Grandstand View: What is It That We Want?
Let's get specific if we want to improve track such as the Bring Back the Mile campaign
By Parker Morse, Running Times Magazine
Earlier this year, Lashinda Demus dropped a small bombshell in the track world. In a moment of candor at a USOC media event, Demus, who would go on to win the 400m hurdles at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, said track athletes in the USA "know we're competing in a dying sport."
This, of course, led to a flurry of "Is Track Dead?" headlines and a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about the status of the sport. In July, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced, "The World's Second Most Popular Sport Lacks a National Audience." USATF's Jill Geer told the BBC, "When they say it's a dying sport, they mean that other sports have surpassed us: That's our biggest challenge."
Everyone from the new CEO of USATF down to the average message-board blowhard has an idea about what's wrong. It's marketing. It's money. It's event presentation. It's the metric system. (Seriously, there's a faction who believe measuring race distances and field event marks in meters is killing the sport.) A subset of these people has plans to fix what they think is wrong. I've raised a few ideas myself.
But the smartest response I read was the comment on a message board that asked, "What is it that we want?" This turns the whole discussion on its head. It's impossible to fix a problem until we can identify it, understand it, and measure what success should look like. Rather than wishing the world was different, we can act to move specific elements more toward how we'd like them to be.
When we start thinking this way, we can find role models all over. Ryan Lamppa's "Bring Back the Mile" initiative is a good example. Lamppa identified a specific problem: A potential marquee event was underappreciated and, at the high school level, usually displaced by a nonstandard distance. Then he came up with a plan to fix it, with clear, measurable goals. It's not a plan to fix the sport, but it is a plan to take a step closer to where Lamppa thinks it should be.
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