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Jesse Squire sits down with Ken Goe – a sportswriter for The Oregonian for 43 years who just announced his retirement a few weeks ago. He’s got deep ties covering track and field since he was assigned the beat as he first got his start at the paper. He takes us through those early days in his career and the evolution he’s seen in the sport since. That and some thoughts on the state of the sport’s future.
The positives of track and field in his time covering the sport
“In the time I’ve been covering track, American distance running has come back. It was basically irrelevant internationally prior to that point. There were occasional good individuals but nobody that I can think of who really challenged the elite world for some time. That’s come back. The United States is relevant in most events right now from the 800 meters to the marathon for both men and women. I give a lot of credit to Vin Lananna and the people at Nike who backed him. They brought the world junior championships to Eugene. They brought the world indoor championships to Portland. At some point maybe there will be a world outdoor championships in Eugene. Phil Knight himself has invested in a track stadium in Eugene that’s certainly the best in North America and maybe one of the best in the world. (I haven’t seen the inside of it but based on what I can tell and what I hear, that’s the case.) I think those are all positive developments.”
The negatives of track AND field in his time covering the sport
“I see the sport as becoming less and less relevant to the average American sports fan. At one time in the 1950s and 60s, it was a major sport. People really cared about track not just at the Olympics. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. A lot of the things when I talk about all of the things Bill Dellinger was trying to do with the track team – what he wanted to do and I didn’t understand it at the time was to keep track relevant to the average sports fan. The average sports fan doesn’t care about what someone’s personal best is or if somebody moved up from seventh to fifth on the career 1,500m list. In my view, what the average sports fan wants to do is see my team beat your team. College track has gotten away from that. There are very few dual meets anymore. As a consequence, I don’t think people who aren’t invested in the sport pay any attention to it. The ultimate result of this is that you see now with the pandemic colleges cutting athletic budgets and the places they choose to cut are places that don’t have any outside emotional investment. Fans and boosters don’t care about college track. They rarely go. I’m sure they’re happy if their college track team is successful but they’re not at the meets. They don’t know who the athletes are on the teams. Their emotional investment in the athletic department is in football and basketball…At the University of Oregon, it’s still track but they’re an outlier. You see college track teams being cut now and you see people – I agree that it’s a shame. I think track is a great sport but I understand it too. It’s a revenue drain on the athletic department and they don’t have people outside of the sport who are going to speak for it.”