Olympic Trials, please take the stand.
We’re now over a week removed from the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles and whether USA Track & Field likes it or not, athletes, fans and other pundits are putting the event on trial. Media and marketing maestro Peter Abraham shared 10 thoughtful suggestions for improving the event, while Trials participant Patrick Rizzo went off about his sub-par athlete experience. A quick scan of the Twitter chatter from the past 10 days yields a slew of mixed reactions, which is par for the course when it comes to evaluating an event. There are those who will laud almost anything and others who will be critical of just about everything. One of the biggest problems in competitive road racing/track and field today is getting the folks on both ends of the spectrum to meet in the middle and have a constructive conversation about how real progress can be made.
As a working member of the media (and coach) who attended the event two weekends ago, I feel that Peter's post was well-thought-out and on point. I’ve attended three Olympic Trials Marathons now—the last two in a professional capacity—and while L.A. fell somewhere between Houston and New York in terms of on-course fan support, it lagged behind both of those events in regard to overall strategy, energy and execution. That assessment is based on my own experiences and observations, alongside numerous conversations I’ve had with race participants, fellow members of the media and fans who attended all three events.
While there were a number of hard-working people in L.A. who freely dedicated their time to helping the athletes throughout the weekend—and those fine folks deserve a huge THANK YOU—the event as a whole seemed hastily organized and satisfied the needs of USA Track & Field and its sponsors at the expense of maximizing the experience for athletes and fans, and that’s unfortunate.
But rather than simply cast all the blame at USATF, I’m going to suggest this “trial of the Trials” enter a working recess over the next 3-4 years, where organizers, athletes, sponsors and media regularly get together to evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly of the event and work toward establishing and achieving a set of mutually beneficial goals and objectives that help move things forward for EVERYONE involved. Look, I know “it’s not that easy” but that’s where it needs to start and it needs to happen sooner than later. Distance running (and the sport of track and field as a whole) needs to rehabilitate itself in a major way, otherwise it will face an inevitable death sentence—and nobody wants that.