August 2003

NOW THAT YOU’VE FINALLY TURNED to the last thing in the issue you actually read (maybe I should just move to the back?), let me ask you a question. Were you struck in this month’s edition by how easy it was to scan the pages and get a quick enjoyment hit? Not due to anything we did—simply because the preponderance of pictures came from the USATF Championships, where the athlete-bibs had the contestants’ names, both first and last, in easy-to-read letters. Instant recognition. What a concept!

There’s Tom Pappas on the cover, there’s Jason Lunn and Bryan Berryhill on the opening spread, there’s Tyree Washington in the middle, etc., etc. And if you were lucky enough to be at the meet, then you surely would have noticed it on-site too. No more wracking your brain trying to put a name to a face, or flipping through your program, or searching the scoreboard for clues or wondering what it was the announcer said just as the crowd roared.

The bib-name concept isn’t new: I remember first seeing it at the Pac-8 Championships at the LA Coliseum in ’74. But the number of times I’ve seen it in the quarter-century-plus since can still be counted on my fingers. How could organizers of major meets ignore such a basic information-providing service for their clients for so long?

It’s a little thing, but there are so many little fan-friendly things that too often get ignored as a matter of course even at some of the biggest meets in the U.S. Ever been frustrated by some/all of these:

•The lack of even the most rudimentary of indicator boards at each field event so people can see the results of each jump/throw. (I won’t even cite having an announcing crew competent enough to keep you up-to-date on the majority of the attempts.)

•The nonexistence of any attempt to show/announce field-event standings during the course of a competition.

•No printed program/heat sheets that gives the entrants in any given event, what number they’re wearing, or what lane they’re in.

Sadly, the event of the modern electronic scoreboard has in many cases actually led to a decrease in the amount of hard information available to the sporting public. Meet management rationale seems to go like this: why print anything when everything anyone could possibly need will be on the board? Well, maybe. More often than not, scoreboards are hijacked by some Fellini-wannabe who decides that arty views of the stands are of more import than actually showing a lane draw or updating composite field results. Instead of becoming a computer screen providing valuable data, the Jumbotron has become just another big-screen TV, except that you don’t have the remote… it’s your weird Uncle Bob.

Or another of my faves: turning the whole million-dollar scoreboard into the world’s largest digital clock during distance races, even if there’s an easy-to-read running clock right at the finish line. In the final straightaway, when somebody’s chasing a time, OK, then the clock has some relevance. But for the rest of the race, what’s the point? I defy anybody on the planet to tell me the significance of seeing what the clock reads at say, 7352m in a 28:00-paced 10K. Or to tell me how far along they are if the clock reads 26:51.5. Since the announcer is undoubtedly tied up with a running commentary on the race at this point and can’t give field updates, why not use the board?

The real villain in all this? Too many people forget the sport is track and field, and have no idea how much better a meet is when the jumps and throws get their due.