THE SAD PASSING OF LEE EVANS caused me to take a look at the WA Hall Of Fame, of which he’s not a member. That led me to remember my column of August ’17, titled “The IAAF’s Hall Of Fame Still Doesn’t Have Nearly Enough Members.” (There was also a similarly titled screed in January ’14.)
When I wrote that, almost 5 years after the Hall’s inaugural class was inducted, the membership still numbered a mere 48 (31 men, 17 women). After the original 24 were inducted in November of ’12 (at a delightful ceremony in Barcelona I was privileged to be invited to), 12-person classes followed in ’13 and ’14.
In that ’17 column I wrote, “But what about the classes of ’15 & ’16, you might well ask? Big ball-drop by Monaco on those. Instead of using the Hall as a spectacular tool to create good memories at a time when the federation was mired in the muck of first the Diack scandal and then the Russian doping melodrama, it choose simply to ignore the Hall.” So you can now add no classes for ’17, ’18, ’19 & ’20 either, meaning a half-dozen years of inaction.
One hopes that WA will get back on track at some point, but even if it does I have to ask, “Why hasn’t there been any publicity about it for so long?” Other sports manage to make hay with their Halls for many months of the year, every year. It’s a feel-good process at the highest level and goodness knows the world can use plenty of that right now.
Speaking of the invisibility of the Hall, should you want to know who is currently in, be apprised that the word “fame” appears nowhere on WA’s homepage. I first lodged that complaint about the IAAF site in the previous column, saying, “Instead, you need to go to a row of links at the top and figure out that the Hall is listed under the pull-down menu titled Athletes.”
But that option is now gone, although you can find the Hall by doing an overall search of the WA site. That will take you to a page titled, “IAAF Hall of Fame.” Yes, IAAF, not WA, even though the organization officially changed names back in November of ’19.
So we remain stuck at 4 dozen members. As I’ve said before how we got to those 48 still gripes me. When the IAAF did its inaugural class, it ensured that all geographical areas and all event groups were represented. That’s wonderfully PC and even made some decent marketing sense, but it offends my sense of what a HOF is all about. And my sense of what the first class named is all about, which is the honor of being super-special. The best athlete in some events isn’t remotely as special as the Nos. 2 or 3 in some other disciplines.
The criteria for the initial class selected also mandated that the athletes must have at least 2 gold medals from the Olympics and/or World Championships.
So if you were an athlete in an event that didn’t allow doubling, or your career was before the World Championships was invented, or you were boycotted out of a Games or were from an era where there were no Olympics at all, or were from an era where many/most Olympic gold medalists promptly retired, you need not apply.
Color me selfish, but before I shuffle off this mortal coil I’d like to see a truly representative international HOF including all the names that “belong” there.
Simple made-up-on-the-spot-math: let’s conservatively say that each of the 22 standard men’s events should average 5 HOF members each. And — through no fault of their own, but a shorter history is a shorter history — let’s say the 21 women’s events should average 3. That makes for a “proper” total of 173 members. Subtract the 48 already in and that means at least 125 are missing.
Going down the road, even at a dozen per class it’s going to take 11 years before the HOF would get current with those athletes who are eligible today (retired in ’17 or earlier — can you say Usain Bolt, class of ’27?).
Does Lee Evans belong in the first 48? Great as he was, no. (He’s not even the preeminent San José State absentee; that would be Tommie Smith.) But if you note the membership of the men’s side of the Hall, there’s not a pure 400 runner among them and from where I sit a rather convincing case can be made that Evans is in the first handful in that event and a proper-sized Hall would probably include him.
The Hall’s Members
Abebe Bikila, Valeriy Brumel, Sergey Bubka, Seb Coe, Adhemar da Silva, Glenn Davis, Harrison Dillard, Hicham El Guerrouj, Vladimir Golubnichiy, Michael Johnson, Alberto Juantorena, Kip Keino, Hannes Kolehmainen, Robert Korzeniowski, Carl Lewis, Janis Lusis, Bob Mathias, Noureddine Morceli, Edwin Moses, Paavo Nurmi, Dan O’Brien, Parry O’Brien, Al Oerter, Jesse Owens, Viktor Saneyev, Yuriy Syedikh, Peter Snell, Daley Thompson, Lasse Viren, Dutch Warmerdam & Emil Zátopek.
Iolanda Balaș, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Betty Cuthbert, Babe Didrikson, Heike Drechsler, Marjorie Jackson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Marita Koch, Stefka Kostadinova, Natalya Lisovskaya, Svetlana Masterkova, Marie-José Pérec, Wilma Rudolph, Shirley Strickland-De La Hunty, Irena Szewińska, Grete Waitz & Junxia Wang.
Great athletes all, but are they the greatest 48? ◻︎