Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throws and Cons

US track and field enthusiasts – and shot put devotees in particular – have been treated to two engaging fan experiences this past month.

At the Prefontaine Classic, the men’s Diamond League shot put was opened to the Distance Night in Eugene crowd, and hundreds of fans streamed onto the infield and watched putters from mere meters away.
Sacramento’s memorable backdrop was the State Capitol building, a spectacular location if you can get it. In an imaginative and inspired approach to engaging capital city office workers who had never seen a track and field event before, meet officials were big winners when it came to bringing new fans to the sport.
In Eugene, track fans already were inside the stadium when they were invited to join the throwers. When it came to preaching to the choir, the choir sang from the infield.
The energy of the Sacramento competition was so high that it might actually have adversely affected the competition itself. Men’s practice throws over 72 feet were the order of the day, yet in the competition itself there were only two throws over 70’. Even winner Joe Kovacs said in his post-meet interview to the crowd that he might have saved more for the event itself.
Props to the person who chose the music, as the loud, insistent beat of 70s and 80s rock anthems did much to create the energy of the event. What’s a shot competition without a little Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath? This is not a question I ever thought I’d be asking myself. It was especially fun to match songs to performances; for example, when Albert Fournette took the ring, he found himself spinning to “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Would that be appropriate for a world record or a foul?! He fouled.
It must strike the rest of the athletics world as odd that the United States would hold its national championships in a facility that cannot accomodate throwing events (update 6/28: except the discus) inside the stadium. This should especially be a major consideration when it comes to the awarding of future US Olympic Trials, though even repeated Trials host Eugene has the hammer adjacent to Hayward Field. Where does the hammer go if Eugene wins its bid for the World Championships?
Nonetheless, Sacramento meet organizers can bask in the glory of Wednesday’s tremendous success. If Sacramento wins the US Olympic Trials, I’m just trying to imagine where the hammer would go. The Capital Mall landscapers might object.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Track in the Trees: Return to Echo Summit

As I was picking up my car at Sacramento International Airport this afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a kind, engaging, and enthusiastic man, and I told him why I came here today.

He seemed quite interested in the national championships, and after a few moments I thought to ask him, "Are you a track fan?"

"Well, yes," he replied, "my cousin is Lee Evans."

In case you're a couple of years younger than I am, here is some context:

Lee Evans won the 400m gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in a world record time of 43.86. He then anchored the 4x400m relay squad to a gold medal in a world record time of 2:56.1.

The accomplishments of the US athletes at the 1968 Olympic Trials - at which 4 world records were set - will be celebrated this Friday, 6/27, at 10:30am at Echo Summit, California, with the dedication of the track and field site as a California State Historic Site.

Ceremonies begin at 10:30am, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos are among the speakers.

Here is an excellent article by Bob Burns; it features a classic, historic photo of the track in the trees:

Directions from the Sacramento Bee:
"The entrance for the event, which will begin at 10:30 a.m.,
is on the south side of Highway 50,
3 miles east of the entrance to Sierra at Tahoe ski area,
and is marked by an Adventure Mountain sign."

Read more here: