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?
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.
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!?