Monday Morning Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

NBC/Comcast will continue to broadcast the Olympics through 2020.
On Tuesday, the IOC entertained final presentations and bids and the Peacock won over ESPN/ABC and Fox. I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I detest NBC coverage of the Olympics with an all-consuming hatred. I find it to be mind-numbing jingoistic crap, even shallower and dumber than cable TV news. I think their mode of broadcasting the games should be blown up and rebuilt from the ground up, to treat it as an actual SPORTS EVENT, and I thought ESPN offered the best chance at that. Note that FIFA turned down an extra $5 million bid from NBC for the last World Cup in favor of one from ESPN, and the latter has taken its soccer responsibilities seriously.

On the other hand, Dick Ebersol, the Nero who fiddled while NBC burned, is now out the door. Comcast has committed to showing all events live on some platform, over Ebersol’s objections. There may be hope yet that I can turn on the tube and see live Olympic track coverage without getting a hotel room in Canada for the week.

A non-Olympic benefit to NBC retaining the Olympics is that Universal Sports TV and its companion website will likely survive. Its webcasts of the Diamond League and major IAAF events are the best meet coverage a U.S. fan is going to get. Maybe Comcast will work at getting the TV channel onto more cable providers too.

Various observers have noted the strength of NBC’s final presentation and its long relationship with the IOC as major factors. These are all good things to have in your pocket, but let’s not be foolish. NBC offered up half again as much money as the next highest bidder, and that’s all that really mattered.

Winning a track meet is like winning a golf tournament.
In that when teams of somewhat equal ability are matched up, the one that wins is the one that makes the fewest mistakes. It’s nearly impossible to go four rounds without some major screw-ups, and it’s nearly impossible to get through 21 events without them either.

At this week’s NCAA Championships, Texas A&M had errors and underperformances, but less so than the other top teams. The Aggie women suffered from Jeneba Tarmoh’s false start in the 100, and the men’s quarter-milers had their weakest outing of the year. But that’s about it.

Florida State’s men did very well with one exception, that being distance runner Ciaran O’Lionaird. Expected to score in both the 10k and 5k, he didn’t in either race, and even one single point from him or fellow 10k qualifier Mike Fout would have been enough to share the title.

Florida’s men had two big bombs, with Jeff Demps not qualifying to the 100 meter final and the 4×100 dropping the baton. What kind of odds could you have gotten before the meet that Demps wouldn’t score at all? The Gators got a big lift from quarter-miler Tony McQuay, who ran much better than expected and earned second place, but it wasn’t enough to make up for those two mistakes.

Oregon’s women had ups and downs, with a disappointing 100 meters by English Gardner and a disappointing 5k from Jordan Hasay. They also scored the biggest upset in the whole meet when Melissa Gergel unexpectedly won the pole vault. Going into the last day, they could have put it away, but Jordan Hasay’s eighth-place finish in the 1500 meters meant the 4×400 had to do the impossible: beat A&M’s 4×400 team. And so they took second place in the meet.

Winning a tight track meet also requires luck.
Texas A&M’s men beat Florida State by just one point. There were two places where the Aggies got extra points through major errors committed by athletes whose teams were not in the title hunt.

In the 400 meters, originally Gil Roberts of Texas Tech was second, followed by Tony McQuay of Florida with A&M runners in fifth and eighth. This was a major underperformance for the Aggies. They got a break when Roberts was DQ’ed due to a lane line infraction, which moved everyone up a spot. They gained no points on Florida, but both teams got two points closer to Florida State.

The other place where the Aggies had some luck was in the 110 hurdles. They had Wayne Davis in the finals, but he barely scraped in and was figured for last, and he was…sort of. Omo Osaghae of Texas Tech and Terrence Somerville of Cincinnati both fell, allowing Davis to be sixth. Another two points for the Aggies due to someone else’s errors.

Without these two breaks, Texas A&M is third instead of first.

Jessica Beard is ready for prime time.
She won her first career outdoor title in the 400 meters on Friday, adding to her first-ever indoor title in March. But it was in the 4×400 where she really impressed. The Aggies had to beat Oregon in the relay to beat them in the meet, and she had that in hand going into the final turn. That wasn’t good enough for her, though, as she ran down Auburn for the win with a stunning 49.14 anchor leg. You can watch the race on Youtube.

How fast is that? The previous best-ever split in an NCAA Championships 4×400 is 49.6. Given that relay legs get a running start, it’s equal to about 49.9 for the open race. The collegiate record is 50.10. So that was the greatest 400 meters ever run in a college uniform. And it’s about the second-best 400 run anywhere in the world in 2011.

For those of us who saw her run in high school here in Ohio, much she does impresses us but nothing surprises us. There are two legendary relay legs at the OHSAA Championships: in 1988, Chris Nelloms got the baton 40 meters behind the leader and made up 39 of them with a 44.8 carry, and in 2007 Beard got the baton 90 meters behind the leader and made up 89 1/2 of them with a 2:06 anchor.

Beard’s open 400 PR is 50.76, but she has split sub-50.0 several times. Do you get the idea that she’s one of those runners who is better with a baton in her hand?

I know what male I’m voting for in the Bowerman Award.
I’ve been given the opportunity to vote this year for college track’s version of the Heisman Award. Going into the NCAA Championships, I wasn’t sure who deserved it most. I still didn’t know on Thursday night.

Then Ngoni Makusha went out and threw down a 27′ 6 1/2″ (8.40m) long jump, the fourth-best ever in collegiate competition. At that point I decided he could be the guy, depending on what happened in the 400 meters.

It wasn’t just the big mark, it was that he finished off an all but undefeated season (he lost his first two indoor competitions, his first ones back after an entire season off). I figured he’s got a legitimate shot at winning a medal at the Worlds in September, and there are very few collegians in any event for which such a statement is true.

Then the 100 meters came around the next day, and you know what happened. Blew away the field with 9.89. Broke Ato Boldon’s Collegiate Record. Capped off an undefeated season in the 100, and then helped his team win the 4×100 the next day. Either one of these by themselves is enough to warrant serious consideration as the year’s best college athlete, but when you put them together it’s probably going to be unanimous.

Think about this: the only other three men to sweep the 100 and long jump at the NCAA Championships are William DeHart Hubbard, Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. That’s three of the six or seven greatest long jumpers in history right there.

Des Moines is a track town.
That the local media was disappointed with a last-day attendance of 9,054 tells you a lot. Over the last decade the average final-day attendance has been right around 10,000, and this week we just got hammered with rain. So it’s not bad. But this is a town that likes track and knows track and typically sells out its stadium on multiple days a year (Drake Relays and Iowa high school championships). Des Moines and Drake appear to be serious about upgrading facilities to possibly hold an Olympic Trials in 2016 or 2020.

Drake Stadium is the only combo football/track stadium in America that is track first and football second. While the long throws are outside the stadium, they have something I’ve never seen anywhere else: permanent concrete seats for those long throws. The Drake bookstore still has an entire wall of Relays t-shirts still on sale, and only about 1/3 off original price.

One factor that undoubtedly played a part in somewhat low attendance is the economy. All tickets on the final day cost the same $30 regardless of where you sat. There were no “cheap seats”. Considering that the action lasted only two hours, a lot of people probably thought about it and skipped it.

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3 Responses to Monday Morning Decathlete

  1. pjm says:

    Pricing was an issue at USATF in 2010 as well, to much frustration in Des Moines (and the turnout for that meet was disappointing as well, as you’ll recall). I wonder if that’s an issue with Drake’s stadium (is it too hard to keep people in assigned seats?) or if the NCAA and USATF make the same pricing mistakes. (Assuming it’s the NCAA and USATF setting the prices.)

    • admin says:

      The only reason Drake Stadium would not be able to enforce assigned seating is lack of adequate ushers–which is exactly what I observed this weekend. Franklin Field, a very similar stadium and more than three times the size, had quite a few of them for the Penn Relays and they were very strict about seeing your ticket.

      I’m virtually certain ticket pricing was set by the NCAA. It’s so foolish to set ticket pricing high across the board for an event that has sold out just once more than a decade–you’re leaving money on the table.

  2. Robert Day says:

    Was trying to find your article on Chris Nelloms 2 anchor legs in 4×400 meter relay but was unsuccessful. Can you tell me how to get this, please. Was there, saw that!!!!

    Thank You,
    R. Day