Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eugene... the new Williamsport?

The US Distance Running Blog delivered some nice analysis of the decision to award Eugene every National Championship and Olympics Trials until the sun collapses on itself and the Earth no longer can sustain human life. So in the end, what's the verdict? Good decision or bad decision? Our take, after the jump...

Part of me looks at it like this: what do Cooperstown, NY and Wichita, Nebraska, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania have in common? All are small, out-of-the-way towns that have become iconic and, to a certain degree, well-known, thanks to an on-going association with, respectively, the Baseball Hall of Fame, College Baseball World Series, and Little League World Series. Granted, baseball, in general, is a little more in the public eye... but no one really cares about college ball, and yet you can't book a room within 50 miles of Wichita the week of the Series. It's not just the players' families coming in town to watch their kids play. So I think there IS something to be said for creating an identity for Eugene: the home of the US Track Championships. The media gets comfortable there, maybe even looks forward to the annual visit, if the event is staged right. The public has one more simple, straight-forward truth it can digest about track and field. The Olympics are every four years. Track Nationals are in Eugene. Simple.

That said, our sport would probably benefit most from grass-roots development, and you have to wonder if that would be better served by making it a traveling roadshow everyone gets the occasional chance to see ("The circus is in town!") or by building tradition ("Every year since I was four my dad took me and my brother to Eugene for the National Championships - we've been fans ever since..."). Personally, if I had my druthers, I'd actually vote for the Antique Roadshow, option C. Just because. It's like PBS's version of The Price is Right, and everybody loves The Price is Right. Er, loved. Damn you, Drew Carey. And damn you, Bob Barker Dying. Damn you to heck.

The truth is, I'm a big enough fan that I've contemplated going to Eugene from New York for the Trials. At that point, a lack of nearby airfield options is the least of my concerns. I will attend one year, and would make special effort if it were in Eugene. I plan to my kids to the Trials someday, to sit them there and feed them candy until they have no choice but to have fond memories associated with track. At that point, if given the choice between Eugene and Sacramento, where do you think I'd rather visit? Unless the Trials would be coming to New York, or anywhere within a two-hour drive of Cincinnati, make it someplace fans will want to go. Fans will want to go to Eugene.

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