The Boston Marathon’s traditional Monday date pushed this week’s column back a day.
What did we learn this week?
NBC/Universal has shown its true colors.I planned on starting off this column writing about what happened in the Boston Marathon-and A LOT happened. From the perspective of a fan, though, the biggest news was not about the athletes or what they did.
The biggest news was the tremendous difficulty many of us had in seeing the greatest Boston Marathon of all time. The fact that one of the USA’s biggest Olympic-oriented events was so difficult to watch tells us a lot about NBC/Universal, specifically that the corporation is harmful to domestic Olympic sports such as track and field and road running.
The race has, in the past, been on national television. To say that this year’s race was on national television is an exercise in semantics. It was on Universal Sports TV, which is not regional, but it most certainly not available everywhere in the country. NBC has not put its full force behind getting the channel wide distribution. The majority of fans simply do not have television as a viewing option for the race.
The only real viewing option for the majority of fans is the companion website, UniversalSports.com, which can only be described as amateur at best. There is no end to the list of problems the site has at almost any time a track fan wants to watch one of their webcasts. Monday was even worse than usual.
Without going into the gory details, let’s just say that only the truly determined could wade through the various bugs, errors, glitches and fuckups the website threw at us. For my $4.95 I got to see maybe 15 minutes of the race. Seriously. To top it all off, the dramatic race finishes were killed by a cutout of the video.
UniversalSports.com is simply not prepared to deal with a large number of people wanting to watch what it has to offer. That’s bad business-not just for Universal, but for everyone involved. I wrote to the BAA suggesting strongly that they never again award the national broadcast rights to Universal, as it is not in the best interests of the organization. I sent the same to its major sponsors, John Hancock Financial Services and adidas.
New ownership of NBC/Universal will probably pull the plug on serious bidding for Olympic broadcast rights, leading to another network broadcasting the next few Olympics. This would almost assuredly mean the death of the Universal Sports TV channel and its companion website. It would be fantastic news for track fans.
There would not be a gaping hole in coverage of track and road racing. We already have that, as Universal Sports TV isn’t widely available and the website has so many problems. Universal Sports’ predecessor, WCSN, is still in existence in Australia, and could come back to life here. Besides, whatever other broadcaster wins the rights to the next Olympics will fill the void. And I ask you, could it be worse than what we have now?
Yes, track and field broadcasts on ESPN suck. But those aren’t really ESPN broadcasts, they’re time bought by USATF on ESPN. No one who knows that should be surprised by their poor quality. When ABC/ESPN puts its efforts into something, it does not do it halfway. One need look no further than the World Cup to see that they take the job seriously. NBC/Universal is not serious.
When is a record not a record?In track, generally only when it’s wind-aided. But can a marathon be wind-aided? You bet.
Earlier in the week, LetsRun.com talked of once-in-a-lifetime conditions for fast running, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and with a perfectly-aligned tailwind for virtually all of Boston’s northeasterly point-to-point course. It turned out pretty much that way; the tailwinds were hovering near 20 miles per hour with gusts into the 30s.
“A near-20 mph tailwind might chop three or four minutes off someone’s finishing time,” said Mr. Kellogg. “A sub-2:03:59 clocking wouldn’t actually shock me. I’ll tell you this – if Boston had rabbits and the field that is assembled for the 2011 London marathon was running with a time bonus on the line, I’d actually be a little surprised if someone didn’t run the fastest marathon time ever recorded.”
Boston doesn’t have pacemakers, though. Wouldn’t the runners all pack up and take no chances, making the race a sit-and-kick affair? I mean, you can’t run fast without pacemakers, right?
Yeah, but…the race had Mr. Unpredictable, Ryan Hall. He led for most of the first ten miles, taking everyone through a fast pace that projected to about 2:03:00. There was your pacemaker. At least ten guys came through halfway in 1:01:58. Records were being broken at every checkpoint.
The sixteenth mile was run in 4:23, and then the Newton Hills came into play. Hall got dropped, the lead group was down to six, and they were still fighting. At 20 miles Emmanuel Mutai took off.
But it wasn’t over. Moses Mosop caught him three miles later on the downside of Heartbreak Hill. The two stayed together until Boylston Street, when Mutai kicked hardest for the win. The times: 2:03:02 and 2:03:06.
Hall kept it together and got fourth in 2:04:58, catching NYC champ Gebre Gebremariam at 24 miles. Ten guys ran under 2:07. Nuts.
Regardless of the wind, the point-to-point and net downhill course does not meet requirements for record status and set out either by the IAAF or USATF. The particular structure of Boston’s course makes it debatable as to whether or not the elevation drop is advantageous, and the point-to-point part is only important when there’s a tailwind. The times are more deserving of an asterisk than Roger Maris’ 61 home runs were.
Still, this race was insane.
It was that close…