Category Archives: Musings

Some Thoughts on Supporting our Athletes

I read a really interesting article in the New York Times the other day. It described the efforts of US skiers to raise money for training and travel expenses through crowdfunding sites.

Here is the link to that article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/24/sports/facing-uphill-struggle-for-sponsors-us-skiers-lead-a-crowdfunding-trend.html?ref=sports&_r=0

I know nothing about the sport of skiing other than the fact that Lindsey Vonn is dating Tiger Woods (thank you People Magazine), but the article made me wonder if American throwers were also using crowdfunding to help with expenses.

Turns out that at least one is, and I know her.

brit smith

She is Brittany Smith, the recent Illinois State University graduate and NCAA All-American in the shot put and hammer throw.

I met Brittany a few years ago when one of my former throwers was her teammate at Illinois State. She is a really nice person and a very talented young thrower.

Funny story. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my brother-in-law Larry who lives in Germany and has made possible most of my sojourns across the pond to see world class track meets. Larry owns some rental property in Tuscon, Arizona, and he had received an inquiry from a young lady named Brittany Smith who wanted to rent one of his places next winter. Apparently, she was a thrower and wanted to train in Arizona as part of her effort to make the 2016 Olympic team.

I was happy to vouch for the fact that Brittany was indeed a thrower and that, aside from her rather odd taste in men (more on that in a moment) seemed like a completely trustworthy person.  Larry was happy to play a role in helping an aspiring Olympian, and so the deal was done.

Funny story. Larry ran distance for DIII powerhouse North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.  My friend Sean Denard was, from 2012 until a couple of months ago, the throws coach at North Central. Sean recently took over the throws position at Grand Valley State. He is also the boyfriend of…Brittany Smith.

Anyway, Larry had mentioned that Brittany was using a crowdfunding site to raise some cash, a fact that I was reminded of while reading the New York Times story. Here is the link to  her page on the gofundme site:

http://www.gofundme.com/ckgykk

Thinking about Brittany and her efforts to stay in the sport long enough to reach her prime (she is currently 23 years old) made me think about my conversation with the German coach Torsten Schmidt last month.

I am by no means an expert in the German system, but from what I can tell it works like this:

Typical schools in Germany do not field sports teams. Most communities, however, have sports clubs. These clubs are coached by volunteer and part-time trainers. If a young athlete shows significant potential, they might be invited to attend a special “sports school” starting (I think) at the age of 16.

There, they will receive expert coaching.

If an athlete continues to flourish in his or her sport, they may be offered the opportunity to remain in the government-sponsored sports system, often by joining a special arm of the police.  Christoph Harting, one of the discus throwers who trains with Torsten, talks about that in the following interview:

 

Christoph’s position with the police allows him, at the age of 24, to train full time from January through September at an excellent facility in Berlin (it has 8 discus rings) under the care of one of the best coaches in the world. He shares that coach with only two other athletes: his brother Robert, and Julia Fischer.  He does not have to worry about training or travel expenses.

Compare that with Brittany’s situation. At the age of 23, she currently works part time at Illinois State and is on her own in arranging and paying for coaching, travel, and other training expenses. If that situation becomes unmanageable, she will be forced to consider retiring from her sport.

Which of them do you think has the better chance of reaching their potential as a thrower?

You have to wonder if the German system of supporting their athletes is the key to their consistent excellence in the throws.

Interestingly, Robert Harting recently made some disparaging comments about athlete support in Germany in an interview with Throwholics:

http://throwholics.com/2014/12/2015-off-season-training-with-robert-harting/

As far as I can tell, Robert seems to be suggesting that getting a degree while training in the German system is a bigger challenge than it should be.

That’s one thing Brittany has going for her. She has her degree from ISU. Now, for her and for many other post-collegiate throwers, the challenge is to stay in the sport long enough to reach its highest level.

 

Everything you need to know about hosting a world class shot put competition on Main Street

rolling the sand

 “There are 20 million runners in this country. I don’t think there are 20 million track fans.”       

                  –Vin Lananna, Head Track Coach, University of Oregon

Okay, if you love the sport of track and field, that’s a problem. Luckily, people like Milan Donley, Meet Director of the Kansas Relays, have been working overtime to convert some of those non-track fans. For the past three years, the Kansas Relays has held a world class shot put competition in downtown Lawrence. Milan got the idea from street meets held in Europe, and the concept has transferred quite nicely to the American heartland.  Throwers love it. Spectators love it. And the businesses in downtown Lawrence who report a 40% increase in sales on those competition days really, really love it.

Milan, who would like to see other communities adopt the street meet concept, was kind enough to share with me the nuts and bolts of hosting one of these competitions.

The Concept 

In order to lure spectators and grow interest in the sport, Milan is determined each year to put on an entertaining “show.”  That means putting together a world class field (more on that later) and adding a few “extras” such as the KU cheerleaders, t-shirt tosses, a post-competition meet and greet with the athletes, a sound system, and a beer garden.

I know, I know. I had you at “KU cheerleaders.”

The competition  consists of one flight of top-notch throwers taking six throws apiece. In order to accentuate the drama, the flight is re-ordered after the third and fifth rounds. Throwers get to choose the music they want to hear as they enter the ring, and are encouraged to “play to the crowd.”  Milan seems quite pleased with the fact that Christian Cantwell (as a University of Missouri alum) is booed heartily by the pro-Jayhawk locals.

cantwell 2

The way that attendance has increased (1,500 in year one to 3,500 this year) would seem to indicate that Milan has accomplished his mission of showing people a good time.

The Setup

 A local quarry donates 400 cubic yards of crushed limestone for the landing area (which is in turn donated to the city of Lawrence). Since the street is not perfectly level, the thickness of the landing area varies from approximately 6 inches just in front of the ring to 3 feet at the opposite end of the sector (approximately 85 feet away).

The ring itself is set in a portable 10′ by 10′ concrete slab built according to specs that Milan obtained from the folks who run the shot competition in the Zurich train station.

Stopboards are placed at the end of the landing area, and barriers and bleachers are set up along the sides to keep spectators safe and comfortable.

Add in a couple of tents to shelter the athletes, a beer garden run by a local establishment and you have everything you need for a great competition.

The city of Lawrence donates the labor necessary for the setup and takedown. Setup begins at 6:00am and takes 5-8 hours. The competition is held at 6:00pm, and the city begins removing the limestone at midnight. By 6:00am the cleanup is done.

Here are a some views of the competition area:

overhead view

reese

cantwell

crowd shot

The Budget

The cost of holding the Kansas Relays shot in downtown Lawrence is $50,000. Part of that money is accumulated through donations from local businesses such as restaurants and banks, and part ($20,000) comes out of the Kansas Relays budget.

The majority of that $50,000 is devoted to putting together a world class field of putters. The very best shotputters in the world can command an appearance fee of $7,500 to $9,000. Less accomplished throwers may settle for $2,500 or less. Each is given $300.00 for travel as well as a per diem and hotel accomodations. The prize money is $1,000 for first place, $750.00 for second, and $500.00 for third.

I feel the need to digress here for a second because I don’t want people who are unfamiliar with the sport to get the wrong idea.

 As is often the case, the money paid to athletes may seem like a lot to us average Joes. Nine thousand dollars for one day’s work? Sounds pretty sweet. But paydays for shotputters are few and far between. The best of the best (recent World and Olympic champions) might get invited to a handful of decent-paying meets per season, and might quickly find themselves uninvited if their performance slips a bit.  Opportunities are even more scarce for those who have not quite achieved “best of the best” status. I recently spoke with a 21-meter putter who has never made a World Championship or Olympic team  and now, at the age of 30, is facing the liklihood of having to retire due to financial considerations. There just aren’t enough paying meets out there to allow him to make a living.

And that’s not good for our sport. As Gia Lewis-Smallwood has recently demonstrated, some throwers do not find their groove until long after they’ve left the security of the college environment. For the United States to field its best team at the Olympics and World Championships, we’ve got to give developing athletes a chance to make some money.

The great thing about street meets is that they help fill that need while also expanding track and field’s fan base.

Anyhow, Milan asks that each thrower arrive the day before the competition so that they may attend a dinner with local doners, and that they stick around after the event to pose for pictures and interact with the spectators, and he says the athletes have been great about doing just that.

I have spoken to two putters who participated in this year’s Kansas Relays street competition, Cory Martin and Justin Rodhe, and they both greatly enjoyed the experience. Milan said that the throwers he has come to know would like nothing better than to have a series of street meets held each summer in the USA. So, if you decide to host one of these competitions, you will be dealing with motivated, personable athletes who will do everything they can to make your event a success.

I would advise anyone who is considering putting on a street meet to contact Milan. He is a great guy and very happy to share his expertise.

 

 

 

Where does that leave us? Part 2: The Women

My last post examined the prospects of US men making the finals and/or medaling next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

Now, let’s consider the ladies.

The Discus

Moscow Results:

8th:62.80m  Bronze: 64.96m  Silver: 66.28m  Gold: 67.99m

Sacramento Results:

3rd:  Shelbi Vaughan 59.75m

2nd: Liz Podominick 59.96m

1st: Gia Lewis-Smallwood 65.96m

2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships

Gia’s career seemed dead in the water just a couple of years ago, but she pulled off a rare trick for an American thrower: she found a way to stay in the sport long enough to find her groove.  She finished fifth in Moscow, and has shown the ability to throw 64-65 meters overseas in stadiums.  She is also, to my knowledge, the only thrower to defeat Sandra Perkovic in the past two years. (Fun Fact: over 600 people have climbed Mt. Everest in that time).  The big question is, can Gia at thirty-five years of age hold off the ravages of time long enough to get on the podium in Beijing and Rio?  If she does, it will be a great, great moment for American throwing.

(This just in! As I am about to post this article, Gia has thrown 65.59m to take third at the Paris DL meet)

Another question: Can 2008 Olympic champ Stephanie Brown Trafton come all the way back from taking time off to have a baby? She had to be encouraged by her performance in Sacramento (58.84m), but she and Gia are about the same age, so…

A final question: What about the youngsters? Shelbi Vaughan is a special athlete, but she cannot be expected to throw bombs overseas in August after enduring the rigors of the NCAA season, especially if she continues playing volleyball. Whitney Ashley (fifth in Sacramento at 58.68m) is another gifted athlete waiting in the wings. (Fun Fact: At the 2013 Adidas Grand Prix meet, Perkovic’s coach told me that he thought Ashley had a lot of potential but that she should reverse instead of using a fixed-feet finish).

Outlook: In my dream scenario (the one that does not involve Angelina Jolie) Gia and Stephanie both elbow their way onto the podium next to Perkovic in Beijing or Rio.

 

The Javelin 

Moscow Results:

8th: 61.30m  Bronze: 65.09m  Silver:66.60m  Gold: 69.05m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Leigh Petranoff  57.80m

2nd: Brittany Borman 62.05

1st: Kara Patterson 62.43m

kara

 Does anyone else view the javelin as a fickle event?  Three weeks ago in New York, I watched the Australian javeliner Kathryn Mitchell throw 66.02m easy as pie and Linda Stahl (a German) throw 67.32m easy as strudel. Then, earlier this week at the Lausanne DL meeting, they went 58.23m and 63.20m respectively.

Outlook: Given the “on any given day” nature of the event, it is entirely possible that Borman or Patterson could make the final in Beijing and/or Rio. A medal, though, is unlikely. Their best route to the podium at a major international meet is to pull a Gia and stay in the sport into their thirties (Mitchell, by the way, is having her best season at the age of thirty-one).

 

The Shot Put 

Moscow Results:

8th: 18.09m  Bronze: 19.95m Silver:20.41m  Gold: 20.88m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Tia Brooks 18.83m

2nd: Felisha Johnson 19.18m

1st: Michelle Carter 19.45m

carter 2

Loads of potential among this threesome of young gliders, two of whom have already garnered significant international experience. Tia was 8th in Moscow, Michelle missed the bronze by a centimeter.

Outlook: There is no reason the US should not have two shot finalists in Beijing and Rio. And after that?  Valerie Adams is only twenty-nine, but the Herculean effort behind her seemingly effortless domination of the sport (two Olympic, three Indoor World and four Outdoor World golds since 2007) has left her contemplating retirement after 2016. Carter, who threw an American record 20.24m last season, is only a year younger than Val, but seems to be just coming into her own. If she can hang in there for another Olympic cycle after Rio, she might be able to contend for that rather large open space at the top of major championship podiums.

The Hammer

Moscow Results:

8th: 72.70m  Bronze: 75.58m  Silver: 78.46m  Gold: 78.80m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Amber Campbell 71.35m 

2nd: Jessica Cosby Toruga 71.72m

1st: Amanda Bingson 75.07m 

bingson

In the past two seasons, three American women (Bingson, Cosby Toruga, and Jeneva McCall) have thrown 74 meters or better. Cosby Toruga is thirty-two, but both McCall and Bingson are just two years out of college.  Same for Gwen Berry, who threw 73.81m last year.

Outlook: For Beijing and Rio, getting two in the top eight is certainly attainable. Beyond that, one or more of the Bingson/McCall/Berry trio needs to get her PB into the 77-78 meter range to increase the odds of hitting a medal-winning 76m in a major championship.

 

 

 

So where does that leave us? Part 1: the men

The 2014 USATF championships are in the books, but with no World or Olympic titles to shoot for this year it seems like a proper moment to size up the state of the throwing events in this country and to speculate on what it will take to medal or at least make the finals next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

The Hammer

Here are some results from last year’s Worlds in Moscow:

8th Place: 77.57m   Bronze: 79.36m   Silver: 80.30m  Gold: 81.97m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Chris Cralle 72.83m 

 2nd: AG Kruger 73.34m

1st: Kibwe Johnson 74.16m

kibwe

 Kibwe’s PB is 80.31m, but at 33 years of age his chances of making the finals in 2015 or 2016 appear slim. Same for Kruger, who is 35. Chris Cralle is young (26) but with a PR of 74.55m he is going to have to find a way to stay in the sport long enough to get to the point where he can throw 77m to 80m consistently.

Outlook: Not so good. It would be a huge step forward just to get someone in the final eight in Beijing or Rio.

 

The Javelin

Moscow results:

8th: 80.03m    Bronze: 86.23m   Silver:87.07m   Gold: 87.17m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Tim Glover 78.87m

2nd: Riley Dolezal 79.27m

1st: Sean Furey 81.10m

furey

If 80m gets you into the final again in 2015, all three of these guys would obviously have a shot. A medal? Hmmmm. Glover is the youngest of the three at 24, and has the longest PR (84.01m) but he graduated college this spring and must find a stable training environment if he is to lead the US to international respectability.

Outlook: Forget about 2015 or 2016, but my 2020 vision says that if Glover can stay with it he might be the guy to break through.

 

 The Discus:

Moscow results:

8th: 63.38m   Bronze: 65.19m  Silver: 68.36m Gold: 69.11m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Mason Finley 61.04m

2nd: Bryan Powlen 61.05m

1st: Hayden Reed 62.19m

reed

The good news? The 26-year-old Powlen is the old man of this crew. Finley has decided to give up shot putting to focus on the disc, and Reed is clearly a fearless young man. The bad news?  There is a veteran group of discus throwers on the international scene all of whom have shown the ablility to throw 65+ in stadiums–68+ in the case of by Robert Harting, Piotr Malachowski,  Gerd Kanter, and Ehsan Hadadi.

Outlook:  As a Chicago White Sox fan, I love to make fun of the Cubs and their hundred-years-and-counting title drought. The suffering of their supporters has reached Biblical proportions, with no end in sight. Sadly, American discus fans are in the same boat.

The Shot Put

Moscow results:

8th: 20.39m  Bronze: 21.34m  Silver: 21.57m Gold: 21.73m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Reese Hoffa 20.78m

2nd: Kurt Roberts 21.47m

1st: Joe Kovacs 22.03m

joe

Consider the humble cactus. It flourishes in the type of dry, barren soil that kills off most other plants. Same for American shotputters. No one knows exactly what factors have conspired to keep the United States from regularly producing world class jav, hammer, and disc throwers,  but whatever those factors may be (lack of governmental support, the predominance of football, an evil curse) they seem to have no affect whatsoever on our ability to crank out excellent shot putters.

Looking  at the numbers those guys put up in Sacramento, would anyone guess that  three men who have thrown over 21 meters this season were forced by injury to withdraw from the competition?

My teenaged daughter would call that “sick!”

Outlook: Hard to imagine an elephant fitting in a room full of American shot putters, but it’s not going away until one of them wins an Olympic gold medal.  Will our phalanx of phenoms finally overwhelm those cursed European gliders? Majewski is getting long in the tooth and has been injured quite a bit lately, but Storl is still young and still…Storl.  If nothing else, the shot final in Beijing and Rio should be riveting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anita’s Taxi is Here

Anita’s Taxi is here!

Anita Taxi

Here is how to do it right if you really want to be successful.  Pay attention to the details and do what is needed.

For the last four years Anita Wlodarczyk, the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World Championships silver medalist in the women’s hammer throw, comes to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista (San Diego) CA to train.  She is accompanied by her  coach Krzystof Kaliszewski, and physiotherapist Joanna Madajczyk.

Doing drills correctly over and over is a big part of her program.  There is no magic, just a good plan, hard work, good technique and a commitment to doing everything the right way.  For example; delivery work with the weight.  Wind and throw 50 throws right sided, 50 throws left sided.

FYI – In addition to their coaching and physio/massage responsibilities, Joanna pulls the hammers from the ground and loads them in the taxi’s trailer.   Krzystof ‘drives’ the car back to the circle.  Anita throws the hammers back out into the field to complete their continuous round trips.

PS: click on the photo to expand it and get all the detail!

 

 

#*it Happens even at Nationals!

If you throw long enough you will lose a few legal throws and gain a few that were foul because of bad calls by the officials.
I saw a missed call similar to this W-Hep Shot in the Open Men’s Shot Put with a different judge.
Fortunately, neither judgement error impacted the final results.

The real travesty was that they couldn’t slow down the circle so the speed gliders could throw.
At the US Nationals, that was embarrassing, especially since our Women’s Champion is a speed glider.  We can’t even make it right for our Champion who is an international contender.

We just don’t care enough to do it right.

We Need More of this to Grow Our Sport

I was in Boise ID for a competition January 30-31.   During a Thursday afternoon shakedown workout the local youth club came in to train.

Team Idaho with 290 members!

This is what we need to grow our sport.

Lucky for Boise to have a local club get time in an indoor facility.

Nice to see so many young “Flying Squirrels” in training, but…

“Where are the 50 Shot Putters and Weight Throwers?”

“Oh, they come in the second session, but there are only about 15.”

Bummer for the throws.

 

 Click here for…             Mac Wilkins.com

                                                  The Wilkins Review

Meeting Mac Wilkins (and discussing the NCAA Oregon decision)

When I was in high school, I wanted to be Mac Wilkins. He had just won the gold medal in the discus at the Montreal games, he threw with a unique blend of grace and savagery, he came across as sharply funny and intelligent during interviews, and he had an amazing beard.

So, I went out and bought a pair of throwing shoes and a warmup suit just like the ones Mac used. I tried to mimic his technique. Though never interviewed, I did my best to make sardonic comments each day in the lunch room. I stopped shaving. I brought home two puppies without getting permission from my parents, and I named them Mac Wilkins and Al Feuerbach. When my parents made me give back one of the puppies, I gave back Al Feuerbach.

Unfortunately, the results were not exactly what I expected. I could reproduce Mac’s barbaric passion in the ring, but not his grace and athleticism, unless you call falling down while firing the disc 80 feet out of bounds graceful and athletic. The guys at my lunch table did not appreciate my biting wit. No one noticed that I had stopped shaving.

The one positive result of my “be like Mac” campaign was that puppy Mac grew into my mom’s all time favorite dog. She treasures his memory to this day.

Needless to say, then, that when my friend Jim Aikens told me he’d gotten human Mac to appear at this year’s Illinois Coaches Association Clinic, I was stoked.

And I am even more stoked now, after meeting him. Our clinic was last weekend, and Mac, in spite of spending much of the day at the airport due to mechanical problems, graciously agreed to attend the coaches social held the night before the clinic where he told some hilarious stories about Bill Bowerman including one involving elephant dung. I’m not making that up.

He remained completely friendly and gracious while I asked him approximately 90 million questions about his career.  Here is a link to his response when I asked him about the NCAA decision to award the outdoor championships to Oregon for the forseeable future.  Sorry about the background noise!

I think he sums it up well. It would be nice for fans across the country if the NCAA championships could continue to rotate to different regions, but only Oregon has shown a consistent ability to draw spectators.

So, I surrender. If Mac Wilkins tells me it’s probably for the best that the meet settles in Eugene, then I’m just going to have to start planning some trips to Eugene.

We are still editing my conversation with Mac and his presentation at the clinic. Stay tuned.

The Oregon Monopoly: A response from the NCAA

Wanting to find out more about the logic behind the NCAA decision to award the Outdoor Track and Field Championships to Eugene for the next eight years,  I contacted their Media Relations department and received a response almost immediately.  Here is our exchange:

I’d appreciate it if you could give me some insight into how the decision was made so that I could share that info with the online community of track and field fans. I basically have two questions: What factors (attendance, corporate sponsorship, athletes’ preference, or whatever) figured into this decision? Why an 8-year commitment? Thanks much! -Dan McQuaid 

Dan,
  Thank you for your inquiry. The Division I Track and Field Committee, comprised of coaches and administrators within Division I, is the deciding group on where to award championships sites based on the bids submitted, and they ultimately recommended the bid be awarded to the University of Oregon in Eugene. A variety of factors were considered in the committee’s deliberations, however, the experience for the student-athletes was the piece they continually want to enhance the most. The opportunity to compete in facilities of great quality with thousands of fans who are knowledgeable and passionate about track and field was of paramount importance. The past experiences NCAA student-athletes have had at Hayward Field, including the 2013 championships, was a differentiating factor for the committee.
 
Additionally, the committee weighed the overall components of the bid (budget, facility, layout, amenities, hotels, travel, etc.) into their discussion as well. The factors that enhanced the experience for the student-athletes, fans and NCAA far outweighed any of the other parts that could potentially be seen as a reason not to have the championships in Eugene.
 
The length of the term commitment was an important strategy by the committee to attempt to grow and sustain a fan base around the NCAA Track and Field Championships hoping, one day, to have more than 20,000+ people per session at the event.
 
I hope this helps and thanks again.
Cam
 
Cameron Schuh
NCAA
Associate Director for Public and Media Relations
Cam:Thanks very much!

A quick follow up. Did the committee have in mind the model of the NCAA baseball tournament with its permanent home in Omaha? And did it seem to them, after trying a variety of locations in the past that none offered the crowd-building potential of Eugene?

Thanks again.

–Dan McQuaid

Dan,
  The committee did not have a specific model in mind when making the determination. They wanted to give it a long-range plan in order to promote the growth, henceforth the length of the term for this championship. And based on previous championship experiences, the committee believes hosting the championships in Eugene provides the best potential for a passionate fan base in attendance at this time.
 
Thanks again.
Cam
Though they might not have had the baseball championship model specifically in mind when considering the future of the track championships, clearly that is the direction the NCAA has chosen. And who can blame them?  The NCAA baseball tournament has been a huge success. The head baseball coach at my high school has made the journey to Omaha several times, and he told me that it is a fantastic experience. They consistently draw great crowds, and there are high school tournaments held in Omaha concurrently with the college tournament, so he brings his players along with him.
The reason he is able to do that, though, is because Omaha is only 450 miles away. It takes them maybe seven hours to get there and nobody has to worry about renting a car  so their travel costs can be kept to a minimum.  And, as Omaha is basically in the middle of the United States, people from many different regions can drive there.
Eugene, on the other hand, is obviously not in the middle of the country. So, unlike the NCAA baseball tournament, the track championships are not going to draw mini-buses full of high school athletes and their coaches from Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and all the other areas that are within a reasonable driving distance of Omaha.
Based on the numerous meets that Eugene has hosted in the past few years, the NCAA is going to get the big crowds that it desires, but those crowds are likely to be made up almost exclusively of fans who live in the Northwest corner of the country.
The NCAA Outdoor Track and Field meet will–for majority of track fans–be turned into a made-for-TV event. Is this the best way to grow the sport? I guess we’ll find out over the next eight years.
–Dan McQuaid

More on the Oregon track monopoly.

First of all, thanks much for the comments.

When I wrote that last post, I was sort of shooting from the hip. Just expressing my disappointment over the announcement that the next eight NCAA outdoor championships will be very difficult to attend for those of us who live beyond driving distance of Eugene.

But those responses made me realize that I’d better take a step back and do a little research on the issue. First, I emailed Scott Cappos, the long time throws coach at the University of Iowa. You’d think that if anyone would want to see the NCAA meet contested at Drake regularly (as it has been over the past few years) it would be Scott, as Iowa City is less than a two-hour drive from Des Moines.  Wouldn’t any coach want his athletes to avoid the hassles of a long flight–the frequent delays, the cramped seats, the difficulty of stowing javelins securely in the overhead compartment–prior to an important competition?  Not necessarily.

“Despite the location,” Scott replied, “Oregon is the best place to experience track and field in America…National Championships suffer from poor attendance and atmosphere elsewhere.”
This sentiment was also expressed by Danny Block, the fine shot and discus thrower from the University of Wisconsin.  “As an athlete, I personally love throwing at Oregon and wouldn’t mind having NCAA’s there every year. The atmosphere is electric. The discus is contested inside the track for all to see, and they treat the athletes great.”  The only fly in the ointment? “My parents aren’t a fan of it…[they] go to almost every meet, but can never make it to Oregon because of the travel.”
Clearly, the magic of Hayward Field is not a myth.
And if the athletes and coaches are happy with the decision to move the championship meet to Eugene on what seems an awful lot like a permanent basis, then far be it from me to keep insisting that it’s a lousy idea.
But, I wonder about a couple of things. First, at the risk of sounding cynical, I have trouble believing that this decision was based on the wishes of the coaches and athletes. Having attended the three recent NCAA championships held at Drake,  and having interviewed a whole bunch of throwers and their coaches I can tell you that most of them dislike the current system of placing the athletes into two randomly selected flights for the prelims. This forces the flight-one throwers who qualify for the finals to sit around for a good 90 minutes and then to warm up again before competing against the finalists from flight two–who did not have to endure that potentially momentum-killing delay. The coaches and athletes I spoke with believed that the flights should be seeded so that the better throwers could enjoy the smoother transition from flight two into the finals.
But I don’t see the NCAA making that change–a remarkably simple one–in an effort to please the coaches and athletes.
So would they make the unprecedented decision to hold the meet 8 consectutive years in Eugene just to make the participants happy? And if not, what was the basis for this decision?
I googled around a little bit today to try to get some insight into the matter, but so far all I’ve come up with is a 2009 press release announcing that the 2011 and 2012 championships had been awarded to Drake and the 2013 and 2014 championships to Eugene.
You can find the press release here:

http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/PressArchive/2009/Championships/20091215%2BD1%2BOutdoor%2BTF%2BSite%2BSelect%2BRls.html
Here is a quote from it that I found rather intriguing:

“The committee has worked really hard over the last several months to ensure we were awarding the championships to the best sites possible,” said Holly Sheilley, chair of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Committee and assistant athletic director for student development and championships at the University of Louisville. “Drake and Oregon have shown in the past they put on world-class meets, and we are confident they will do a great job hosting our future NCAA outdoor championships. The committee felt strongly about having the championships in two different sites within the four-year period to enhance the student-athlete experience.”

So, what has changed since?  Did things go so badly at Drake in 2011 and 2012 and so well last year at Hayward that it became clear to the NCAA that Eugene should become the permanent site for the meet?

I feel like the answer to that holds some interesting implications for the sport of track and field. I’m going to do some more detecting over the next few days and will report on whatever I’m able to come up with. If anyone out there has some insight into what prompted this decision, please chime in.

Thanks again to those who posted comments. There is a lot more to discuss regarding the NCAA meet and the current state of track and field in this country.