January 4, 2010
When Marco Sturm from Germany scored in overtime to give the Boston Bruins a 2 to 1 victory over Philadelphia in the outdoor NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, New Year’s Day it was a major win for the sport of hockey in general. Boston is a hockey town and 38,112 fans loved every minute of it as did a national audience on NBC at 1 p.m., seeking some holiday relief from the endless parade of college football. The game was well orchestrated: college and high school hockey matches would also be played over a 2 week period at Fenway, a family skating session preceded the spectacle, hockey greats were available and respectful of the game with the great Bobby Orr wearing his famous Brown jersey on camera. The atmosphere smacked of skating, a raw winter’s day, ice and snow everywhere, hot drinks in the stands and the gritty dress and enthusiasm of the crowd. These outdoor games have been a stroke of genius for the NHL and no doubt we will soon be seeing one at Yankee Stadium.
There is a lesson here for track & field. Bring the atmosphere, bring the game back to the people. The conditions for professional hockey were far from perfect both for the players and the fans. The rink appeared small and remote in the large stadium. The puck bounced unpredictably on the outdoor ice, the sight lines for many of the seats were poor and for some fans the players appeared as miniature matchsticks on the distance horizon. No matter. The players made no excuses and played their hearts out. Ironically, despite the patriotic fervor of the game, James Taylor with a great national anthem and a dramatic U.S. Airforce flight over before the initial drop of the puck, over 80% of the players out on the ice were Canadian but they all wore their Boston and Philadelphia jerseys with enormous pride and resolve. Marco Strum, the winning scorer from Europe said after the game it was the high point of his hockey career.
Track & field does not have Fenway Park but it has a place just as good maybe better: Madison Square Garden in NYC. Track has the Millrose Games, the longest staged sports event in the history of the Garden. Track & field also has more than ten times the number of high schoolers on teams than does hockey. College numbers are even greater at 20-30 times as many and adults in America run in the millions with only a relative handful actually playing hockey. The Garden track may not be the fastest but it still is Madison Square Garden, one of the greatest sports stages in the world. We are going to use that stage this year to present a new and exciting Millrose Games, Friday, January 29, 2010, with an eye to even greater development in 2011 when over 200 college and university teams from coast to coast will be in NYC as part of the first “New York Indoor Track & Field Week”. In the meanwhile, mark your calendar and come out like these hockey fans did but for our sport: track & field. Every event, every inch of the track will be intensely contested. The Millrose Games Trials at the Armory, January 13, 2010, 4-8 p.m. will see only the best of our regional champions making it through to the Garden. Milers from as far away as Great Britain will be trying for a prized spot in the famous Wanamaker Mile, the culminating event at the Millrose when Bernard Lagat will try this year to break Eamon Coughlin’s string of seven consecutive wins.
So, will you be there? Bring back friends and former teammates. Enjoy a great night of reunion, of celebration, of great racing and competition. Tickets this year are very reasonable at the Garden. Bring the family. There are races for every age. But most importantly come on out and support this great sport. We are all looking forward to seeing you there Friday night, January 29th
p.s. My friends and family in Boston, please excuse the sacrilege.