As U.S. trials begin, track and field desperately needs a he

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As U.S. trials begin, track and field desperately needs a he

Unread postby CowtownPV » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:45 am ... field.html

By Gil LeBreton

EUGENE, Ore. -- Once upon a time, it was the noble sport of lords and legends.

Track and field won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire, a tale of two British sprinters who ran for glory and honor at the 1924 Olympic Games.

The legends -- men such as Roger Bannister, Bob Beamon and Bill Toomey -- captivated us with exploits like the sub-four-minute mile and the 29-foot long jump.

But track and field hasn't been a primetime player on the network television sports scene since Bruce Jenner's face had its original factory equipment.

"We need more heroes," said Toomey, the 1968 Olympic decathlon champion.

"But it's a question that probably requires a lot of answers."

Toomey was talking about the giant elephant in the room at this U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

The signs throughout this Oregon city proudly proclaim it, "Track Town, USA." It's a community that can -- and did Friday -- pack historic Hayward Field even on a chilly and relentlessly rainy day.

Before Oregon rediscovered college football in this century with a garish swoosh of Nike yellows and web feet, its track and field athletes wore the big jocks on campus. Eugene's devotion to distance hero Steve Prefontaine still inspires local pilgrimages to the rock memorial on the hilly street corner where, in 1975, an automobile accident cost him his life.

But it hasn't been a good 15 or 20 years for track and field. Drug cheats, Marion Jones, TV schedules -- they've all conspired in varying degrees to ousting the sport off the front page.

Wait. Did I say front page? Track and field today can barely squeeze onto the back pages of most U.S. newspaper sports sections.

It has been relegated to the humble little corner reserved for so-called "niche" sports, emerging only once every four years when the Olympics sounds its trumpets.

Admittedly, more than a handful of once-mainstream sports have been swept over by the same tide. Boxing and horse racing, to name two.

But track, in some ways, has been its own worst enemy. It can be a tough watch, even for the casual fan who comes and sits in the stands.

"We've got to stop putting on meets where people don't know what's going on," said Toomey, one of the decathlon "legends" who participated in Friday's Trials opening ceremony.

At Hayward Field, let it be noted, a savvy announcer and spectators are not the problem.

Though the rains started early and periodically came down in chilly buckets, especially during the men's and women's 10,000 meters, the crowd in Eugene cheered -- well -- like it was the Rose Bowl.

They roared when former Duck Ashton Eaton started the day by breaking world decathlon records in the 100 meters and long jump.

And they were still cheering seven hours later when Galen Rupp won the 10,000.

The men's and women's 10,000 meters were the only events of the day that were finals. The rest of the first full day of competition were mostly heats and qualifying rounds, with all of the favorites advancing.

That list included TCU and Fort Worth Trimble Tech product Khadevis Robinson, advancing in the men's 800 meters with a time of 1:47.30. Robinson turns a wise 36 years of age next month and is seeking a place on his second Olympic team.

In the men's 400, Baylor ex Jeremy Wariner finished third in his opening heat, easily advancing to the next round. His unpressured time of 45.84 was 13th-best among the 16 who advanced.

Wariner's performance was overshadowed, however, by 18-year-old Aldrich Bailey of Mansfield Timberview, who also advanced to the semis by running the 400 in 45.59, the fifth-fastest time of the day. Bailey set a national high school record in the event in April.

The Hayward Field audience seemed to know exactly who he was and cheered accordingly.

But so it goes in Track Town, where they still embrace "Pre's sport."

Like Toomey, they're looking for heroes.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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Winners find a way to win, losers find an excuse.

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