In the year 2014 we finally got what I’ve always known TV could give us - a full day of track & field! The thought of watching track all day on television has been a dream of mine forever.There is an old saying however, be careful what you ask for, you might it. and my day of sitting in the comfort of my home watching track and field had it’s moments. Starting with the "venerable" Penn Relays.
I know that the "concept" of "The USA v The World" creates an aura of excitement for Penn and sells tickets, but this year’s squads were really lacking in star power and truly elites, which for me was rather disappointing. Combine that with the fact that while Penn is touted as one of America’s best meets, NBC clearly didn’t think so as it sent the "B" announcing team to Pennsylvania to call the meet. The combination of "B" team plus what ended up being a "B" meet made for a very difficult broadcast to watch if you are a true fan of the sport.
Announcing wise, NBC should have more than one squad put together to announce a meet. After all, it’s been the home of the Olympics since the boycotted Games of 1984. You would think that being the television "home’ of the Olympics and track and field being the signature sport that they would have developed enough talent to pull off two meets in a day. Alas, such was not the case, as both the meet, and the announcing came off as second tier.
To give some credit to the announcing crew, they weren’t given a lot to work with. If I were the head of USA Track and Field and I’m presenting a high level meet on TV with the focus on "The USA v The World" I would have worked well in advance to ensure that "Team USA" was of the highest caliber! So that the viewing public would see the best the sport has to offer in an attempt to show America what we have in terms of talent. To draw viewers back to the television the next time a meet is presented on television and to, just perhaps, persuade the public to come out and actually watch track and field. I can tell you this type of approach does work. At the high school where I coach, I’ve taken over a failing program where not even the few athletes that used to go out for the sport would watch. Now, however, that we have quality athletes competing at a high level and running in meets like Stanford and The Meet of Champions, attendance at home meets is up and people are coming out and watching. Believe it or not people in America will watch "quality" track when it’s presented.
That’s not what we got at Penn however. The US teams looked to be put together at the last minute – and in some cases we were told that they were. There was a lack of foreign stars, but more importantly a huge lack of American star power. The lack of the best of the foreigners in not necessarily under the control of USATF – though a corporation like Nike could assist except they keep their efforts confined to an upper corner of the Northwest of the US – but gathering US talent should be within the realm of USATF and it’s CEO! So far, however, putting together quality meets in the United States and increasing visibility of the sport does not seem to be a part of his agenda. Until it is, we will continue to get meets like this that do little to build the sport. Which means we will be reliant on those running meets, with little help from the sport.
To that end, while I know that Penn has a rich history, it could do better as it moves through the new millennium. For example, while it’s nice that Jamaica has a presence in the meet, it almost seems like it’s a Jamaican showcase as opposed to a US showcase in the high school events, which is where we begin to get a glimpse of the future of the sport. Having only two US high school teams among the plethora of Jamaican talent on display is almost deplorable. Then touting the Jamaican dominance as the announcers are constantly want to do, with the dearth of US talent that is brought to the table, without mentioning that A) the Jamaican kids peak earlier because their championships meets are nearly two months ahead of ours, AND that the Jamaican kids tend to be nearer Jr College age unfairly demeans our own talent! We have so much to learn about "presentation" here in the US.
All that said, the day wasn’t completely lost. As things moved to Drake for their relays, we were blessed with the "A" team of US announcing, AND a field of much better talent!
We were treated to an outstanding mile where the rabbit stole the race! An epic early season showdown in the men’s 400 with the last two Olympic and World Champions squaring off. The match-up of LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James didn’t disappoint with Merritt winning in an outstanding early season best of 44.45. We saw last year’s hurdle sensation Brianna Rollins run an outstanding opener of 12.58 only to lose by thousandths of a second to this year’s up and coming C
Kristi Castlin. In the field Canada’s Derek Drouin soared 7′ 10.5" to become the #5 high jumper ever in the sport. And viewers got a look at recent WJR 100 setter Trayvon Bromwell anchor Baylor to a in in the 4×1.
When you have talent in a meet, it’s a joy to watch. And THAT is the lesson that USATF needs to take away from the weekend. When you have the money – and they recently signed a HUGE contract with Nike that I want to talk about shortly – you have the ability to put the talent on the track that will drive viewership and attendance!
Soon we’ll see just what direction USATF has for this sport. But this past weekend it was all about television for hours. I would say a "C" in Pennsylvania and a B+ in Iowa. Good, but we can do much better.