My idea was to list 10 reasons for the decreased intrest in track & field in the United States, but I found I was mixing causes and effects and so I'll make it a list of things that have adversely affected the sport or reflect such adverse effects. And I found I had to exceed the traditional 10.
1. The substitution of meters for yards in track events.
3. The requirement that field events be measured in meters, leading some announcers to announce field event results in what is to Americans gibberish, in the apparent belief that the distance from here to there is different depending on whether it's measured by a yardstick or a meter stick; and yielding, I'm sure, a huge one-time windfall profit for manufacturers of measuring tapes and vertical jump standards when institutions had to re-equip themselves. (I assume an investigative reporter is working on the role of Gill and others in imposing this insane rule on us.)
4. Running events in lanes instead of on or from a straightaway, thereby preventing spectators from knowing who's winning and who's losing till near the end of the race. (Pertinent here is the current [as this is written] chapter of Maxwell Stiles' Back Track posted on this website. Writing of the epic 1932 Olympic duel between Carr and Eastman, Stiles, an able, informed, astute but honest observer, said , "It was impossible to tell who the leader was until they came off the second turn.")
5. Hundredth of a second timing.
6. Changing familiar names of events. Notably, the sturdy American "broad jump," the event of De Hart Hubbard, Owens and Peacock, of Willie Steele and George Brown and Greg Bell, of Boston and even of Ter-Ovanesyan when he met Boston at Stanford in 1962, has become the effete Anglicism "long jump." (One is surprised that the know-it-all Europe-first Anglophiles have not tried to foist "putting the 16-pound weight" on us or at least to make us spell the "put" of "shot put" with two t's.)
7. Rabbits. (They should probably go higher.)
8. The contraction of the college dual meet season and, more generally, the emphasis on performances rather than winning.
9. Statistics, even though I love them.
10. The virtual elimination of the glorious California relays and invitationals season, Scott Davis's Mt SAC meet excepted.
11. The virtual elimination of the New York indoor season.
12. Professionalism, which has had baleful effects on meet promotions, athletic cubs and the importance and therefore quality of the national championships, for all its benign effects.
13. Little League and whatever else is responsible for the extraordinary improvement in the quality of college baseball, making it the spring sport on campuses, supplanting track.
14. The misuse by Track & Field News writers of "quick" as an all-purpose synonym for "fast" and "farther" and "farthest" for throws and jumps when they mean "longer" and "longest"; their back-formation of ugly verbs from perfectly good nouns, and their occasional blunders such as "phase" for "faze" in the current issue, all tending to drive the literate, once a mainstay of interest in the sport, away from it.
Lest I be thought a complete sourpuss, I list 10 good things that have happened to or in track since, let us say, the war.
First place is a tie: 1. The advent of Track & Field News and also 1. (and I never thought I'd write this) The infusion of women's events and the growth in their number.
3. Place times.
4. Measurement of all field event tries.
5. Professionalism, extending athletic careers and yielding some superb performances and competition and ridding the sport of one kind of deceit and chicanery.
6. The go carts that at some major meets tell you what's happening in field events.
7. Better informed and more informative announcing at quite a number of meets.
8. Devoted statisticians and their product.
9. The increased geographical spread of indoor track.
10. The Penn Relays, although the sanctification of this meet is a bit much for one who was brought up on the great California meets. Would I have seen anything like Patton's 9.3, Attlesey's 13.5 and O'Brien's first over 59 feet, to name three that come quickly to mind, if I'd moved back here at a younger age?
I left one out: I'll call it 11. Phototiming, all but eliminating disputes about who finished where.
I am nostalgically in concert with billthedog's listing the demise of great California track meets as one reason for track & field losing it's appeal. I have many fond memories of those "good old days": the Compton Invite (for some reason it sticks in my mind watching Max Truex doing a warm down jog with another runner after he had won the 5000m in 14:04.2--a "fast time" back in the late 50's), the Coliseum Relays where I saw my first sub 4 mile (by Herb Elliott @ 3:57.8), plus the other great meets held at the Coliseum including Oly Trials ( the great 1956 meet),USA Vs. USSR dual meet, and all the USC Vs. UCLA dual meets. I think back in the 40's and 50's the hot bed of track & Field was Southern California, centering around the L.A. area.
And one more memory from that era--anybody else out there see Bob Gutowski in the 1957 UCLA VS. Occidental dual vault 15-5 (tried at WR 15-9 with narrow misses), and jump 24-3, place third in the 100 and run on sprint relay?
How would you like to go to a baseball game and be treated to an inning of men's ball, followed by an inning of women's ball, then watch the men again, then the women, followed by men/women/men/women/men/women --- for six hours?
What do you think that would do for major league attendance?
I think the complaining about metric vs imperial measurement is absurd. A good race is a good race, and the measurement of it is unimportant. For field events, all that matters is knowing who is first and second and so on, and how the mark just measured affects the standings.
When I went to Edmonton, all the field events were measured metrically and I was clueless to their meaning. BUT the scoreboard constantly updated the standings, and we instantly knew whether the current mark was important or not. It was the best meet I've seen for field events because of it.
Track and field fell apart because the leaders fiddled while Rome burned. Sports became professional and televised in the 1980s while TAC still tried to maintain a 1950s attitude; they were not agressive, and lost out to the NBA, NHL, and dozens of smaller operations. Basically the sport's leaders both in the US and internationally took the major-leage-baseball approach by being more concerned with maintaining control than expanding the cash brought in. The sports that grew took the NBA's approach, which was that if the sport made a boatload of money there would be plenty for everyone. As grating as Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson could be, their complaints were right on. (Humility and graciousness might be admirable qualities, but they simply aren't rewarded in a competitive capitalist system.)
>I'd say you forgot the Internet as a
True. I had results on the Internet written down as a good thing but skipped over it by mistake. But one that I really forgot and this ought to be high up on the list of good things: The greatly enlarged opportunities for black students in institutions of higher learning. Before the war, on the West Coast, Archie Williams and LuValle, Mack Robinson and Jackie Robinson, Woodrow Wilson Strode, Lacefield, Tom Berkeley, and Thelno Knowles were very much the exception even at public institutions. At private schools like Stanford and USC there weren't even any exceptions.
>In contrast to the numerous things that have
>depressed interest in college track, the
>increased participation of black athletes has
>surely improved its quality.
I'll go another direction -- the numerous things that have depressed interest in college track.
A year ago Bowling Green cut it's men's track program, and in the ensuing months I and several fellow alumni found out many interesting and little-known facts. Among them was that the entire men's track annual promotional budget was less than the average spent per day on football. One year earlier a local shoe shop offered to pay for promotional team posters at no cost to the university but the AD turned the offer down flat. The AD also gave "lack of fan interest" as one reason for cutting the team, even though they never kept attendance numbers while selling tickets (and I'd guess from being there that indoor meets averaged higher attendance than hockey).
The depression in interest is real but not universal or consistent. The largest blame can be laid at the feet of administrators who see sports other than football and men's basketball (and occaisonaly baseball or hockey) as bothersome and useless.