TRACK & FIELD NEWS got into the business of dream fulfillment in 1952. After all, isn’t it every track fan’s fondest wish to see the Olympics, the World Championships, the Zürich Weltklasse or those classic Oslo distance races? For thousands of fans over the past 70 years, their magic carpet for getting to these events has been Track & Field News Tours (TAFNOT).
Bert Nelson recognized early on that among the magazine’s readers were many who’d be interested in traveling to major international events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Not only would American track fans get the economy of scale group travel affords, but we’d also be providing a vehicle for fans from all sections of the country to get to know each other. Accordingly, during those seven decades, TAFNOT has taken more than 22,000 track nuts on the road, 11,180 of them to the 17 Summer Olympics we have attended.
There were 46 on that first Olympic trip in 1952 and 69 to Melbourne four years later. Imagine, flying to Australia on a prop plane — all the while dressed formally by modern standards (see photo!). The plane developed engine trouble on the way home and the group was put up in Quonset huts on some South Pacific isle while they waited for parts. It took Bert four days to get back to California. It’s still a long haul, but nowadays transoceanic jets will get us to Tokyo for the 2025 World Championships in little more than half a day.
One of the most memorable TAFNOT moments came at the ‘64 Olympics in Tokyo when Uan Rasey and Mannie Klein, irritated by the abbreviated version of The Star Spangled Banner used for victory ceremonies, whipped out their trumpets and finished the anthem, to the delight of the crowd.
At the boycotted Moscow Olympics, our intrepid group of 132 planned a tour road race by the Moscow River. Permission was obtained from the authorities and on the day of the race, Russian television and assorted media showed up to cover it. The next day, the newspapers headlined, “American Dissidents Run to Protest Carter’s Policies.”
Though the Olympic tours have always accommodated the largest groups, the smaller trips often call up the best memories, especially those extension trips that brought our trekkers to such places as the Great Wall, the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, the sphinx, Zürich’s Letzigrund Stadium and Milford Sound on New Zealand’s South Island. Those are the trips that many treasure for the group camaraderie, the food experiences, and the unforgettable sightseeing. (Continued below)
The group dinner parties are the off-track focal point of the tours, and over the years we’ve hosted 82 Olympic and World champions and 62 WR holders at our functions, including such luminaries as Edwin Moses, Emil Zátopek, Ron Clarke, Alberto Juantorena, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Evelyn Ashford, Michael Johnson, Jenn Suhr, Ashton Eaton, Billy Mills and Ryan Crouser.
What have our tour members told us about our trips? A lot of things, but mostly how much they enjoyed themselves. The average overall rating, for example, for our 18 World Championships tours has been 92.3% “very good” or “excellent.”
Pleasing tour members pleases us, since it’s such a win-win situation for everyone involved — the tour member and T&FN. Long may TAFNOT wave. ◻︎