Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The Stars are Missing
With US Indoor Nationals looming and World Indoors just a few weeks away, I find myself once again asking if the indoor season is worth the time and money that is put into it?
Not that I haven't enjoyed watching the couple of meets that have been televised - because I am a track junkie at heart. But when I look at the results of the season so far I'm split down the middle on this season.
Only a handful of events have given us truly exciting results. Meseret Defar (3000), Blanka Vlasic (HJ), and Christian Cantwell (SP) have given us the typical sterling performances. And we've seen nice breakouts from Torrin Lawrence (400) and Laverne Jones-Ferrette (60).
But for the most part, the season has played like a slow warm up to the outdoor season and not as a stand alone season unto itself. In part because of the performances, in large part because it's lacked star power.
The sport has focused a lot on making Usain Bolt it's main draw. With back to back double sprint championships and both sprint WRs under his belt, it's an understandable move. However. Once you've made him your draw, you've got to get him on the track, and he's been MIA during the indoor season. That takes a huge bite out of your drawing power for the indoor season.
A big reason why the sport needs to expand it's marketing efforts to include as many of it's top level athletes as possible. As I've said before, this sport has as many potential stars as football and basketball. Unlike those sports, however, we seem to only focus on one or two at a time.
Not sure that would have mattered this indoor season though. Because virtually all of the sports top talent seems to be avoiding the indoor season as if it were a major carrier of the H1N1 virus! Not only are we missing Usain Bolt, but we don't have Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sanya Richards, Allyson Felix, Lashawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, Shelly Ann Fraser, or Kerron Stewart. All of whom are among the biggest names in the sprints outdoors.
In the middle and long distances we see outdoor leaders such as Abubaker Kaki, Ismail Ismail, Asbel Kiprop, Augustine Choge, Haron Keitany, Gelete Burka, Anna Alminova, and Anna Pierce (nee Willard) but they are clearly works in progress at this point of the season. As well they should be with the "real" season still at least a couple of months away.
When you take into account that the sport's real "earning" season won't begin until May; outdoor national championships aren't until June; and the sport's premier events - Diamond League, et al - won't hit their stride until after the national championship meets; why would the sport's "big guns" make any attempt to be ready to run their best on a 200 meter track in the middle of winter?
This sport has clearly become a "play for pay" endeavor and the money trail doesn't seem to take a path thru the winter snow! We no longer have any indoor meets out here in the West Coast. The Jack in the Box Invitational, Examiner Games, and what few others used to exist have gone the way of the dinosaur. Even on the East Coast we've dwindled down to what seems to be two major indoor meets - Millrose and Boston Reebok - with the Tyson Invitational taking a big back seat this year.
Europe is doing better in this regard (doesn't it always?) with a decent "circuit" of indoor meets. But what is a World Championships with only a handful of the sports real stars in attendance?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there is no place for indoor track. It's still a strong sport at the collegiate level. Which makes sense on a couple of fronts. The NCAA Indoor Championship is something very much still coveted by most major colleges so they prepare their athletes accordingly. This is why we have seen such a high level of competition from an athlete like Torrin Lawrence. The other reason is that the collegiate outdoor season will start a scant few weeks after the end of the indoor season and will end in June - just when the elite outdoor season will be hitting it's stride! So there is a lot more urgency from the collegiate prospective to be ready for outdoors - and the indoor season works in harmony with that.
Just the opposite with the elite season, where the goal is to be at or near one's best between June and September. Making the indoor season either expendable, or a training / preparation tool for most. Which is fine for the athletes, but leaves us fans with something a bit less than exciting for the most part.
Perhaps if the indoor season started a bit later - say late February to early March. Then put together a short series of indoor meets that encompassed only one meet per week, instead of the three, four, or in some cases even five per week that are run now. In this way, with a bit of cooperation, perhaps existing budgets could be combined so that greater amounts could be offered per meet.
With the season being closer to the opening of the outdoor season, AND offering more financial incentives to compete, maybe the cream de la cream could be enticed to come out to the cozier indoor venues to test themselves prior to heading outdoors! Using "off" distances like the 60, 300 and 3000 meters as tests to gauge their readiness and fitness levels.
Perhaps then we might see Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay in a couple of 60's. Or Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt over 300 or 500 meters. Or even David Rudisha and Abubaker Kaki over 600 or 1000 meters. Would also give the field eventers a chance to test themselves under cover during what would typically be the wettest time of the year in most locales.
At any rate, anything that could get the elite athletes to the track would make the indoor season more meaningful and bring more attention to the sport.