EUGENE – After working the past 10 days of The Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, I struggle to capture the story.
TrackTown, NBC, USATF, and The USOC all are pumping out the hype, records, and “made for TV” excitement on their social and mainstream media platforms, so there’s no need for me to add to that.
Very pleasing is that it feels like the media has embraced the idea that there is more to competition than exalting winners.
There are great stories behind every participant who earned their place at The Olympic Trials, whether they made the team or not. If you were watching NBC you saw many of those, or if you are a numbers-driven fan hungry to know personal or season bests, meet records, or fractions of every race, you can find them in dozens of other outlets.
What I saw from NBC’s coverage on the internet was a fair presentation of what took place during the day and I applaud what they did.
My perspective comes first and foremost from the privilege of working as an official on the field and seeing up close the concentration, jubilation, and disappointment of some of the world’s greatest athletes. This was my fourth, and likely final, Olympic Trial so I was more reflective and philosophical than before.
A given in the world of sport is that previous records will be broken. Before you can blink, a new generation displaces the previous one; it is nature’s way of turning over generations. As for generations, athletes are young but officials tend to be older and our joy comes from being anonymous and invisible from providing the supportive environment necessary for the gifted athletes to perform.
The past week I worked all of the qualifying rounds and final pole vault competitions, including the Decathlon. If the actual job is relatively benign, it requires you keep your focus and avoid “looking around.” Make a mistake and you hear about it. That is challenging when a great race is on the track or a cheer goes up at another field event, so I did manage to see Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin jump a few hurdles! I would not miss that! McLauglin would later set a world record in the final.
I watched an interview the other night with the greatest sprinter in history, Jamaica’s now-retired Usain Bolt. Bolt was asked what he’s looking forward to seeing at The Tokyo Olympic Games and said, “Watching other things, because during my Olympics I was so focused on my event that I didn’t get a chance to see anything else. I was working.” As I am a mere mortal, I am pleased to have something in common with the immortal Usain Bolt.
As The Trials concluded, here are a few impressions:
* Looking across the pole vault runway to the track, a lot of very fast people blew by, including the women’s 1500-meter winner, Elle Purrier St. Pierre, who got jostled off the track only to decide that she’d had enough of that nonsense, run to the front and never look back.
* There was a lot of pent-up energy after the COVID-19 challenges. The athletes came ready to perform and world, meet and personal records fell.
* Sic transit gloria mundi is a Latin phrase that means “Thus passes worldly glory.” Athletic careers are normally short. Staying on top in track and field requires 100% commitment. Bearing witness to the rise and fall of great athletes is bittersweet. From one second to the next, one failed attempt or one short step too slow, 20 years of an athlete’s life shifts to “what’s next.” I look for these because in that moment of heartbreak true character is revealed. I witnessed a lot of character at The Trials.
* No one travels the path to glory alone. No athlete gets to the top without the tremendous support of family, coaches and others. When athletes wave to their families, jump into their arms and hug their mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, siblings, or coaches it is profoundly moving.
* Allyson Felix is a Goddess! Only a fool would tell a woman, especially a mother, that she can’t do anything.
* If you ever sing the National Anthem at a live event, pick up the pace, especially when the thermometer says 100 degrees.
* Attendance figures are misleading. There were very few people in the stands. Whether that was from covid protocols, prohibitively expensive tickets, or lack of interest beyond the devoted faithful of track and field, I don’t know.
* We are fortunate to have Hayward Field. I hope the sport continues to be part of Oregon’s and our nation’s DNA for generations to come. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and embodies the best of who we are, hard work, dedication, discipline, and passion!