Monday, August 2, 2010

European Championships – Strong in the Field

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 01: Christian Reif of Germany wins gold in the Mens Long Jump Final during day six of the 20th European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 1, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

For a track nut like me, watching the European Championships was a real treat. The competition was fierce with most events going right down to the wire to separate contestants. Second through fifth in the men’s 100 all clocked 10.18. Only .01 separated first and second in the men’s 200. Second through sixth in the men’s 400 were covered by only .07. Similar in the field where second through ninth in the men’s high jump all cleared 2.26 (7’ 5”)! So from a competitive stand point, it was perhaps the best meet of the year – because here was a meet full of drama and excitement from beginning to end. Which may explain in part why Europeans are so rabid about the sport.

Another reason may be the commentary. While watching European meets on the screen of my computer does not visually compare with watching them on my flat screen high definition television, the commentary is unparalleled. The commentators really know their stuff when it comes to track and field. They don’t over hype or over talk the events and there are no comparisons between track and other sports – no football 40’s. The time is not filled with “up close and personal” stories either. Instead there are lots of replays, with critical angles. Solid interviews with winners and losers. And for the most part they let the competition tell the story. I was drawn to my computer to watch all week and weekend, and American broadcasters could learn much from their European counterparts. But back to the competition.

I know that some have lamented the “results” that came from this meet as not being up to par with the rest of the world, but I’m going to disagree. Here’s why. On the field this meet the results were stellar. Look at some of these winners:

Event Competitor Country Mark
Men’s PV Renaurd Lavillenie France 19’ 2.25”
Men’s LJ Christian Reif Germany 27’ 9.5”
Men’s TJ Phillips Idowu Great Britain 58’ 5.25”
Men’s Discus Piotr Malachoski Poland 225’ 11”
Men’s Javelin Andreas Thorkildsen Norway 289’ 11”
Women’s HJ Blanka Vlasic Croatia 6’ 8”
Women’s PV Svetlana Feofanova Russia 15’ 7”
Women’s TJ Olha Saladuha Ukraine 48’ 7.25”
Women’s Hammer Betty Heidler Germany 250’ 7”
Women’s Javelin Linda Stahl Germany 219’ 2”

Some very outstanding marks! The issue isn’t that Europe has fallen behind in the sport, because they are the world’s leaders when it comes to the field. The real issue is that the world has become fragmentally specialized when it comes to track and field. The Caribbean nations have become very strong in the sprints – but they produce almost nothing above 400 meters, and little on the field. In contrast the African nations are stellar in everything on the track above 400 meters – but they have virtually nothing in the sprints and little in the field. South America seems to be producing jumpers with a bit of sprinting and hurdling sprinkled in. The Asian countries seem to be in a state of development overall. And here in North America it’s somewhat of a hodge podge as to what we (US) and Canada produce. We are known for sprinters and hurdlers, once known for jumpers, and are resurging in the distances – but we seem to always come up with shot putters.

So what you have is Usain Bolt in Jamaica, but nothing approaching Kenya’s David Rudisha. Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) & Sentayehu Ejigu (ETH) in African but nothing close to Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) & Allyson Felix (USA). In short it takes the entire world to put on a stellar meet from top to bottom in terms of results. Gone are the days when a handful of “super powers” ruled the sport. Small nations like Spain, Turkey, Jamaica and Croatia (to name but a few) are just as able to produce medal winners and big names as the US, Russia, and Germany (previous super powers).

Of course we still expect more from some countries than others. I still feel that we (the US) should still be able to garner more medals in majors than other countries, and than we have in recent competitions. We are larger, we have more resources, and we should do a better job in terms of athlete and program development.  That said, the talent dispersal in this sport is wider globally than its ever been. Look no further than the European Championships where all manner of countries were able to take to the medal podium.

It was a great meet. A very exciting meet. We saw our main competition in the field on display, and lots of up and comers on the track. Mo Farah (GBR) is going to challenge us against the Africans for distance medals. Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) is going to keep someone out of a sprint final next year. The European sprint relay squads CAN PASS the baton. The Europeans will be ready in Daegu, we will have to be on our “A” game as well.





  1. Thanks for another great post. All jokes aside, the USATF should hire you as a consultant because you have a very clear perpective on the sport. One of the main problems with T&F on american TV is that they don't seem to realize that there are a lot of T&F fans in the states. The networks seem so focused on trying to reach the "broader audience" that they neglect their core audience. No other sport on TV does this. American networks need to focus on the T&F fans and show what we want to see - good track meets in their entirety. stop worrying about the nba, nfl, & mlb fans. Put a good product on the air and people will watch.

  2. Thanks for the kind words .. I would love to help right this ship - because we still have the potential to be a great sport here in the US ..

    I totally agree with your comments .. Put a great product on TV and people will watch it .. As with the meets themselves, I think we need fewer gimmicks, and just let the sport speak for itself ..