PORK STEAKS AND PRO MEETS

Pork Steaks on the grill

Pork Steaks on the grill

Being a native Midwesterner I grew up on backyard summer barbecues where a particular grilling favorite in St. Louis was the delectable pork steak.  But what made the pork steak so good was the corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad that went with it. Those side dishes added flavor, spice  and textural contrasts against which to savor the main course.

Well, it is the presentation of compatible athletic tastes and textural delights that has always been one of the track and field’s greatest appeals.   Today, two of the best T&F meets in the world arrive on the calendar, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, and the beginning of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Both meets have compelling story lines, but I wonder if my viewing will reflect a recent watching of two other top meets on TiVo?

Last week I re-watched coverage of the SEC Track & Field Championships on ESPNU, then immediately reviewed the Prefontaine Classic from NBC Sports. Surprisingly, what stood out was how much better the SEC presentation was than the Pre coverage. Not in terms of performances, camera angles or announcing. Obviously, the world-class performances in Eugene were superior to the SEC races, just as the fields in Oslo represent the very best track & field talent the world has to offer. No, what stood out was how the narrative thread of team-based competition throughout the SEC program gave coherence and meaning to the coverage that was totally missing in Eugene at Pre.

At the SEC’s in Lexington, Kentucky Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson presented the team element very usefully on ESPNU, while the efforts of Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Craig Masback and Dwight Stones for NBC at the Pre meet came in the service of unconnected, stand-alone events.  While every race at the SEC’s had an individual champion and particular story line, the linking element of team competition gave the meet a competitive arc and payoff for viewers to latch onto and follow.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m at Pre Meet.

On the other hand, while the Pre Classic produced a string of world-class performances, led by Galen Rupp’s American record over 10,000 meters, what stood out was the lack of any narrative thread beyond that. It was all a bunch of individual snapshots, not a building drama. Each non-sprint was staged as a series of predetermined paced laps with only the final lap, perhaps two in the case of Rupp, turning into a full out competition. It was hard not to fast forward to the moments of actual engagement as, once again, we were reminded why track and field has lost contact with the casual sports fan.  Continue reading

ATHLETICS KENYA TO STAGE “MINI TRIALS” BEFORE PREFONTAINE TRIALS

     The Athletics Kenya decision to stage their Olympic 10,000 meter selection in Eugene, Oregon at this June’s Prefontaine Classic has come in for some harsh criticism back home. Perhaps to tamp down some of that criticism and ameliorate disappointed fans, Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has made a Solomon-esque decision. Today, he informed the agents who represent the 10,000-meter Olympic “A” standard qualified Kenyan men that they “must participate in the mini trials to be held in Nairobi on 17 April 2012 without exception.”

This message arrived out of the blue, leading to speculation that the addition of a “mini trials” comes in response to the backlash from the Kenya media and the National Olympic Committee.  The Kenyan Ministry of Sport had also made condemning comments about the AK’s handling of the Olympic selection process.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the logic of staging the 10,000m trials in Eugene. And it wouldn’t be the first time a Kenyan Trials selection was held outside the country, either as the 1992 Kenyan Olympic marathon team was selected out of the Boston Marathon.

But for the 10,000 meters, the atmosphere in Eugene at Hayward Field will be electric.  What’s more, the race will be conducted at sea-level, thereby mirroring the conditions the team will find in London at the Games.  As such, the need to experience and practice the kind of final lap sprint – that Kenyans are not well known for – and which could mean the difference between a medal and disappointment, is much more likely to come to pass in Eugene than at altitude in Nairobi.

Also, with a pre-selection race and a following Trials competition, the odds are greater that an experienced team will emerge, rather than include a one-trick pony who may rise in a single selection race at altitude, but then bomb out in London.  In any case, the intrigue continues, which will only build more attention for both races.

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