August 2006
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY if I told you that with a can of spray paint, a tape measure and 10 minutes time I could make one of the most popular events in the sport much more viewer-friendly? And when I say viewer, I mean both for those in the stands and for those watching at home.

The event of which I speak is the 100, certainly the No. 1 discipline for most American fans. If you have watched any amount of track on TV, you’ve surely noticed that in watching any dash finish that those in the outer corridors almost invariably close remarkably well.

And you’ve probably figured out that it’s a matter of foreshortening, or parallax, or some term that illustrates why I dropped out of high school physics.

But whatever causes it, it creates a horrid false analysis of reality. You are led to believe that those on the outside are moving faster, but it’s a trick of the camera. Why not then do something about it?

The answer is a simple one and it involves my aforementioned can of paint (did you think I was going to suggest I sketch nudes on the track?). Why, as part of the normal striping of a track, don’t we simply paint three perpendicular lines on the straightaway? One at 25m, one at 50 and the other at 75. Or at least the middle one.

Talking heads reviewing slo-mo for you will be able to tell you who was really ahead after the start, at halfway and as the initial rush to the finish begins. In big stadia, you’ll see it for yourself on the jumbotron replays. Stopwatch junkies (and there are still many of us) and video freaks (and there are many of those) will be able to catch relevant split points. More good data, something on which the sport thrives.

The 200 and 400 don’t suffer from the same outer-lane phenomenon as does the 100, but seeing relative position (and having splits) is just as valuable for those dashes. The bottom line, I think, is that the faster an event is over, the more visual aid a spectator needs. In a distance race, you can always figure out how far apart people are. Why shouldn’t the sprints be accorded the same advantage? From where I sit, this is a no-lose proposition, but if it’s so good, how come nobody ever thought of it before?

And while we’re talking about making popular races easier to watch, how about bringing a little more excitement to the 400? Lanes all the way just doesn’t cut it from the general fan’s point of view. It takes years of watching to be able to read a stagger well.

I say run the 400 like an 800: break for the pole after the first curve. Is there anything more exciting than a 4x4 with 8 guys all with the same goal, running in lane 1 and doing it at high speed? Would it make the event a bit more physical? Of course, but that’s not a bad thing.

And while they’re at it, let’s get rid of this namby-pamby 3-turn stagger in the 4x4 too. One of the most exciting events on the planet and you have to wait until it’s a third over before the real racing starts. Go back to the old rule of breaking at the first exchange. And repeal the silly rule about ordering for the next leg when the incoming runner is way over at the 200 point.

Enough of turning our sport into a quiet game of lawn bowling! Rant over.