From The Editor — May 2009: Just where did they find all the athletes who hate the 10-day Trials?

CUE BROKEN RECORD: gh is about to rant on the Olympic Trials for the third issue in a row. Hey, I’m sorry guys, but I just think that the importance of the conduct of that meet simply cannot be overstated. And it has nothing to do with my personal viewing pleasure (heck, when I’m announcing the meet I only get to see half the events anyway); it has everything to do with what I consider to be the overall health of the sport I love so dearly.

The good news is that all the signs are pointing to a rejection of the 5-day Trials suggested by the Project-30 folks. Both USATF honcho Doug Logan and some major power-brokers in Eugene—host of the next edition of the meet—have indicated that the leaning is towards a pair of 3-day meets over 2 weekends, along the lines detailed in this space last month. (I rush to note that this decision came independent of my scrawlings; I take no credit for their epiphany.)

The mumblings I hear most are that the 4 days between the 2 weekends would be taken up with an age-group meet (most likely the USATF Juniors), and perhaps the OT decathlon/heptathlon as well. I’ve always thought that the multis should be split off from the main meet every year, just because of how the presentation improves in the “regular” part of the meet and how the decathletes and heptathletes don’t become invisible as they peddle their multi-talented wares.

The $64,000 question that continues to linger in my mind is, “Where did they find all these discontented athletes who hate the 10-day format?” In round numbers, there were 950 Olympic hopefuls in Eugene last year. Of those 950, only about 70 competed in more than one event, and of those 70, no more than 35 were household names with which anyone but dedicated fantasy-league players are familiar. So you’re talking less than 4% of the entry list. And, as noted in this space last month, virtually every one of those will be happier with a long meet than a short one. I can’t think of anybody who wasn’t better served by a long meet.

T&FN recently talked with one of the true legends of the sport and he said he hated the long format because as soon as the meet started he started getting nervous. Well, guess what, he was in three OTs and in none of them did he have to wait any longer than 3 days to start competing. A 5-day meet may well have made no difference.

One of the great failings of the Project 30 report was a reliance on anecdotal evidence rather than cold, hard statistical analysis, and I have to believe that the realistically disenchanted OT participant either doesn’t exist or represents such a small part of the equation so as not to matter. Somebody wants to blow up a formula with 40 years of success just because of a couple of baton drops in Beijing? I’m afraid that’s what the whole thing boils down to. Fortunately, some cooler heads appear to be prevailing.

The T&FN tour department may hate me for this stance, since it’s tough to sell people on a lot of OT days that don’t have any OT, but sometimes one needs to speak out for what is best for the sport as a whole.

I firmly believe that a 2-weekend OT (no matter how many days total) is essential to the ongoing health of our sport. Resist the 5-day concept with all your might!