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Out There: Let’s Spice Up Track Meets

Columnist Susan Lacke offers some tongue-in-cheek advice to make track meets more must-see.

Columnist Susan Lacke offers some tongue-in-cheek advice to make track meets more must-see.

Track is boring.

There. I said it.

I want to be one of those people who can watch a track meet with rapt attention. Truly, I do. I like running. I’m in awe of the speeds sprinters can hit. Hurdlers have more coordination in their pinky fingers than I do in my whole body. Impressive feats of human nature happen at track meets all the time. I would just rather hear about those impressive feats in 20 seconds or less on SportsCenter than slog through 9 hours of heats and finals.

Before you tell me I’m wrong, I’d like you to think of the last time you bought a ticket to an elite track meet or watched meet coverage on TV from start to finish. Was it the Olympics? It says a lot about us if we only have the enthusiasm to watch something once every four years.

It shouldn’t be that way. At its core, track is one of the simplest sports to follow – like NASCAR, track requires little more than “go hard and turn left.” But there’s one distinct difference between the two sports: people actually want to watch NASCAR.

Why is that? NASCAR has no problem filling its grandstands or getting TV coverage. It’s a whiz-bang-boom of colors, noises, personalities and unpredictability. Track and field, meanwhile, is joyless, formless, and devoid of character. Everyone wears the same boring spandex getup and stands around between events waiting for…what are we waiting for? No one ever seems to know.

No wonder we’re having such a bad time.

I don’t think track & field is a lost cause – far from it. In fact, I want the sport to return to its glory days, when track stars were on Wheaties boxes and more people knew Bruce Jenner was an Olympian, not a Kardashian. If USA Track & Field is listening, I’ve got a few suggestions for changes (and the right board members to get ‘em done).

Let Them Talk Smack

The NFL recently rolled out a feature called Sound FX, where we can eavesdrop on the conversations between players, coaches, and refs, and it’s endlessly entertaining. Put a microphone on athletes during warmups. Broadcast the “yo mama” affronts and the passive-aggressive digs that would make Regina George proud.

Officer of Offense: Nick Symmonds, who I’m told knows how to trash-talk in 17 languages.


Steeplechase, schmeeplechase. I have more challenges in my average trail run than any steeplechase race. This event could be a real nail-biter with cooler obstacles. Take some cues from obstacle course racing. The same goes for hurdles, too. Can’t we have a little electric wire, or maybe some explosions? At the very least, could the hurdles produced a buzzing jolt of energy like a game of Operation when touched?

Lead Course Designer: Laser from American Gladiators. Don’t lie – you could never change the channel when that show was on.

Go Off Course

Take the event off the oval and to the people. Block off the busiest street in the city for a few hours where spectators can drink beer at sidewalk cafes and watch the bodies blur past. No lane lines, no heats, just a street and good, gut-busting racing. Bring Usain Bolt to the people like they did in the UK a few years ago.

Street Team: Bring Back The Mile has been ahead of the game with this concept – give them a big budget and let them make sprinting sexy again.

Express Yo’self

One of my first memories of watching track & field is the 1988 Olympics. I was 5 at the time, and couldn’t take my eyes of Florence Griffith Joyner and her six-inch nails. The next day, I begged my mom to buy me Lee press-on nails and made my older brother practice relay baton handoffs with me. The same thing happened in 1996 with Michael Johnson and his gold track spikes. Enough of the blue spandex minions…give us something to look at and emulate!

Chief Style Officer: Maggie Vessey. She knows what’s up.

For the love of Pre, talk!

A little color commentary goes a long way in making TV coverage of track interesting. Don’t just tell me Galen Rupp won (again) – tell me how it’s possible for him to jog 4-minute miles as a cool-down while us mere mortals would be puking in the bleachers. Point out how a tired runner’s form is falling apart, so we can look in the mirror and see if we’re running like that, too. Heck, connect a runner to his “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” for all I care. Just talk! The goal here is to be informative and entertaining, like an episode of Good Eats.

Big Brain: Steve Magness, the walking encyclopedia of running science.