My pledge to refrain from criticizing USA Track & Field didn’t last the week.
I’d taken issue with that organization for putting the Nationals in Iowa in late June. The result was predictable. Exceptionally muggy conditions. Horrible in-stadium support. Another failed showcase as the video backdrop to the nation’s greatest athletes in competition was an empty stadium. Lap after lap, jump after jump, throw after throw. Hopefully we’ll never have to look at the concrete of Drake Stadium again. (Here’s a photo that USA Track & Field posted immediately after the women’s 5k, which was in the middle of the final day of the Championships. Behold the crowd.)
But then came the men’s 5k later in the whole ordeal. Because several entrants had already punched their Moscow tickets and others simply elected not to run, the event scratched down from 18 to just nine. Runners who’d qualified provisionally — Wisconsin’s Maverick Darling, Indiana’s Andy Bayer and Texas’ Joe Stilin (better known in these parts as a Princeton Tiger) — were there, ready to run. But USA Track & Field, not known for following its own rules and guidelines, flipped them off.
Stilin, who’d been so hopeful that’d he’d get a chance to run, felt stomach punched. He took to his blog and poured out his feelings:
This weekend’s meet shouldn’t be solely about selecting three people to go to Moscow. The name of the meet says it all — The United States Track and Field Championships — so why did the 5,000 final include such an alarmingly small fraction of the talent in the country? Why wasn’t the top American in the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships for this event — Maverick Darling — in the race? The meet should help younger guys gain experience and exposure. Instead, the race ended up being a jog fest for Nike’s athletes in front of a small crowd. How hard would it have been to add Maverick, myself, and Andy Bayer, among others, all of whom were at the meet and ready to run?
It is a shame that a sport we all love is run like this — where development takes a backseat to favoritism. Maybe someday the U.S. Olympic Committee can find the courage to follow the lead of South Africa.