Those of you with long memories will remember that I once held a spot in a sixteen-writer rotation producing a weekday “Bell Lap” column for the “Daily News” section of the Runner’s World website. (The Daily News has now evolved into an excellent linkblog maintained by the incomparable Peter Gambaccini. The Bell Lap column was launched by Craig Masback in 1996, before he was the CEO of USATF, and lasted almost ten years under various authorial rotations.)
Late in 2003, I filed a column about the scheduling conflict between the men’s Olympic Trials marathon and the 2004 USATF cross country championships. The Bell Lap archives aren’t online any more (unless you do some serious research in the Internet Archive) so, having had my say about this year’s conflict between USATF cross country and the Boston Indoor Games, I thought I’d get an extra kick in by re-posting what I said in 2003. Re-reading it, I can see some changes I’d like to make, but I’ll post it as it ran on Thursday, October 30.
Lost in the Trials Shadow
A colleague of mine recently pointed out a scheduling convergence happening this winter. On February 7, USATF will– standards willing–select its Olympic team members for the men’s marathon in Birmingham, Alabama. On the same day, in Indianapolis, they will select half of their team for the World Cross-Country Championships, including the short-course men, long-course women, and junior girls, with the other half (including the long-course men) being selected the following day.
It is possible that a reasonably psychotic (and fast-recovering) marathoner might hop a flight out of Birmingham on Saturday night and try to make the long-course team on Sunday, but it is probably safe to say that this scheduling oversight has eliminated any marathon hopefuls from our selection pool for World Cross. (It will also erase any hope of American men in the 3,000m at Friday night’s Millrose Games, but let’s stick to areas where we have a hope.)
It’s hard to say how much rescheduling the meets would help. Pushing cross nationals earlier probably wouldn’t help, as few athletes would want to make that peak effort immediately before a marathon. Making cross nationals later might open things up, since a star having a bad marathon could drop out before he did much damage and come back two weeks later to work out his demons in the Indianapolis snowdrifts. (It’s February, folks. Forget the spikes; bring crampons.)
More of an issue is the national press. Admittedly the winter nationals seldom draw the sort of crowd we will see Sunday at the New York City Marathon, but certain organizations with limited human resources, such as this one, will probably send all their bodies to Birmingham.
This seems like a minor problem until you consider how few sources are regularly producing original reporting about our sport, and how many are relying entirely on repackaged press releases, wire stories and links to local newspapers with questionable perspective on the sport. The story from Indianapolis will probably be told almost entirely by USATF press releases. USATF’s media office, while capable, is hardly a completely objective source. Think of it as watching an entire meet with one eye shut.
It is, of course, too late to do anything about this now. The cities of Indianapolis and Birmingham have inked these events on their schedules and moving them would undoubtedly cause snarls back into 2008. Some overachievers already have their plane tickets and hotel reservations.
The point is that someone should have noticed this much earlier. Somebody in the national office could have looked at the dates before they were published and said, hey, this won’t work. There has to be a master calendar going several years into the future somewhere in Indianapolis.
I understand that USATF is a bit preoccupied these days with larger matters. But if anyone in Indianapolis is looking for ways to maximize the profile of our best athletes, making sure our best events don’t eclipse each other might be a good item for the list.
Parker Morse loves cross-country nationals, but Birmingham is just so much warmer than Indianapolis in February.