Though it has always seemed to be something of a cottage industry in this sport, personally I am always loath to criticize how others may cover the sport of track and field. Having covered the sport myself for many years, I am fully aware that mistakes are part of the game. But I jump to give a nod of approval when it’s deserved.
Today’s NBC coverage of the London Diamond League meet was notable for several reasons. First, the commentary by Paul Swangard, Ato Boldon , and Josh Cox was concise and drew attention to the athletes rather than themselves. But more than that, there was finally a technical level of proficiency that merited attention (though, as pointed out in a response below, the video feed was provided to NBC by the Diamond League organizers, to which they added the commentary of Paul, Ato, and Josh).
I have long said you could make a 44-second 400 look unusually pedestrian by shooting it with the stationary camera positioned high in the stands looking down at the track. But today there was temendous gator-mounted tracking camera footage utilized to bring the power and speed of the sport into America’s living rooms (or wherever one may have watched).
Up close tracking footage of world-class track events has always been the holy grail of TV track coverage. In the Olympics and World Championships we have seen rail-mounted cameras used in the sprints. But today, there was a gator-mounted camera tracking the runners up the backstretch. Suddenly, the grit and determination of Laura Muir going for the British national record in the mile while trying to hold off Kenya’s Hellen Obiri – unsuccessfully – at long last made track racing as dynamic to the TV audience as it is for the competitors themselves.
Now, if they could also begin utilizing those arrow-pointed boxes that identify athletes in automobile races and during the Tour de France, especially in the staggered start races like the 200 and 400, the audience could finally be able to track the favorites visually. They could just as easily add the speed being achieved in miles per hour to further enhance the presentation.
One last observation. How can top fuel eliminator drag racers that go over 300 mph in a quarter mile in under 4 seconds, never false start, while human beings running 25 mph over 100 meters find a way to do it all the time? There were two false starts that I saw in London today.
False starts have been another of those hard to overcome aspects of bringing track up to current viewing standards. They just kill momentum. One wrinkle that Vin Lananna and his TrackTown Summer Series – a self-described laboratory for new ideas – might try out next season is to eliminate false starts altogether.
Either go to a yellow, green, red light system to start the sprints in track and field just like they do in drag racing, or simply use the current starting pistol method, but with one shot only. If somebody jumps the gun, the DQ is assessed after the race. But no recalls.
If what track needs is a more efficient presentation (reminder: it’s no longer the 19th century), then restarting must be DQ’d. If it can work in drag racing, why wouldn’t it in track? What has to be overcome is the notion that says, “but we’ve always done it this way.” Yeah, and look how well that’s worked out.
Even Ato Boldon admitted on the NBC London telecast how several 2017 DL meets have had sparse crowds. When track starts losing European fans, watch out!
Good commentary and you-are-there tracking coverage are good starts. Let’s hope they don’t stop there.