American track and field is aiming to become a big sport more than once every Olympic year. But to be a big sport, first it needs a big league. TrackTownUSA is building just that; the second year of its TrackTown Summer Series that starts in June.
The first meet will be held on June 29 in San Francisco, the second July 2 in Portland, Ore., and the championship July 6 in New York City, which will be televised by ESPN. What’s unique about the Summer Series, though, is the team format: Just like in other team sports, teams representing four U.S. cities will compete against each other (the three host cities mentioned above, plus Philadelphia).
According to founder and current USA Track and Field President Vin Lananna, four well-known athletes serve as general managers and select their teams of 36 athletes in a pro-style draft. (The GMs are Allyson Felix for New York City, Bernard Lagat for Portland, Sanya Richards-Ross for Philadelphia and Nick Symmonds for San Francisco.) Athletes receive contracts based on the round in which they are drafted, and can earn bonuses for winning or placing in each event, with a large bonus for the winning team.
Last year, the title was still up for grabs going into the final event—a co-ed 4x400m relay—which produced a dramatic finale, with fans and the other athletes on the infield cheering on their teammates. “Think of having a big party and plopping a track meet in the center of it,” Lananna says.
The co-ed relay isn’t the only alteration from a traditional track schedule. The list of events has been trimmed to keep the evening quick, with no races longer than the 3,000m steeplechase on the track. A 5K road race will precede the championship meet in New York City, and will also be open to the public. Amateur participants will get randomly assigned team jerseys to wear while cheering in the stands.
That arbitrary affiliation highlights the lack of any tradition or connection between the teams and their cities or the fans—as if the crowd at a Red Sox-Yankees game were randomly assigned a side to cheer for. The series has a long way to go to feel like a major-league sport, but you have to start somewhere. This is a chance to watch top athletes on the track in the United States, not the other side of the world. Team loyalty, rivalries and hometown pride will eventually come.
For more, including streaming info for the first two meets or 5K road race entry, visit Gotracktownusa.com.