We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. It was Sunday, March 11, 1990. The very next day the Lithuanian parliament would vote 124-0 to secede from the Soviet Union, marking the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940 – and the first independence vote of any kind in the 68-year history of the Soviet state. The questions circling the Sunday morning news shows that day asked ‘how far would the 1989 revolution extend?’, ‘how would the United States play it?’, and ‘what shape would the world eventually take?’
Nearly 30 years later, those same questions still linger in an even more volatile world with Putin’s Russia still uneasy about the loss of her satellites, and the world anxiously wondering ‘how will the U.S. play it under President Trump?’.
Though I had been interviewing him for more than a decade, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself actually working alongside 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter. During one of the breaks in our coverage as we prepped for the boy’s two-mile run, I asked Frank what his best high school two-mile had been.
“9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in western Massachusetts class of `65.
A few moments later an eager-faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below. Looking up, he tentatively called out, “Mr. Shorter?”
Occasionally prickly with his peers, Shorter had never been anything but gracious with young athletes. And amidst their ensuing conversation, it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals in this about to be contested two-miler.
“My best was only 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he had tried to make the standard.
“You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”
The kid’s eyes opened even wider.
“9:38? You mean I might not be finished yet?”
The world may change, invariably getting smaller, more crowded, more contentious. Times may change, too, invariably getting faster. But the incentives to achieve remain constant, whether for a people in search of national recognition or for a young athlete needing only an encouraging word from one of his heroes who has come before.
(From Journal #26 -> Tues. 27 Feb. to Thurs. 24 May 1990)