by Peter McKenzie
Bloomington, Indiana, May 2—It would be exaggeration to pronounce the debut of the American Track League a rousing success. Premeet publicity was minimal, attendance was surely less than 1000 (despite no admission charge), and fields were unexceptional. Temperatures in the low 50s didn’t help, either.
On the other hand, any promoter would be delighted to have two world-leading marks, a celebrity attraction and a responsive crowd.
If there were a few gimmicks, well, so what? The ATL is attempting to appeal to fans in a sport that has so long ignored them that there are few left.
“I think they’ve got a good prototype, and I think they’re going to be able to build off of this and make it something special for years to come,” steeplechaser De’Sean Turner said.
Turner had one of the two WLs: 8:33.89. The other was a 18-8¾ (5.71) vault by Mark Hollis.
“I was just feeding off the energy of the crowd,” said Hollis, who also set a Billy Hayes Track Record here at Indiana University. “They pushed me down the runway and up in the air.”
Fans pushed their way to embrace Lolo Jones, who celebrated her victory in the 100 hurdles by high-fiving fans all the way along the rail. Jones might not belong in the international-credentials conversation with U.S. superstars Ashton Eaton, Galen Rupp, Sanya Richards-Ross or Allyson Felix, but she is more well-known in this country than all of them combined.
Indeed, Jones was so engulfed by those who poured onto the oval to take “selfies” with her that ATL organizer Paul Doyle headed into the throng to make sure nothing went wrong. Nothing did. Jones was patient and gracious.
“It wasn’t how I kept my composure. How did they keep their composure?” she said. “They were taking very close pictures of me, post-race. I was sweating and not smelling that good. Kudos to them for wanting to take a picture of me.”
Jones clocked 12.89 in her first flight of non-relay hurdles of the year. Victory was made easier by the late withdrawal of Kristi Castlin, who had become the world leader the previous week, running12.58 at the Drake Relays.
Also popular were Mark Jelks, an Indiana native who won the 100 in 10.31 and danced for fans afterward, and Dee Dee Trotter, who waded into the crowd for post-race photos. Trotter won the women’s 400 in 52.47.
Another popular victory was that of Indiana junior Rorey Hunter, an Australian who beat all the pros to take the 1500 in 3:40.36—No. 2 in the NCAA this year.
Fans were coaxed out of the stands to line the vault runway and high jump apron. A band, the Velveteen Playboys, supplied live music and cheerleaders performed.
But the most unusual component of the meet was the 40-yard dash, open to the public. Kristopher Jenkins, a former sprinter at Hanover College, was credited with a 4.42 and was awarded lane 9 in the 100-meter final. He finished last, in 11.92, but had a tell-the-grandkids experience.
Others also ran the 40, many of them college students out for a lark.
Doyle, a Georgia-based agent, insisted attendance was 2500 and said he was satisfied with the first meet, which featured just 10 events. He conceded some issues must be addressed, especially to make the league appropriate for live TV.
Remaining meets are set for Charlottesville (May 9), Atlanta (May 16), Austin (May 23) and Houston (June 6). Doyle said there would be three more meets in August, although sites have not been announced.
He decided to go ahead with the series with little corporate sponsorship or prize money, reasoning that it was important to get it started. At a news conference and at the meet, athletes repeatedly stated they want to compete more often in their home country.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been incredible,” Doyle said. “I can’t tell you the number of people who have just come up to me and thanked for this and said, ‘This is great. This is what the sport needs.’
“It’s a baby step. But we’re moving in the right direction. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it’s actually gone tonight.”