TEAMING UP

IAAF President Sebastian Coe gave an interview to the British newspaper The Guardian this past Tuesday June 13th to discuss the unsteady state of the sport of athletics. While admitting that the sport has been mired in crisis, racked by both internal institutional corruption and wide-spread drug cheating, Lord Coe’s prescription included the following observation:

“We have to be more innovative, we have to be braver and more creative in formats. The first thing I said when I became president was that we have to think differently.”

My question to President Coe is, did he watch last weekend’s NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon?  Did he watch the women’s 4X400 meter Relay final when the University of Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers took the baton from Deejah Stevens a half-stride in front of USC’s Kendall Ellis with the entire women’s championship hanging in the balance?  Did he watch knowing that Raevyn had to win in order to overcome Georgia’s 8.2 point lead over her Ducks by scoring the 10 points for the victory?

Duck Raeyn Rogers brings NCAA crown to Oregon (Timothy Gonzelez/Associated Press)

Did he remind himself that at the Indoor NCAAs Ellis and the Trojans nipped Rogers and her Ducks by 4/100ths of a second in this same 4 X 4, and that if she did it again here in Eugene, the Ducks would have lost the championship by a 2/10th of a point, and thereby lost the chance to become the first team in history to win the NCAA cross country, indoor, and outdoor titles in the same academic year?

Did he also recall how favored Deejay Stevens had collapsed in the final steps of the 200 meter final just minutes before, and not thinking, walked off the track instead of getting up and finishing last to earn a single point for her team, a single point that would have allowed the Ducks to only need a second place, 8 point, finish in the 4 X 4 to win the NCAA title over the Georgia Bulldogs, but now necessitated an outright win against the dangerous Trojans?

Did he understand how all those team-based pieces fit together to create a churning emotional cauldron out of Hayward Field that brought the crowd of 12,992 into a frenzied state as USC’s Ellis initially went by Rogers on the inside, then saw Rogers respond to win by .36, but had those pieces been removed, would have simply made the concluding 4 X 4 just another tight, but overall meaningless exhibition of track excellence?

“Is that a way to end a freakin’ track meet, or what?! ” – Oregon Coach Robert Johnson

Jesus, could it get any clearer that people get excited when they associate beyond their individual interests and get tied up into a team concept?  It was beyond nuts! Hayward Field was thundering like it hadn’t since the 2008 Olympic Trials men’s 800 final when Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating, and  Christian Smith, three Oregon-based boys, came flying down the final stretch to make the Olympic squad before the home crowd.

Nick Symmonds wins the men’s 800 meter final followed by Andrew Wheating (left) and Christian Smith (diving on the right) on day four of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field at Hayward Field in Eugene.
(Photo by Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian)

Nearly all religions hold that life has meaning, and ultimately, that meaning is grounded in purpose.  Similarly, running is a sport best experienced by the maxim: “it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.”  But how fulfilling can any journey be if taken alone? How purposeful can life be if it is only centered on oneself?

Even when Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon the year after the tragic finish line bombings, it wasn’t simply that he was the first American to win Boston in three decades that made it special. It was that he scrawled the names of the four victims who died the year before on his bib, and ran in their honor that elevated his win beyond the sporting realm, and eventually lifted Meb to hero status forever more.

In the face of the challenges confronting the sport of athletics, combining the drive for individual excellence into a team format would add another layer of connection to a sport dying for its lack of connection.  Seb, people can’t root for shoe company logos!  Oregon vs. USC in the women’s 4 X 400 in Eugene last weekend only underscored how powerful the team component can be in NCAA track and field, and might be if brought to the professional level, too.

Seb, were you watching!?

END

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13 thoughts on “TEAMING UP

  1. I don’t quite get it…we already have team competition with the Olympics and WCs…which has led to state sponsored doping. Which is really has been the main problem all along. So what kind of teams are talking about? Artificially created teams?

    As for the NCAAs they have always been exciting events… I’ve been to a few…but how does that translate to the European scene.

    • Truesdon,

      Olympic and World Champs “teams” are unofficial, created by the media to lend a narrative appeal to a series of one-and-done athletic competitions that don’t, on their own, add up to anything. When you say, “artificially created teams”, you mean like every team in the NFL, NHL, MLS, and MLB? They are all “made up”.

      The American public has been conditioned to consume sports in “My City, My Team; My School, My Team” bites. My suggestion is to create teams out of the eligible athletes on the Diamond League Tour (including a draft, and trades) so that there is a narrative to these track meets. As it is now there are three things you will never see in such meets: 1) no athlete will be connected to any other athlete, 2) no event is connected to any other event, and 3) nobody will win the track meet.

      In the TV business you have to answer the question: Why are they watching? Unless you are a hard-core track fan, or a family member or friend of one of the athletes competing, there is no larger context to the sport, nothing to draw interest in the series of competitions. Accordingly, we have created track, and or field event fans, but not track and field fans. It was because the entire women’s NCAA team title was on the line in the 4X4 that the outcome was so compelling. Without that team element, it would have just been another relay race.

      If the current system had worked to benefit the sport, I’d say, fine, leave it alone. But that is not the case. Therefore, let’s use “best-use” practices from other successful sports and try them out in track. Anyway, thanks for continuing to read and share your thoughts.

      Toni

  2. Pingback: Raevyn Rogers shows how track can succeed as a spectator sport: Oregon track & field rundown

  3. Notice the diver in photo of 800m. I remember the women Olympic 400m was won that way. It is issues like this the sport needs to address. It may be within the rules but morally it is cheating. As for team events I do not want them. They are for school and college and the last day of major meets. Athletics is an individual sport and should always be so at the top level. Do not turn it into a circus.

  4. Clearly nothing beats the NCAA’s T&F championships for drama, excitement, and overall entertaining experience for the fans and I’m sure Coe would have been as entertained as any of us in watching the NCAA’s. Maybe he could borrow some of the things that work really well on the NCAA’s inject them on the international stage. Seb is more concerned with cleaning up the sport from the cheaters (which is critical to it’s long term health), as well as trying to grow more appeal for track and the viewership experience to the world-wide sports fan.

  5. How often will we have record resets? This first tars all previous athletes as drug cheats, as none of them are eligible to be the new record holder.

    It also tars all the administrators of the past as complicit in the doping. It’s curious that they don’t have to give up anything…

    Good luck, Mr. Coe. I hope you’re able to distract everyone with your “creative formats”. Bring on the wheelbarrow races!

  6. Texas was the first women’s team to win cross country, indoor and outdoor in the same year (1986).
    Oregon was the first women’s team to win all three during an academic year.
    On the men’s side, Arkansas won all three during five academic years.

  7. And the detached Seb Coe is one of those who advocates wiping out many old world records, which would admittedly eliminate some dopers from the WR lists but would also deny many clean athletes their continuing fame for WR’s that they trained hard and fought for!
    Seb, seems like you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be an athlete!

    • . . . and in my opinion, this idea of wiping away both clean and dirty records in an attempt to reset the sins of the past is much more extreme than imposing lifetime bans now for anyone caught intentionally cheating. Coe is so wrapped up in politically correct politics, he is impotent as a guide for the sport into the future.

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