Over the weekend, Germany’s track and field federation put on the “Berlin Fliegt”, a four-nation team competition of long jumpers and pole vaulters held in front of Berlin’s Brandenberg Gate. It wasn’t a terribly notable competition, but it was on national TV and in the wake of the Olympics. It was a made-for-TV kind of competition that probably drew in a greater portion of “casual viewers” than is usual.
Another German competition on Sunday was the “DKB Duals”, a meet that matched up German field-eventers with foreign counterparts in one-on-one competitions. Germany (naturally) won, but the fields were very good, with most competitors being Olympic medalists or near-medalists.
Over at the old men’s club Track and Field News forums, the Berlin jumps competition was derided…
One of the most pathetic attempts to turn T&F into a circus. The only reason this gets the media attention it does is the location, even german TV, which shows hardly any T&F anymore, wasted some air time on it. So on a sunday afternoon we got to watch a french woman repeatedly jump well below 6 meters, something that wouldn’t be worth mentioning anywhere, but because she jumped at the Brandenburger Gate, she got on live tv.
The response from TFN managing editor Garry Hill was “from where I sit, track on TV is never a bad thing…nor is any time track draws a crowd, which I suspect this did.”
Yes, these are gimmicky events. But I see these as opportunities to engage the non-track-fan public to see and experience our sport. I’ve always said that if people see track and field they’ll like it, but the real challenge is getting them to see it (note that U.S. television and NBC in particular generally does not show us bona fide track and field even when they put a track and field meet on TV).
On Saturday I had two such experiences here in the Toledo area, one right after the other.
The first was a parade, homecoming, and general celebration for favorite son Erik Kynard. As you no doubt already know, he won silver in the Olympic high jump, and the city has been abuzz with his accomplishment ever since. It was northwest Ohio’s first track/field medal since Dave Wottle’s memorable gold in 1972. I went out and shot video of the hastily-organized parade (which turned out to be mostly a strange but entertaining mishmash of Toledo Public Schools supporters and African-American community organizations).
The turnout was huge, more than 1,000 people who filled the home side of the football stadium and then some. The excitement was palpable (until, of course, the endless line of local politicians enjoying the sounds of their own speeches). A nice touch was the high jump equipment prominently set up at the height of 7′ 7 3/4″ (2.33m), Erik’s medal-winning height, which got a lot of open-mouth gapes. No doubt a few track and field fans were made that morning.
I high-tailed it out of there to get to the Hibernian Irish Festival’s street vault, where I was acting as announcer, emcee and scorekeeper. The Hibernian Irish Festival is like any of dozens of summertime ethnic street festivals, except that in this case it’s much smaller–mostly a stage and a bar. University of Toledo assistant coach Pryde Yost somehow got a street vault involved, and it was a hit. The high school competitions were in the early afternoon before pretty much anyone else got there, but the open competition got heated up about the time the beer really started flowing. We had a lot of interested onlookers getting a close-up view, and the proximity to the Olympics certainly didn’t hurt.
Dude, hold my beer…
(When asked how pole-vaulting connects to an Irish-American festival, I had two responses. One was that the goal in both is not to knock over the bar. The other was that upon viewing it, you couldn’t argue that pole vaulting is the product of a bar bet.)
After the competition was over, we actually got a few 20-something guys (emboldened by a few brews) up on the runway and taught them enough to get off the ground a foot or so. They were truly surprised how difficult it was. The other onlookers were amazed as well, even more so by the three sixty-somethings that cleared heights ranging from nine to eleven feet. Again, we made some track fans that day.
Does every competition or track-related event need to be super-serious? Not at all. But they do have to have a purpose. And in many cases, that purpose is to create a connection that could spark new interest in the sport.
What else could it do? Check this report out, summarized in Afonz Juck’s’ daily track and field news brief:
Athletics clubs have been “inundated” with enquiries from young people wanting to take up sport since Team GB came third in the Olympics medal table. Over the weekend an estimated 250,000 people turned up at open days at 6,000 sports events across Britain. Bill Adcocks, secretary of the Coventry Godiva Harriers athletics club, said that for the first time in the club’s 133-year history it has had to introduce a waiting list for young athletes reports The Guardian.