Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 24 Jul 1999 10:51:06 -0400

Two Tracks

(from RC 286)

Be careful what you wish for. I was among the old fans of track wishing for shorter, better-scripted track meets that would attract new fans. I wanted to see more of track on TV.

Both wishes are starting to come true. USATF is promoting its Golden Spike series of televised meets this spring, and a new professional circuit had a test run in June.

I generally applaud these efforts. But I'm saddened, though not surprised, to see distance runners overlooked.

The Golden Spike meet in Portland, Oregon, included men's and women's 5000s, and a steeple. But the live one-hour TV show made time for no race longer than a mile. A later meet in Raleigh, North Carolina, included nothing beyond 800 meters.

The new pro league, called the Track & Field Association, will offer nothing longer than a 3000 for men and a mile for women. This year's only meet showed the two longest men's races on TV but skipped the women's mile.

Any race lasting more than 10 minutes doesn't fit neatly between commercial breaks or into the attention span of the average viewer, the meet planners seem to have decided. They may have a point.

A gap is opening in track between the glamor events -- sprints, hurdles, some of the jumps and a few of the throws. All the others are orphans. These include the 5000, 10,000 and steeplechase, which are being ignored in TV coverage of most meets or cut from the schedule entirely.

Fans might not want to sit through these races. But runners still need chances to come together and go for fast times under good conditions, whether anyone watches or not.

This rarely happens at the Nationals, which typically are sit-and-kick affairs, -- or at the Olympic Trials, where Sacramento next year will be the fifth hot-weather site in a row. Going to Europe is not an option for an American man who could be lapped while running a 28-minute 10,000.

Olympian Mark Coogan wrote in Runner's World Online, "What Americans need are more chances to run fast [in this country]. In my 10 years of running track in America I have only seen two 10,000-meter races that were of any quality."

More may be coming. As some meets turn away distance runners, other meets offer them new opportunities.

These can be distance-oriented portions of full meets. The Penn and Mt. SAC Relays have done this for years by conducting distance nights for the 5000, 10,000 and steeple.

Other meets put the distance runners first. This happened in May at Stanford, when Bob Kennedy and Alan Culpepper broke 27:40 in the 10-K and four other Americans ran faster than the best American did last year (28:15). This race shows what can happen when the right people, tactics and weather come together.

USATF has done well at coordinating the Golden Spike series that spotlights the glamor events. Now the national body needs to readopt the orphans by supporting a parallel circuit for them -- using the existing meets at Penn and Mt. SAC in spring, plus the Can-Am High Performance Distance Circuit in summer, and adding new ones in track-friendly places like Des Moines, Fayetteville, Gainesville and Eugene. (Sorry, Boulder, your altitude works against the fast racing that runners crave.)

Here's wishing for more distance meets where the crowds might be small and the TV coverage nil -- but where fans appreciate the runners instead of going out for popcorn, going to the bathroom or going home when the long races start.


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