Thursday, July 2, 2009

Track Investments Also Underperforming During Downturn

AT&T USA Outdoor Track And Field Championships - Day 4

Many individuals have had their investment portfolios hit hard during the recent economic downturn. So much so that it has become common for people to avoid opening their financial statements to so as not to see the latest bad news.

Given the performances of some of the sports biggest names in the past couple of seasons, one can only imagine how those that write the checks to some of the sports highest paid stars are feeling these days about their investments in the sport. Consider.

Jeremy Wariner - Olympic Champion in '04 and World Champion in '05 & '07 saw his fortunes take a negative turn last year. Beaten several times by rival Lashawn Merritt, he found himself nearly a second back in Beijing. This season has started slowly, as Wariner has a best in the 400 of only 44.66 (a jog for him two seasons ago), and bowed out at Nationals in the semis of the 200 taking last in his semi in 20.83.

Asafa Powell - Powell spent the early part of '08 nursing injury, as he has most seasons. While he convalesced he watched countryman Usain Bolt take his world record and become the top sprinter in the world in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Back to form by Beijing, Powell once again found himself off the podium and in 5th place. 2009 has once again started with injury, with Powell running his first sub10 of the year just a week ago while taking second at his Nationals in 9.97. And for the first time since 2003, Powell found himself a far back 5th in a non major and has lost twice to upstart Mike Rodgers.

Walter Dix - One of the most sought after sprinters ever in college, Dix signed one of the sports most lucrative contracts ever last year. He rewarded his employers with double bronze medal performances in Beijing. Dix looked ready to improve on his performances as he quickly took over the world lead in his first race in early spring. Only to disappear from the track in a reported dispute with his management company. As a result Dix raced very little this year, then showed up to Nationals and failed to make the final in the 100 and was forced to pull out of the 200 as he suffered a hamstring injury in his 100 semi. The rest of his season looks as cloudy as the first half.

Xavier Carter - The "X-Man" appeared to be on the verge of greatness a couple of seasons ago as he became the first sprinter since Michael Johnson to run sub19.70 with his sterling 19.63. Since then Carter suffered injury during Nationals in '07, and again during the Trials in '08 and spent both seasons competing little in Europe while missing both Majors. Carter came into Nationals healthy this time around, but failed to get out of his semi in the 400 and missed out on a ticket to Berlin in the 200 taking 5th in the final.

Alan Webb - Webb was going to be the man that would bring medals to the United States in the middle distances. A high school prodigy, Webb broke the venerable Jim Ryun's High School Record in the mile with an awesome 3:53.43. But its been a steady fall down hill from there. He didn't get out of the heats in Athens '04; was 9th in Helsinki '05; 8th in Osaka '07; failed to make the team in '08 & '09.

There are others, but these are among the most visible and highly paid athletes in the sport - that's a lot of money NOT reaping dividends! Meanwhile, the sport is full of individuals making Olympic and World finals that can't get a shoe contract, and having trouble getting lanes in meets on the Circuit! A few seasons ago shot putter Adam Nelson was wearing a shirt that read "Space for Rent" as he was openly soliciting a contract - and he is a two time Olympic silver medalist, World Championships gold medalist, and three time World silver medalist!

My point here is that the methodology used to pay athletes in this sport is seriously out of whack! For one we seem to pay based upon potential rather than rewarding achievement. We give a ton of money to some people up front, then don't seem to have money on the back end for those that are actually getting the job done!

On the one hand we crave "stars", but don't seem willing to nurture them while they get there. Instead we pay big money to those that appear to have already arrived while others toil in obscurity. Perhaps the shoe companies should look for a way to balance their athletic "portfolios" - spending money on developing and producing athletes as well as paying those that seem to already have reached "star" status. Much the same way as investors spend money on the stocks of developing companies; invest in sure and steady bonds; and also invest in Blue Chip stocks!

Not that I don't want to see big money paid to our star athletes. More so, however I would like to see that money spread around more evenly - for the benefit of the sport. That's a lot of underperforming money up above, and a lot of athletes struggling that will play key roles in Berlin. There should be a way for them all to get paid!

So just as the average American has had to go back to square one and reevaluate how they are investing their money, perhaps the shoe companies and others should take a good look at how they are investing in this sport. Because just as the economy has been faltering, so has track and field. And at the heart of both there are some economic basics that have been ignored. The US Government is trying to address the general economy. I would implore those holding the purse strings in track and field to the same.

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