The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Were Meets Necessary This Year?

Oct 18th, 2020
10:29 am PST

I am a track and field junkie! It’s easily my favorite sport. So I’ve been pleased to have track back to watch. But everyone hasn’t been as excited. I’ve had some people ask me, “why are they running?”. The position being that, a) it’s not safe to be competing right now. and b) what we’ve been watching isn’t really track and field. At least some of the earlier competitions. Valid questions. Having gone through this truncated season, some things worked, and some things didn’t. But, in the long run, I personally think it was necessary.

Should we have had meets? Actually a question that’s been asked by many is, should we have had sports at all? Why was it so important to have basketball, baseball, football etc, in the midst of what’s been called a public health crisis?

The “big” money sports – basketball, baseball, football – did it for the money! They have huge TV contracts that would have cost them billions in revenue if they hadn’t played. So, at the end of the day it was absolutely necessary financially that they play. In the end that was good for sports in general – especially the Olympics – because they developed “the bubble” which allows sports to go forward regardless of how much control we have over Covid. The epitome of necessity being the mother of invention.

How about athletics? Well, there were financial considerations for track and field as well. As some shoe companies wanted their athletes on the track in order to fulfill their contracts. Resulting in some bizarre scenarios at the beginning of this weird season. Athletes running alone on the track, but competing “virtually” with others thousands of miles apart did not work! Sorry but it was ridiculous. You can’t watch or call something you’re really not seeing. And errors, as we saw, we’re critical – just ask Noah Lyles. It just wasn’t fun, lead to more questions than answered, and didn’t add fans.

Now finally getting athletes competing head to head, on the track. THAT is the essence of our sport. I don’t know why that seems to be so hard for our sports’ leaders to see! And when we finally got to THAT, well, the real excitement showed up – quick, fast, and in a hurry. Which is how many athletes were competing – with a quickness!

We’ve had a nice little outdoor season during what’s been the most bizarre year of my life. One would have thought that with most things being shut down since early March, including schools, gyms, tracks and other training facilities, that performances would be a bit sub par. Instead what we’ve seen is the resilience of track and field athletes. As many athletes clearly were ready had Tokyo remained in play!

Unfortunately such is not the case. Tokyo, and Eugene for that matter, have been put off for a year. Perhaps however, we’ve gotten a slight preview into what Tokyo may hold. For starters, I expect that there will be an Olympics. A lot of money has been spent on preparation by the host city. And I believe that professional sports through the use of “bubbles” has lit the way to participation regardless of what happens with Covid over the next year. Having said that, I do believe the virus will be under control, as the development of vaccines is well under way. I expect both participants and fans in Tokyo.

Given that scenario, what will we be watching? Either, in person, live and in color. Or here in the US on tape delay, curated by our friends at NBC sports? I’m going out on a limb and say, the most exciting competition ever on a global stage! So NBC get it together and stop jerking US fans! Why do I say this? Because of what we’ve seen in this truncated, Covid affected season. Following is my take on the most exciting athletes to perform in 2020 – The Year of Covid.

Shelby Houlihan – I’m starting with Shelby because I’m a sprint fan and Shelby is America’s best kicker in the distance arena – male or female. When she shifts gears late race, she’s as exciting to watch as any sprinter. In her brief season, she ran 4:02.37 in the 1500m which makes her #11 on the year. But what was really exciting was her American record 14:23.92 in the 5000m! Only two athletes were faster this year. Personally I prefer watching her face over 1500, but which ever distance she chooses (double?) she will be competing for a medal in Tokyo.

Karsten Warholm – You can’t talk about track these days and not mention Warholm. He was the hottest 400H hurdler of 2020. There are three clear threats for gold in Tokyo. Abderrahmane Samba, Rai Benjamin, and Karsten. Warholm was the one to seriously tackle the event this year and came oh so close to the world record with his stunning 46.87 run! Throw in runs of 47.07, 47.08 and 47.10 and he took over the All Time top ten list once dominated by Edwin Moses. Putting the others on notice that gold could, no should, take a world record run to achieve. Only time will tell.

Sha’Carri Richardson – Ms Richardson broke the collegiate record in the 100 last year. Then promptly had difficulty at USATF and in Europe. Some wondered if her record race was a fluke. Well Sha’Carri has proven that she is indeed one of the world’s best clocking 10.95 legal, 10.79w (2.7) and a legal 22.00 in the deuce! Barring injury, she’s looking good to represent the US in Tokyo, and to be a medal contending finalist. It’s amazing what a bit of rest can do for an athlete.

Trayvon Bromell – Speaking of sprinters and a little extra time, while Noah Lyles and Michael Norman continue to get the bulk of accolades in the sprints, Trayvon has quietly made his way back! Bromell made the team in 2016, but ended up being showed by injury. He’s struggled to get back to form since. Then came crazy 2020, and we’ve seen him clock 9.87w (2.5) and 9.90 legal. The start and solid technique that made him a global medalist seems to be back and he’s competitive once again. The US could have the strongest group of male sprinters since 1968!

Shaunae Miller Uibo – Shaunae quietly ran sub-11 (10.98) which makes her “sub” in all three sprints. That increases her stock for Tokyo. She was looking at the 200/400 double, but she could also look at the 100/200 double now. The question for her is what does she consider her better event, the 200 or 400. The status of current world champion Salwa Eid Naser could also play a role. Stay tuned.

Rai Benjamin – It was a very short season for Rai, and it didn’t include the 400H. It did include the 100, where Rai clocked a stunning 10.03 chasing training mate Norman in his 9.86. Rai is arguably the most physically talented long hurdler out there. In addition to that 100 he’s run 19.99 (200), 44.31 (400), 46.98 (400H) and split 43 mid in the 4×4. Question, can he use his talent to defeat the gutsy Warholm? The men’s 400H could well be the biggest story in Tokyo.

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce – She just keeps running fast – running a quick 10.86 this year. She’s proven to be competitive. And as others of her level struggle, she continues forward like the Energizer Bunny. Will she stand atop the podium in Tokyo, or will some youngster knock her off? That seems to be the question we’ll be asking during the first weekend of the Games!

Mondo Duplantis – Perhaps the two hottest athletes of the year are in the field. Mondo Duplantis set the indoor World Record during the winter, and finally got the outdoor record (6.16m/20’2.5“) to go with it! He’s been pushed by Sam Kendricks who went 6.02m/19’9” himself this year. But Mondo fears no one. As exciting as the men’s 400H will be, so will the men’s pole vault. This is an event to keep an eye on.

Elaine Thompson Herah – The women’s sprints are going to be fire in Tokyo. Defending Olympic champ decided to show up late in the season to let everyone know that she too will be ready. All she did was dominate a couple of races and run 10.85 looking like she was taking a stroll in the park! Or as the Commodores once sang, easy like Sunday morning. Get your popcorn ready.

Ryan Crouser – Crouser was part of the most exciting shot put competition ever at least year’s World Championships – and he upped the ante in 2020. He’s a smidge better at 22.91m/75’2“, and has thrown over 22.56m/74ft several times this year! He’s another athlete that’s a world record threat. In a year with exciting performances and performers, Crouser has been one of the best.

These are Olympic level performances. Done in a season with more challenges and adversity than most will ever see again. So yes, there should have been track and field this year. We’ve learned, and learning leads to growth. And just as the athletes have learned how to be competitive in the worst of conditions. I hope that leadership has learned why this sport is great and how to capitalize on that! Because at the end of the day, it’s about the athletes; the performances; and above all, the competition! Get them together on the track and let them compete. Forget all the gimmicks. It’s the head to head stupid! In ALL of the events. Because quality competition is what drives ALL professional sports. I’m already drooling over the spring!

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