Watching athletes at World Athletic Track & Field Championships
This past week, the World Athletic Track and Field Championships were held in the United States at the University of Oregon’s track and field stadium. The event lasted 10 days of preliminary heats and then the finals on the weekend. My attention was on two things that impressed me. One was the athletes themselves and the outstanding performances that were accomplished. Several world records were broken and many others were nearly broken. Track and Field is not a big spectator sport in the United States as it is in Europe. Americans that follow sports tend to watch football, basketball and baseball more. The fact that the world championships were held in the United States is a big deal to most of the world. It is a yearly event held in different countries and it has been a long time since the event has been held here in the United States. For fans of track and field, this was the Super Bowl of track and field.
Having competed in track and field at the high school and college levels, I can appreciate the speed and athleticism of the competitors on the world level. There were several performances that stood out as outstanding. When a person realizes that the athletes are the best from their country and overall the best track and field athletes in the world competing against one another it is the best competing against the greatest. What stood out were several events where the athlete literally “ran away” from the best in the world competition. A person would think that after the preliminaries are over and only the top performers are left, the competition would be close. Events such as the men’s 200 meters and the women’s 400-meter hurdles saw the gold medal winners with big leads at the finish line. There were several outstanding performances in the field events also. The last event of the championships saw a world record broken in the pole vault. Trying to comprehend how fast the athletes were running or throwing or jumping was almost impossible to imagine. I kept thinking of my fastest 440-yard time and the athletes in the 1500-meter event were running faster than that for almost four times as far. Another interesting point was that many of the athletes have maintained that elite level of competition for several years. It is difficult enough to reach that level for one year much less six or seven years.
The other thing that garnered my attention was the facility itself. The University of Oregon has a track and field stadium that would be the envy of many universities’ football stadiums. Many schools and universities use a football stadium with a track around the field. There is a long jump pit along the sidelines and a pole vault pit in the end zone. Oregon’s stadium is designed in a way that each event had its own location. The outside and inside lanes had moving cameras that allowed any television viewer a close look at the entire event. All the timing was recorded throughout the race down to the hundredths of a second. Some of the running events were decided by hundredths of a second between first and second.
One thing to remember is that the athletes are professionals. They are well paid by their country or a clothing or shoe sponsor. This is their profession and they have to be near the top of their event to continue being paid. If the athletes fail to finish in the finals of an event for several times, the paychecks stop coming. Recalling a lecture by one top track athlete saying that you are on a schedule with a coach. A recreational runner may choose to not run one day. A professional athlete looks at running as an occupation and will show up for work every day whether they feel good or bad.
An interesting point written by David Epstein in “The Sports Gene” is that the children of these top athletes from poor countries never follow in the footprints of their parents. The parents grew up poor and ran everywhere. Their children now come from wealthy family status and instead of running to school, they are given a ride to school. There were several athletes from the United States that had a mother or father that was an Olympic athlete or record holder and the son or daughter was now competing in the world track and field championships. For a sports fan, it was an exciting week of competition. And a few days of following the Tour de France bicycle race helped make a good week.