Friday, September 7, 2018

Mary Poppins Rocks the Relay

Let’s Go Fly a Kite – or Run a Relay

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

The girls 16 x 50m relay at Berlin’s ISTAF Meet was a thriller. The team in bright yellow had a substantial lead but missed the final exchange. While they retrieved the baton, the rest caught up – but not for long. The local Mary Poppins Elementary School team had the strongest anchor by far, and Mary Poppins won going away.

Their website describes the school as “Elementary School with a Sporty Profile.” Sporty indeed – they were prominent in a number of the youth events. The announcer couldn’t get enough of saying ‘Mary Poppins’, which added a certain note of levity to the event.

I noted in an earlier post ( that there had been a well-coordinated same-day national developmental event in 7 cities in Switzerland as part of the Diamond League Zurich meet.

Kids were coached by Diamond League stars and the event was streamed live on Facebook. At the time, I had no context for the role that developmental events play in European track meets. Further stops in Brussels, Berlin, and now Ostrava have been an eye-opening experience.

Imagine two hours of developmental age-group events before the Prefontaine Classic or USATF Outdoor Nationals. While there are many outreach programs in US track and field, putting the spotlight on future tracksters before the senior events later the same day will attract many to the sport. Think of how many athletes are in one race 16x50m relay, and of how many in could be in multiple races before the senior events begin.

The developmental events have added a dimension to track meets that has been wholly new and unexpected for me. What a wonderful discovery to have made on this epic European track tour.

These highly visible events are the initiatives that will grow and build our sport. Broadcasters could start the live feed with 30 seconds of the most engaging moments from the developmental events. In Berlin, youth competitors were introduced with the same music as the senior competitors, which only heightened the sense of anticipation about the youth races and gave the kids a sense of being on the same stage as the great athletes who would compete later.

True, it’s more work for meet organizers, but in Berlin managing the hordes of nervous youngsters was an organizational work of art, as was the same-day coordination of the Swiss events across the nation.

Note the name of the event.
Note the number of people in the stands.
photo copyright Mark Cullen/
Meanwhile, the Continental Cup begins in Ostrava tomorrow. Here’s how the printed schedule reads:

12:00 – Fan Zone Opens
12:00 – 1:15 – arrival of schools, clubs, issue of t-shirts

Interesting priorities.

One thing has now changed in my reporting life: getting there early – that is, before the senior events – is no longer my goal. Getting there earlier for the developmental events is.

Get me to the stadium on time. 

(I know I have mixed musicals here; far better than to mix metaphors!)

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