By: Norbert W. Sander, Jr., M.D.
Mary Wittenberg has written a very thoughtful article for “The Inside Track” in advance of the Adidas Grand Prix, June 12th (see article here) at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island. This meet, developed by Global Athletics, will arguably be the best professional meet held in New York City in many years. The addition of great high school events makes it even better. With all seats virtually sold at Icahn it’s a promoter’s dream and lastly with the 39th running of the New York Mini 10K in Central Park that morning, a wonderful weekend of New York running will take place.
For New York City, this will be a great weekend but as good as it will be it is a stand alone event. There will be no sequel to follow until next year. Likewise, the Millrose Games and the ING NYC Marathon are also one offs and for a sports fan there is no continuity except perhaps on the web. While indeed the concept of the “big tent” is a laudable one, the vision in track & field still remains narrow. The real tent for track & field in America is much larger. Track & field is not predominantly a professional sport. Very few professional track & field athletes are known to the general public and even fewer international stars. The names of the winners of the major marathons in the world remains virtually unknown.
But what people do know are their local high school and college athletes. Newspapers outside of New York City are replete daily with photos and articles following these very compelling athletes. On the very day of the Adidas meet June 12th, the New York State High School Championship will take place in upstate New York. Between spectators present and website interest the following for this high school meet will exceed the professional one. Likewise, the Div I, II, III, NCAA regionals and national NCAA Div I Championships, June 9th at Eugene, Oregon will see well over 200 local collegiate athletes competing at the highest level. Their following is enormous and is spread throughout America. The very top of these competitions will also present athletes who will contend for spots on the Olympic team for London 2012.
Unlike virtually all international stars from other countries around the world these collegiate student athletes will have submitted themselves to rigorous, demanding and energy consuming scholastic programs in high school and again the same stressful demanding academic programs in college. This America system is unique in the world but it means these athletes will be doing a great deal more in their formative years than simply running and training.
How then do we connect these disparate groups under “one tent?” We should try to bring these three groupings: high school, college, professional, on occasion, under one competitive roof. Show high schoolers what collegians are doing and show the pros what the collegians are accomplishing. One could make the argument that the interest of the public began to wane when we began paying athletes to compete. Likewise, as in the case of the Millrose Games when collegians began to leave Madison Square Garden the number of spectators dropped markedly.
But we are now however where we are and it is a tableau with tremendous potential. More people run in the USA than do any other activity. More high schoolers compete in cross country and track & field than any other sport, including basketball, football and soccer. The meets are there, the athletes are there, and the infrastructure is there and is a very healthy one. We need to get our priorities straight, lift the bar a lot higher and start getting this sport out to the sporting public of America. There is a lot to be done.