December 2006
WHAT KIND OF TRACK FAN ARE YOU? Founding Editor Cordner Nelson, in a fascinating analysis that originally appeared in our pages way back in June of ’77, posited that our fans fell into 7 categories:

•Collectors Of Statistics (the numbers can be more important than the meet).

•Competition Lovers (fast times don’t matter; head-to-head competition reigns).

•Prognosticators (picking winners ahead of the meet provides the rush).

•Scouts (who can be first on the block to tab an unknown as a superstar-to-be?).

•Technique Specialists (enjoying the nuts & bolts of how it’s really done).

•Special Collectors (one who travels all over the country to see every sub-4:00 mile).

•Enthusiasts (the broad-based fan, who samples some/all the other categories).

Can you spot yourself in there? Certainly any real fan of the sport—you know, the kind who reads T&FN!—probably has at least a little bit of each, because when a subject can hook you on so many levels, you tend to stay hooked.

Personally, I’ve always been a category-1 kind of fan; a huge numbers guy. Indeed, it was the “stopwatch & slide rule guys” aspect of T&FN—as the great columnist Jim Murray once referred to us—that first attracted me to the magazine those many years ago.

The nice part about being a numbers guy is that you can enjoy the sport from afar if you have to. While actually getting to see great performances is something to strive for, if time/money/geography conspire against you, you can still get all the pleasure you need from reading the results and playing with the facts & figures they generate.

The downside to being a numbers guy, at least for some, is that you can become too elitist and start to judge a race as somehow unworthy if the times are slow. If the winner “fails” to set a World Record, or doesn’t even make your all-time list you’re disappointed. I was/is guilty of that so developing a split personality was the easy way out.

When I’m looking at numbers, give me the monster top-end stuff. When I’m actually at a meet, give me competition. While I’d enjoy seeing a 3:25 mile, if it were one rabbit-aided guy against the clock I’d trade it in for a “tactical” affair where the field went out in 3:10 and it became an Oklahoma Land Rush of 50-flat closing laps.

Cordner’s conclusion was that if he could be only one of the 7 types he’d be the Enthusiast. You just enjoy the sport “because,” and everything else that happens is a bonus.

In the years since Cordner penned that piece, I’ve actually discovered Fan No. 8, and they’re perhaps the most important fans of all. These are the Contributors. People who love being around the sport enough that they dedicate a lot of their time (and money) to making sure our sport continues to run.

Most of them are officials, those guys (and guyettes) who stand in the hot sun/cold rain for days on end and for compensation they get to wear an ugly shirt and eat bad prepackaged sandwiches. Sometimes officials get minor compensation, but it’s never remotely concomitant with the services they provide. So why do they—and all the other invaluable parts of a meet’s often-invisible infrastructure—do what they do? Because they love the sport, and just being part of the action is usually reward enough.

Whatever kind of fan you are, I salute you, because without you, there wouldn’t be any us. And we kinda like being here. As 2006 draws to a close, all of us here at T&FN wish you the best, and look forward to your enjoying the sport again next year, under whichever hats you choose to wear.