Elite posted a 3:54.27 clocking to take down Leo Manzano’s 2009 event record (3:55.29) in the seventh edition of the Nike Festival of Miles. It was JMac’s second win on the St. Louis University High School track.  He captured his first FOM title in 2011.

In all there were 10 men under 4:00 on the same night, two in San Diego, four each in Concord and St. Louis.  And while all three events showcased excellent competition, giving fans much to appreciate and applaud, what also stands out is the parochial nature of it all. Even the name Festival of Miles shows how blinkered and uncoordinated the sport continues to be.

“The Jim Ryun event looks fun, though I was a little disappointed in the name choice,” wrote Ben Rosario, impresario behind the seven-year old Nike Festival of Miles in St. Louis. “But it is what it is.”

But why is it what it is? (more…)