The National Championships were recently held in Des Moines Iowa. This year’s NCAA Championships were held in Eugene Oregon. Prompting a bit of back and forth between the media of the two towns as to which played the host role best.
It was actually nice to see them “fighting” over which venue was the best host – who had the best fans, attendance, loudest ovations, etc – because the truth of the matter is that both have very strong fan bases. Fan bases that are hungry for track and field, and are eager to host and watch top quality track and field. And they are not alone. I’ve been to many venues over the years that have had loud enthusiastic crowds when the meets have been on par with what we saw in Eugene recently for the NCAA Championships and Prefontaine Classic.
People (USOC, USATF, NCAA) seem to forget that prior to 2008, there hadn’t been an Olympic Trials in Eugene since 1980. Yet the Trials were held to large enthusiastic crowds in Los Angeles (1984), Indianapolis (1988), New Orleans (1992), Atlanta (1996), and Sacramento (2000 & 2004). The fans showed up, were knowledgeable, and supported our athletes – just as they did in Eugene in 2008. And I’m sure that all would be more than happy to do so again.
The same claim can be made for all the venues that have been host to our National Championships and the NCAA Championships. Because contrary to popular belief, this country is full of people that love the sport of track and field – and that’s a good thing. You see the question isn’t who has the best fans, and therefore where should Nationals, or the NCAA Championships or any other “big” meet be located. The real question is why are there only a couple of big meets to share among ALL the great fans we have in this country?
You see “Track Town USA” was Sacramento in 2000 & 2004. It was Atlanta in 1996 and New Orleans in 1992. It was Indianapolis in 1988 and Los Angeles in 1984. It’s anywhere that we can gather a stunning field of athletes to compete. Unfortunately, pulling the athletes together, not the fans, is the real problem. As Des Moines found out this year hosting a meet with lots of defections takes away from the crowd. And no offense to Eugene, because it is indeed a great place to watch a meet, but everyone isn’t home to Nike and have access to deep pockets. So it makes it hard for the rest of us to host a meet the level of the Prefontaine Classic – because pulling top level fields together in today’s track and field requires a lot of money.
And at the end of the day, THAT is what makes Track Town USA – deep quality fields. That is the challenge of the sport today, and of USATF, to get the athletes to the stadiums. It’s what made the sport great in this country in the past, and it’s what will make the sport great in this country again – meets full of great competition. If this year’s Prefontaine Classic had been held in Des Moines, Sacramento, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix or Atlanta it would have been sold out with loud, screaming fans in awe of David Oliver’s 12.90 and wondering what took so long to get a sub13 5000 on US soil! Track Town USA is anywhere we can run a Prefontaine or Olympic Trials level meet. We just need more high level meets to fill the appetites of the Track Towns we have all over this country. The fans are out here waiting.