Monday, November 22, 2010

The United States Needs a Venue

28 Jun 1996:  General view of a heat of the men's 1500m in the Olympic stadium at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games at Atlanta, Georgia. Mandatory credit: Gary M. Prior/Allsport.

I’ve talked before about what I feel is the need for the United States to be host to a World Championships. The sport’s biggest event has been around since 1983 and not once has the United States served as host. A travesty IMHO that the world’s greatest power in the sport has yet to host a Worlds.

The next World Championships will be held in Daegu, South Korea in 2011 – a country that, outside of the marathon, has almost no presence in the sport. Berlin will host the 2013 version of the meet, and Beijing was just awarded the 2015 edition this past weekend – after just hosting the Olympics in 2008.

In the meantime we continue to sit on the sidelines watching. In part I believe because we have lacked leadership. A situation that hopefully will be rectified when the USATF Board selects a new CEO. But then we’ve heard virtually nothing on that front – but that’s for another discussion. What I hope proper leadership will do is help rectify an even more important problem – we lack a viable venue.

Almost unconscionable when you think about it. The United States. A global power. Major player globally, economically, militarily and athletically. Host to the Summer Olympic Games in 1932, 1984 and 1996. A country with 14 of the 25 largest stadiums in the world – all seating over 85,000. We have six colleges that play football in stadiums that seat over 100,000 fans (Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas) but we don’t have a facility capable of hosting a World Championships!

Am I the only person that finds this to be incredibly ridiculous and embarrassing? And no offense to college football, because I love the sport and there’s nothing like watching a game in a stadium that seats a small city. But why doesn’t the US have a single venue where we could invite the world and play host – be it for Worlds or the Olympic Games?

Ironically both previous Olympic venues still exist. The Coliseum, which played host to the Olympics in ‘32 & ‘84 plays host to the USC Trojan football team. But the track that played host to a couple of Olympics games as well as the US vs East Germany dual once upon a time as well as numerous other track and field meets has been removed. Same story for Centennial Stadium which played host to the ‘96 games – track removed and the stadium reconfigured to host the Atlanta Braves baseball team. So we have no viable locations left, as all of the larger stadiums in this country play host to either football or baseball teams – professional and collegiate.

Such is the status of track and field in this sport. Where once football and track and field lived side by side in the same stadium – and it was just standard operating procedure to place a track around the field – football now operates solo. Leaving track and field to fend for itself.

Of course there is an old saying – when life gives you lemons make lemonade. And after giving this some thought I’ve decided that while this is a travesty it does present an opportunity. An opportunity to pick and choose where we would like to locate a national facility where we could host global events on the scale of Worlds or the Olympics.

It would mean strong leadership at the top of USATF, AND it would mean some sort of partnership with the USOC, a local municipality, and perhaps even the federal government – but what city wouldn’t like to advocate to have a little “pork” thrown its way since we’re printing money these days?

As I said earlier, we’re still waiting on USATF to give us a new leader. Until then we have no one to work with any of the other bodies. But I do have an idea for where the facility should be – which would then identify the municipality and give a new CEO a direction to head in.

Contemplating a location my criteria were simple. It should be in a major metro area that can provide suitable housing for global media, travelers, etc; adequate media access; national and international travel access; and adequate public transportation.  The location should also have some sort of sports history – to provide a built in base of potential fan support.

In my book that means starting with our top metro areas – the top 10 being: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. Looking at this list the first thing that popped into my head was – weather. Because there is nothing like being at a major event that may last a few hours at a time and being uncomfortable. Which ruled out several cities right off the bat for me. More importantly, however, it made one stand out immediately – San Diego.

Because one of the first things I think of when I think San Diego is great weather. Unless you were to hold an event in the middle of winter when there might be rain almost any date would be a safe pick! The city is used to visitors coming in and out as it is a great place for conventions. They’re used to large sporting events with professional football and baseball teams in town. Public transportation is solid. It’s a port for cruises if someone wanted a side vacation. World famous zoo, wild animal park, Sea World and other local attractions. Great food. And if you still can’t find what you want being “on vacation” it’s only a couple of hours from Los Angeles and anything else that you couldn’t find locally.

Venue wise you might be able to work something with Qualcomm Stadium in terms of adding a track to the 70,000+ seat stadium as they are currently host to the San Diego Chargers, San Diego State Aztecs and the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls – which tells me they are amenable to work with already having a variety of “tenants”. But if not, perhaps a deal could be worked with the city to renovate/expand Balboa Stadium – long a track and field fixture in San Diego.

Obviously just some preliminary thoughts off the top of my head and there is much work that would have to be done. But the bottom line is this: this country desperately needs a place where track and field related events of a global nature can be held – and the leadership in this country needs to get moving. I didn’t even know where Daegu was when Wallace Spearmon ran 19.65 there in 2006 – I had to Google it!  But it’s playing host to the 2011 World Championships – and we will just be visitors once again. I think that just about says it all.


  1. Yes, San Diego has the Mediterranean climate to make for ideal conditions, but I like Los Angeles because of its next-best weather, and also because of its track tradition going back to the 1930s.

    In addition, LA, as the second-largest metropolitan area in the 2000 census (16.3 million) has 5.82 times as many people as the San Diego metropolitan area (2.813 million in the 2000 census) and would offer more in the way of potential local fan base and accommodations for visitors.

    Actually, I think all of your cities could do a fantastic job; and I would add Eugene, Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Atlanta as other sites that could excel.

  2. Los Angeles would be my next choice, for all the reasons you mentioned .. And as I stated I like the idea of San Diego in part because of it's proximity to Los Angeles .. Atlanta has proven that it could host the world as the Games there were awesome .. And Indy might not be bad either, though I'm not sure it's as cosmopolitan as I would like - and the weather can be an issue .. Eugene and Des Moines I like as meet venues but not sure as a host to the world, nor as the face of America ..

    Availability of entertainment and cultural activities are as important to me as the stadium, weather, housing and transportation .. I would like for people to come enjoy the competition and have a blast .. I want fans to be able to brings friends who may not be as into the sport, but show up because of the location - then leave having had a good time and learning more about the sport, looking forward to their next big track meet !!