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.
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.
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.
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?
“What track needs is to coordinate these events,” said American record holder in the mile Alan Webb as he watched the Jim Ryun FOM at what was once Balboa Stadium where Jim Ryun won the AAU National title in a then-American record 3:55.3 in 1965 against Olympic 1500m gold medalist Peter Snell.
This separate-but-equal staging is another aspect of what continues to haunt a sport where everything is locally branded. For a sport that once put athletes on the cover of Sports Illustrated – Jim Ryun himself notched eight covers – to have devolved into a series of small parochial meetings devoid of national attention is both sad and baffling. But running isn’t the only sport suffering from this problem.
“I think everyone acknowledges that the calendar is a little bit overloaded and needs rationalization in some way,” said new International Cycling Union (UCI) President Brian Cookson in an interview this past week in Cycling Central. “But nobody wants to change their particular bit of it, so something is going to have to give somewhere.”
This is the age old argument one hears when discussing people’s feelings about the U.S. Congress. Yes, they are disgusted by Congress in general, but my congress person? “Oh, he/she’s okay”. Thus, incumbents continue to get reelected at a 90% plus rate, and nothing changes.
While the Jim Ryun FOM was staged as a one-time commemorative event, there are some who would like to see it become an annual celebration. Might there be a chance for the three meet directors in Boston, St. Louis and San Diego to discuss coordinating their presentations to create a mile Triple Crown? It sort of works for horse racing, another once prominent, but now beleaguered sport. Perhaps Ryan Lamppa, godfather for the Bring Back the Mile campaign, could serve as go between.