Such a quiet week in the sport. Coming off the indoor season it takes a minute before the elite athletes really begin to roll. We probably won’t see them really hit their stride until some time after the Penn Relays in late April. So what to do til then?
No brainer – high school and college meets! This is actually my favorite time of year when it comes to track and field, because it’s the time of year when I can get up close and personal with the sport. With elite track and field there are few opportunities to go out and watch the athletes compete. Penn, Drake, Pre, Carson, Reebok and Nationals are the top elite competitions here in the States – and they’re spread all over the map.
But between now and June there are meets galore at the other levels of the sport. Every weekend holds a smorgasbord of potential action. High school dual meets. High school and college invitationals – and at the college level there are community colleges, Div I, Div II, and Div III! There is always something local, and never more than perhaps an hour to an hour and a half drive to get to near elite level competition on the Division I college level.
Aside from accessibility, however, there are other attractions to these meets. For starters, they all have relay competition – and I love watching relays! Most meets have the traditional 4×1 and 4×4, but this early part of the season you can find lots of meets that run almost every kind of relay imaginable. Distance runners get to run relays with 4 x 800, distance medleys, and even 4 x 1600. Field event competitors too, with long jump, high jump, shot put, and discus relays (and others) where the marks of four competitors are totaled together to determine a team winner. It all leads to tremendous excitement.
Speaking of excitement, at these levels the competition tends to be quite exciting. No you won’t find any high school athletes running 9.58, 43.50, or 3:28.00 or jumping 28 feet or vaulting 19 feet – but you will find them giving their all and competing to the end. You will see 100 meter races that need to be separated by the photo finish. You will see stirring come from behind victories on the final lap of the mile, or final jump or throw on the field. And you will see tons of youthful exuberance as a young kid improves her best from 56.00 to 54.99 in the 400 or his best from 4:14 to 4:09 in the mile!
Not only that, but you get to spend your afternoon actually watching a track meet. Not an abbreviated version of a track meet, but a full set of competition. All the sprints, all the distances, all the jumps and all the throws! You don’t get the long jump, without the triple jump, or the 100 without the 200. You get it all – and so do the athletes! There’s nothing like watching competitive athletes going at it not once, but sometimes twice or three times over the course of an afternoon. Sprinter Blue, Sprinter Yellow and Sprinter Green go at it in the 4×1 and Sprinter Blue’s team wins. Then Blue and Green go head to head in the 100, with Green getting the win – while Yellow won the 400 just a couple of events before. Later we get Blue, Green AND Yellow going at it over 200 meters with Blue edging Yellow & Green! Typically you see this over and over with athletes competing in multiple events doubling in the 800 & mile, or the long jump and triple jump, or the shot and discus. Each set of competitions bringing athletes together looking for both victory and redemption within the same meet. No threat of world records being broken but stirring competition all afternoon long!
And it’s the heart felt competition, the giving of one’s all, the total joy of competing that one sees from the “non elite” athletes that reminds me why I love this sport so much! It’s what keeps me in the stadium all afternoon even though the best mark I may see all day could be a 24 foot long jump, a 10.60 100 meters, or a 4:10 mile. You see, at the end of the day, what you get at a high school or college meet is the essence of the sport. And it’s the essence of the sport – the pure competition itself – that makes this sport great.
That’s why some of the greatest meets on the planet are high school level meets. Talk to anyone that has gone to “Champs” in Jamaica, or the California State High School Championships, or the Texas High School Championships or any high level high school competition and as they talk it will sound as if they’re talking about the Olympic Games themselves!
So while you’re waiting for Penn, or Drake or Carson go out and watch a local high school invite. Or a college invitational, two or four year. You may see a future star. I guarantee you will remember why you love the sport.