The track and field national championships last week were nearly a joke at the expense of The Athletics Congress, the sport's erstwhile governing body.
Track is often called a three-ring circus. It's an image that suggests many tantalizing events happening at once, leaving the viewer not knowing which way to turn to see an exciting show. But surely the championships at Randalls Island in New York City was not the circus TAC had sought.
That mistakes were made; that the multi-events were a disaster for the athletes; that the facilities were, in some cases, still being prepared while athletes began competition; that crowds were modest even though TAC gave away 10,000 free tickets a day (never mind the inflated attendance figures announced, divide by half to get an accurate count)--no, never mind any of this.
That blunders were made is no surprise. The truly remarkable aspect is that all this happened at the national championship, the qualifying meet for the World Championships, which is the most important track event outside the Olympic Games. And it happened with the national and international media present and a television audience.
Isn't it too predictable that someone would forget the wind gauges when decathletes and heptathletes were primed for world records? Too bad. And if some of the jumping runways weren't ready, tough beans. Guess they were sorry about the pollution raining from the Triborough Bridge, too.
No, never mind all that. TAC officials have been facing an image/credibilty problem and the gloomy prospect that public interest in their sport is waning. You might expect that they would seize the day and make the national championships a showcase for what is an exciting and enduring sport. Nope. The sport's two top officials confessed they had not visited the track at the 55-year-old Downing Stadium.
You might have expected that on the day during the meet when TAC's superiors at the International Amateur Athletic Federation threatened to throw TAC out--making American athletes ineligible for international competition, including the Olympics--there would be a high-profile TAC presence to soothe athletes' fears. Nope. TAC's top officials were out of town on business.
TAC is 0-2 in recent championships. Before this year, the 1990 nationals at Cerritos were thought to have been the sport's nadir. The three-day attendance was about 7,000. Such a failure in a major market did not escape the attention of potential sponsors. Moving the event to the nation's largest market was an interesting strategy on the part of TAC.
The only thing that saved TAC, as ever, was the performances of some remarkable athletes. Leroy Burrell shattered the world record at 100 meters. Carl Lewis proved yet again that no matter what else you choose to criticize him about, do not ever say that he is not one of the most ferocious competitors the sport has known. Thirty-two-year-old Greg Foster will go to the World Championships in the 110-hurdles. He has won every world title offered. Kim Batten had a breakthrough performance in the 400-meter hurdles, a rich event for American women.
The athletes keep bailing out TAC, rather than vice versa. American track and field athletes have the grace to rise above their federation. And by their stirring performances, they prosper despite their would-be helpmates.
Just asking: No sooner was it announced that Burrell had been added to the field of the July 1 Lewis-Ben Johnson 100-meter rematch (why don't these track promoters just scrap the pretense and title these things, as boxing does?) than he was just as abruptly subtracted.
Turns out Burrell, according to his coach, Tom Tellez, wasn't ready to run another 100 so soon after his world record.
"All this is new to him," Tellez said. "He needs to step back and reflect, then build back up for the World Championships, which is his main goal."
Makes sense. But if Burrell needs to low-key it for a while, why is he thinking of running a 200 against Michael Johnson in that same meet? Burrell was beaten in the 200 by Johnson at the TAC meet. Johnson became the first person to be ranked No. 1 at both 200 and 400 last season and was the international athlete of the year.
Also, if Burrell is laying off the 100 for a while, why is he scheduled to run that distance soon after at Malmo, Sweden? Could it be there are other motives for Burrell to avoid that 100 race? Could the reason lie with Santa Monica Track Club teammate Lewis? Burrell has nothing to prove. Why steal Carl's thunder? Why not let him have his day against his old nemesis? Hmmm.
German cover girl/sprint star Katrin Krabbe revealed recently that she has received a series of death threats. Krabbe said she has received the threats by telephone and letter, and the fear and worry has hurt her training. It's an unfortunate adjustment for the former East German who is now one of the most sought-after track athletes. Tall, blonde and willowy, Krabbe is making as much money off the track with modeling and endorsements as she is making on it. "My new lifestyle has many advantages," she said. "But sometimes I wish I could go back to the situation I was in three years ago."
Linford Christie, Britain's top sprinter, says he's glad to be nearing the end of his career. Christie, who won the silver medal in the 100 at the Seoul Olympics after Ben Johnson was disqualified, said he is sick of drugs in his sport. "The state of the sport at the moment is disgraceful," he said. "Sometimes, I'm just embarrassed to be among these people, and I'm glad I'm near the end of my career and not starting it."
Only eight national champions have agreed to attend the Pan American Games, Aug. 2-18 at Havana. The U.S. will not send its best track and field athletes, but that is understandable--it's too close to the World Championships, Aug. 24-Sept. 1 at Tokyo.