February 2007
WHERE’S THE BEST PLACE TO SIT AT A TRACK MEET? I suspect that most of you would say “right on the finish line.” And for what most fans want to get out of a meet, that’s clearly the right choice.

Only on rare occasions, however, would I agree with that choice, particularly if one compounds what I consider that spot’s shortcomings by sitting as close to the track as possible. I suspect that most fans prefer that up-close-and-personal vantage point too.

That I disagree doesn’t surprise me. I’m a contrarian when it comes to finding the best vantage point at most sporting events. Football? As far as I’m concerned, the worst place you can sit is on the fabled 50-yard line. Similarly, center court/ice is overrated in basketball/hockey.

I think those coveted “middle of the action” seats guarantee only two things at the team games:

•You’ll get a close up view of plays that mean absolutely nothing.

•You’ll have a bad angle/distant view for all the plays that do mean something.

Depending on what you want out of track, the finish line can also give you bad angles and distant views of what means something, although the analogy with the team games is flawed in that the final result of any race isn’t decided until the players in the drama actually cross the line for the last time.

Make that officially decided. Many—even most?—races are decided somewhere else: in the starting blocks, coming into the stretch, down the backstraight. So if the strategy and moves are important to you, then being right at the finish probably isn’t your best choice.

On the other hand, one thing that ringside seats do give you—in all sports—is a massive jolt of adrenaline. The closer you are to the action—if you can hear the heavy breathing, see individual drops of sweat, see the contorted faces—the better you can live vicariously through the participants.

So I don’t think track fan who prefers to sit there is remotely off base. But at this point I’m playing a bit of a word game with you. Sit there if you’re a track fan to the great preference over—or exclusion of—field. You know, the guys who jump and throw. Down low and/or on the finish line really compromises your appreciation of most field events.

So if you’re a track and field person, my take is that you need to get higher up and do something I wouldn’t do in the same stadium for another sport—sit on the 50 (gasp!).

I think two of the best vantage points I’ve ever had for spectating a meet were the seats that the T&FN Tour had at the World Champs in Athens in ’97 and then again for Seville in ’99. They were near the front row of the second deck, in the middle of the homestretch. There wasn’t a significant bit of action that you didn’t get a decent view of.

Another locale that’s greatly underrated is the 1500 start. That puts you right across from the finish line, so you can still have a parallax-free angle, with the added bonus of having a far better angle for watching the homestretch battles. In an era where the media and/or VIPs gobble up virtually all the finish-line seats, that’s a terrific backup.

Just don’t tell anybody else; when I get there I want to be sure I can find a seat too!