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.

4 thoughts on “Meeting Mac Wilkins (and discussing the NCAA Oregon decision)”

  1. while I agree that having NCAA in Eugene every year is disconcerting, more disconcerting wold be having it elesewhere simply becuase it is not Eugene. Another Bidder should show they are able to do a superior job. USATF should take a note from is book, some of the recent nationals have been less than inspiring and as for throwers ah can we say is eheem turf infield?

  2. Asking Mac about whether NCAAs should be in Eugene would be like asking me if it should be in Des Moines!! (I’m from Iowa City)

    However, the comments of athletes and Coach Cappos are much more telling. So from their perspectives, I can see the Eugene love.

    The question is: Is it good for the sport? What I lived in Maine or Georgia? Eugene is a long way from there. Just look at a population density map of the US and you can see that folks will be driving a long ways.

    Do we want the quick fix of a good knowledgable crowd of evil empire, oops, Nike wearing fans, or the ability or will to spread the gospel of track and field??

    Sure I love Drake. BUT maybe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Like the distance mafia, Phil Knight minions, uhh I mean nice folks of Oregon?

  3. Norm,

    Assuming I am a “Duck/Nike/Eugene – ophile” might be a reasonable assumption if you don’t know me or what I stand for. However, based on the perspective of “what is best for our sport” you might be surprised. It is not be the same as asking you if the NCAAs should be in Des Moines, even knowing you are from Iowa City or even Preston for that matter.

    If you listen to the entire interview you will hear me state that there is no easy answer. I’d love to have NCAAs and USATF Nationals in Knoxville or Atlanta or … even Des Moines. But there are pros and cons for the sport with any site or sponsor (Nike and … uh… who else wants to subsidize USATF?).

    For example, the”Hammer Time” in 2012 with the Oly Trials for the Hammer on the Nike campus 2 hours away from the Eugene Trials. I felt it was a shame that only the five hammer throwers who made the Olympic Team traveled to Eugene after their event to be part of the Olympic Trials. The other 42 hammer throwers competed in Beaverton but were not part of the Trials in Eugene.
    Bad News: Not only are you hammer throwers NOT good enough to throw in side the stadium, we need your throwing field adjacent to the track for “support tents” so you aren’t even good enough to throw in the same area code!
    Good news: We will send you to Disney World (Nike Campus) instead, in front of 3,000 spectators, but you can’t be part of the Trials with all the other athletes.
    Its easy to see the pros and cons to both sides of that decision.

    For the athletes, the media and our public image we can’t afford to come across as an amateur/volunteer organization or sport. We are competing against Style Slope, MMA, X-Games and NASCAR.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The future of our sport requires this ongoing conversation.

  4. 1. Des Moines – Great for Drake Relays, not so great for Nationals or NCAAs. There just isn’t the fan base like there is in Eugene.
    2. Eight years in Eugene? I think that sends a very strong message as to the future of NCAAs in any other venue.
    3. Indeed no easy answer.
    4. I am certain we share the same goals, but from different places and perspectives.
    5. I saw what you did there with the “Preston” reference!
    6. Throws in the stadium. That is interesting to me. One of the things I like about Drake is how you can be pretty close to the throwers on the adjacent throwing field. But I can see how it looks like the throws are being marginalized.
    7. I hate talking about all this marketing crap. But like they say in “The Right Stuff”: No bucks, no Buck Rogers.


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