STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD this one before: It’s not an easy year in which to be a track fan. But before we dive into that in depth, let’s discuss a vintage take on the various categories of track-fandom:
Cordner Nelson produced a lot of the best writing ever seen in the pages of T&FN—or in any other track source, come to think of it. In case his name isn’t familiar to you, Cordner—along with brother Bert—was one of the magazine’s founders, way back in ’48. The Nelsons are now deceased, Bert in ’94, Cordner in ’09.
Through the years, we were so enamoured of one of Cordner’s best pieces—dealing with the various kinds of fans that can be found in the sport—that we ran it multiple times. And this is the third time I’ve used it for inspiration in my column. (Continued below)
Cordner divided fandom into 7 distinct types (most of which fortunately don’t require actual attendance):
1. Collectors Of Statistics
The numbers can be more important than the meet. There is no end of sub-categories to be explored here.
2. Competition Lovers
Fast times don’t matter; head-to-head competition reigns even if it’s the proverbial—and in this case we really mean proverbial!—tortoise vs. the hare.
Picking winners ahead of the meet provides the rush. An enjoyment that can be enhanced if you and like-minded trackfreaks engage in some fantasy track by scoring your picks.
Who can be first on the block to tab an unknown as a superstar-to-be? This has great appeal to close followers of the high school scene.
5. Technique Specialists
Enjoying the nuts & bolts of how it’s really done. It helps to qualify here if you like watching lots of slo-mo video, particularly of jumps and throws
6. Special Collectors
One who travels all over the country(ies) to see some specialized barrier (back in the day, when it was still feasible, like every sub-4:00 mile). Can also include pursuit of record performances, or even improving upon your own best-seen list.
The broad-based fan, who samples some/all the other categories.
In summation, Cordner said, “If I had to be only one of these 7 types, I would choose to be an Enthusiast. To them, everything else is a bonus.”
And Then There’s Category 8, Contributors
I first talked about Cordner’s categories in this space in December of ’06, and at that time I identified what I considered bracket No. 8, and that’s the Contributors. Those who typically spend a lot of their own time and money—even if they do get a minor stipend—making sure the sport keeps running at the competitive level despite its co-opting much of their ability to actually watch meets.
Prime among the Contributors are the always underappreciated officials. You know, the people whose reward for standing in the hot sun/cold rain for hours on end is frequently little more than a funky t-shirt and a stale sandwich. The Contributors group also includes people you wouldn’t normally think of, like the spotters and charters who keep a steady flow of information going to the announcers. Or those who work in meet hospitality, even if it’s something as mundane as running shuttles between the meet hotel and the airport.
And How About Category 9, Those Who Love It All?
In my January ’10 revisiting of the topic of fan types, I said,
“The rise of the Internet and its omnipresent chat-rooms has caused me to realize that there’s yet another category of follower of the sport. It’s one of the most important there is, but it’s small, and on its way to becoming an endangered species.
“Who are these hard-to-find people? They’re those rare birds who like the sprints as much as the distances, the jumps as much as the throws, the men as much as the women, and the preps, collegians and pros pretty much the same.
“In short, while I don’t have a catchy title for them (“Real Fans” seems a bit too precious), they’re pretty much the people who still read T&FN. I don’t claim for a minute that we have a monopoly on these catholic-in-taste-fans, as there are certainly those who don’t like our thrust, find us too expensive, whatever. But I am surprised in reading our message boards-and those on other sites-to find out how tightly focused most people’s appreciation for the sport is.
“I hasten to clarify that that’s in no way a putdown; just an analysis of the way it really is. Some people only care about left-handed Armenian hammer throwers born on Tuesdays.
The good news is that the Internet finally gives them a place to go; the bad is that finding their niche online only makes actually going to meets—with all those other boring-to-them events—something of little interest to them.”
What About In-Quarantine Fans?
In this, the summer of our discontent (sorry Shakespeare/Steinbeck fans, you’ll have to wait for the Winter Of Our Discontent for a few months; hopefully that won’t come at all) it continues to be exceeding hard to be a fan of any of the 9 categories. Is it time to declare the need for a No. 10, the Historical/Nostalgic fan?
At the risk of entering old-fartdom you can wallow in the early days of the sub-4:00 mile, but the concept works for all ages. There’s nobody alive, one suspects, who saw Paavo Nurmi run, but reveling in the Flying Finn’s feats is no less appealing now than it was decades ago. Same goes for Jesse Owens and all the giants who helped make our sport as great as it is.
So What Kind(s) Of Fan Are You?
Personally, I’ve always been a No. 1 (Collectors Of Statistics) kind of guy, lately leaning towards morphing into a No. 8 (Contributor). And in this difficult year, I have no choice but to pay attention to my No. 10 (Historian) side.
One of the great wonders of our sport is how all-inclusive it is. Whatever your niche, you’re not alone. Enjoy! ◻︎