BASHING CRAIG MASBACK has become a popular Internet exercise in some quarters. And by all accounts there are some inside the world of the volunteer organization that is USA Track & Field that also want his scalp. Fortunately, neither of these radical camps held any particular sway when push came to shove and USATF’s Board Of Directors recently extended his contract as CEO.
We’re not on each other’s Xmas-card lists by any means, but I do have to admit to a friendly relationship with Craig that predates his involvement with the federation by many years (ahh, the trip to a Eugene movie theater at the ’80 Olympic Trials to see The Shining, with rowdy athletes rolling beer bottles between the seats), so perhaps I don’t bring a perfectly detached journalist’s perspective to the proceedings. Nor am I a USATF insider in any way; I steer clear of the political side of things.
But with those two caveats made clear, from where I sit allow me to say that Masback has been the right guy in the right place at the right time.
The Ollan Cassell era in Indianapolis ended with a feeling that new blood was needed to drive a fading sport into the next century. As a former world-class performer who had stayed intimately in touch with the sport and with a law degree under his suspenders, Masback seemed a perfect fit. He has done nothing to dissuade me that that analysis was wrong.
Yes, the last few years of incessant drug-scandaling have come on his watch and while it’s true that the buck should always stop at the head man’s desk, my take on that is a simple one: despite all the PR hits the U.S. side of the sport has taken, it would have been only worse without Masback in place. Despite what on the surface might look like fallings-out with the IAAF, I think he has maintained their respect as a valid caretaker for the sport in the U.S.
His shrewd diplomacy and understanding of how things work in the labyrinthine halls of bureaucracy that make up not only USATF but also the international sporting community as a whole have prevented a real disaster. Without him at the helm, I think the USOC’s threat to decertify USATF may well have come to pass.
There’s a second strong element required to keep an organization like USATF glued together and that’s a strong President. Not in any way to disparage his predecessors, but USATF has never had as good a prexy as Bill Roe, so it was with great pleasure that I noted his re-election in Portland. As with Masback, allow me to note while Roe too is not on the Xmas list, he and I do share an unbridled passion for Lord Of The Rings, and that doesn’t mean the shot or discus kind.
But Roe has been absolutely tireless in working for USATF’s best interest, from top to bottom. No matter what age group or how amateur or professional the athletes involved, Roe has taken a deep and incisive look at what’s going on and worked to make it better.
Best of all, I like the synergy when I see Masback and Roe working in concert. Each understands what belongs in whose bailiwick and whose strengths lie where. Having them both in place at once can mean nothing but good for U.S. track & field, and I’m glad that the people responsible for putting them in place saw fit to do so again.
2393#@!TFN#@!February 2005#@!NULL#@!Meets tend to be unkind towards those who think of the sport as field & track#@!
IF YOU’RE LIKE MOST FANS, YOU LIKE TRACK MORE THAN FIELD. I tend to be of the opposite persuasion, but the way “athletics” is presented, it’s certainly a lot easier to be enamored of running competitions. It’s simple to appreciate a race—any race—because it really doesn’t matter how far it is or how fast the people are running. Just watching them go head-to-head, running from point A to point B as fast as they can, is about as good as it gets in sporting entertainment.
And you can tune into the action in the middle of a race and still instantly know enough of what’s going on. Would that appreciating jumping and throwing were so easy.
Can you imagine watching any of the popular ball sports without a scoreboard? No indication of the score, no idea how much time is left in the game? Anybody who tried to sell a sport with that kind of spectator aid would be laughed off the planet.
Yet that’s just what happens with field events, which not only make up about half the disciplines in the sport, but also dominate the landscape in terms of time of competition. But walk into a track meet at any level—even the World Championships or Olympic Games—and your chance of finding out what’s going on in any of the jumps or throws is almost impossible. Even with all the marvels of modern electronics.
If you’re lucky enough to be at a high-end meet, there will be high-tech indicators, yes, but they will tell you only what position the current performer is in before giving you the latest mark. So if your attention has been focused on the 1500 final for the previous 5:00 and you turn to the triple jump you’ll be thrilled to see that the guy currently in 9th is on the runway. No clue as to who is the leader, let alone who’s in the medal positions.
The announcer, no matter how good he is, probably won’t have the time to recap the whole event for you (although the good ones try). The scoreboard? It’s usually too busy with pictures to—heaven forbid!—put up something like field event results until the event is over.
Not to pick on Stanford, but it provides the best example of how the sport has gotten off-track (no pun intended) in the field-event presentation department. The school has a cutting-edge million-dollar scoreboard that produces fabulous images and has greatly enhanced the average fan’s viewing pleasure, to be sure. But nowhere can you find ongoing field-event results. Yet 50 years ago (!) at the same school, you could. Just look at the photo.
I can understand that your everyday meet can’t have that kind of aid, but how can the IAAF and USATF run the sport at the international and national championship level without ensuring that the fans know what is going on at all times in all events on the program?