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.

Identification box

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.



  1. Really excellent, thank you for this. I’ve watched track coverage – as opposed to simply watching track – with great interest since 1972. Certain things are surely obvious: Tim Hutchings could give an all-comers meet in Podunk, USA an Olympic shine. Another: The Diamond League is doing it right. Why won’t American sports journalists copy what works? It’s simple: ego. As six-time Ironman Triathlon winner Mark Allen said, when asked why other athletes hadn’t adopted the methods that brought him success, other athletes don’t want to be told what to do. Ego in all its forms is the absolute enemy journalism. It’s a great secret of Tim’s that no one cares to copy: he does his homework, lots and lots and lots and lots of homework.

  2. I love your suggestion of assigning the DQ for a false start after the race and not before. We do it for lane violations and other infractions (i.e., we don’t pull people from the track mid-race), so why not false starts, too? And we could even show it to the viewers through a text bubble, which is also a great idea, especially if those text bubbles are also used to show their current speed, not just for the sprinters so viewers could see and appreciate just how fast these guys and gals go, but for the distance runners too so we can see the surges and pace changes during a race. Why should we have to wait for a 400m split before they can tell us that the pace picked up or slowed down?

    As for coverage and commentary, give me BBC commentators every time! They run circles around the NBC commentators in both accuracy and relevance. They really enhance the race and make it more intelligible.

  3. Please refrain from giving NBC credit for the innovations of others. With one exception, NBC’s “coverage” of the Diamond League consists of adding commentary to a feed provided by the meeting organizers. (The exception is the Prefontaine Classic, the only DL meeting held in the USA.)

  4. Toni

    Laura Muir is Scottish. She represents Scotland and Great Britain. “Great Britain” and “England” are not synonymous.

    Thanks for an otherwise interesting article.


  5. Great to hear, maybe time to start watching again.

    Its amazing that the Tour de France coverage is so well done, visually and audibly. Seems it would be so much easier for track and field, where the venue isn’t mobile (on narrow winding roads up and down steep mountains). Heck, I watched darts and chess in the UK, and the announcers and producers made it amazingly exciting. (No joke.) Makes me wonder why the US networks even bother – often sounds like they are narrating a documentary on interval workouts. In the not so old days, Charlie Jones (_the_ voice of track and field imo) and Frank Shorter made it exciting and “important”. Tim Hutchings, the Phil Liggett of t&f, I love it! Ok, perhaps without the random arm and hand waving, but still.

    The athletes need to provide some assistance as well. In post-race interviews, “I’m pleased because this win means my training is going well, so I expect to be prepared for the future race that I actually care about” doesn’t really make the viewer care much.

    One last idea: perhaps immediately flog the false start offenders? Or the offender could refuse to leave the track, like what’s-his-name in the Olympics awhile back? A little enthusiasm, please! 🙂

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