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Monday, August 6, 2012

The purity of track & field

Track and field events are rarely televised anymore -- except for the Olympics. In the 1960s when ABC's Wide World of Sports had to find television-worthy sport every week, track and field was often featured. I liked it. In junior high school I discovered the only thing in athletics that I was ever good at... the shot put, where being naturally duck-footed gave me an edge. Unfortunately track coaches at that time believed that all field athletes should run their butts off like the track athletes do. I hated running, and that was the end of my shot put career.

At Georgia Tech I was the sports editor of the Technique for a year, and I particularly liked to cover the non-money sports like track, gymnastics, and swimming. Sometimes I would go a track meet even when I wasn't going to write about it. My classmates and fellow dorm residents competed in those events. They liked seeing their names in print, and I enjoyed attending the events and writing about them. On one occasion I remember a few football players complaining that they didn't get enough print coverage. I was unsympathetic.

Running 100 meters faster than anyone, jumping over a bar higher than anyone, and throwing a javelin farther than anyone is as basic and pure as sports can be. Strategy and play-books are seldom a factor; neither is equipment or clothing, and therefore rich athletes don't necessarily have an advantage. Competitors are usually respectful of one another, even encouraging. Success comes mainly from training, coaching, technique, discipline, determination, and self-control. Genetics help.

Track and field are susceptible to anabolic steroids, I confess, and there have been scandals such as Ben Johnson in 1989. Also there's an occasional complaint that a runner interfered with another in order to give advantage to a teammate. Cheating is human nature, and I suppose no sport is entirely pure. But track and field comes close. A "Track and Field" channel for cable TV? No, but that's a topic for a future blog.