Conversations at track meets are different from conversations at more conventional sporting events.
If you find yourself taking a piss at a basketball game and the liquored up man at the adjacent urinal starts talking to you, he could really bring up any topic. The Pissing Man knows that basketball draws a crowd that’s roughly representative of the country as a whole, so politics, sports, fashion, or theories that Bush did 9/11… are all fair game.
But at a track meet, everyone is a part of such a niche community–and acutely aware of that fact–that the conversations simply refuse to veer away from track or track-tangential topics. I don’t think it’s because the track fan cannot discuss other things. I think it’s because the track fan knows the opportunity to chat about track, casually, and without fear of boring or alienating others, is rare. So the track fan seizes the moment. (For those of you who have been to a major US running event, you understand that this is why you probably enjoyed yourself. It’s basically fantasy camp where the obscure activity you love is suddenly the only thing that matters to everyone around you.)
And there are only two sub-topics track fans are able to talk about in these situations: what has just happened on the track and how this track meet as a whole stacks up to other track meets.
The former is the bread and butter of track dork interactions and is the basis for this site’s fledgling successes.
But the latter is what was more intriguing this year, as aging, bloated pundits, sweat-soaked fans and battle-weary athletes compared Sacramento’s 2017 US championships to comparable events from years past.
Last year’s Big Meet was the Olympic Trials, held in Eugene, Oregon. The trials feed into a higher profile event than this year’s analogous meet. Eugene has also long been cemented and branded as “Track Town, U.S.A.” So naturally, a commonly expressed belief is that Eugene absolutely trounced Sacramento by every conceivable metric of successful track meet hosting.
“Eugene has better weather, better fans, better facilities, and better tradition. The meet should always be there.” – overheard a lot
There is absolutely a case to be made around this thought, but unless the TrackTown nonprofit decides to put forth a proposal for Eugene to host all further US.. championships and trials, there’s no real use in stanning for the idea.
No, we’re at this point operating under the assumption that these meets will rotate around, so we might as well critically evaluate what it means for any number of second-tier-track-towns to be a good host site.
Sacramento was a decent place for a track meet.
There are arguments to be made against California’s capital hosting this meet in the future.
It can get hot–as it was this past weekend–in the summer. It’s difficult to get to for many people. For fans on the East Coast, televised races may not end until 1 or 2 in the morning. It’s not a hotbed of track and field fans. There aren’t great amenities surrounding the track for fans or athletes.
But folks–how many of these issues are still issues in Eugene? Allergies drive athletes to wear embalmer masks. It’s shitty to get to and still on the west coast.
Eugene gets a pass because Eugene has a built-in base of weird track fans and you can walk to a bar after the meet and watch your favorite shot-putter chug a pitcher, draped in an American flag, then walk to the hotel or dorm room after that.
We’ve already established that Eugene is viewed as a special place for a meet. But I’d argue that a lot of that is just due to repetition.
You hold an event in the same city enough times and it takes on a mystical presence in the minds of the sport’s fans and competitors. Friends make traditions out of the trip – a sort of pilgrimage to track Mecca. Local businesses come to recognize there is an infusion of track tourists to pander to and exploit and hubs of meet-induced socialization are born. Merely qualifying for the chance to compete on what becomes a storied track full of historic performances winds up atop many athletes’ lists of career objectives.
All of these things can manifest in Sacramento through repetition. (Plus, Sacramento has cool trees and reminded me of Spokane, Washington in that there were a ton of adult shirtless men riding BMX bikes around.)
Track isn’t a popular sport in this country. Moving the meet around isn’t going to change that. If we don’t have it in the same place every time, we should have it in as few rotating places as possible so that a sense of tradition and familiarity can form. Rouse up interest among ambivalent local high school track athletes (basically the largest but least tapped into potential audience for the sport), and integrate them into the deepening roots the sport is planting in the city.
Was Sacramento perfect as a host city?
Will it ever be?
But can it wind up being an adequate place that track fans can revel in converging upon every few years? I don’t see why not. And that’s all that it takes–along with the absence of a flukey heat wave–for people to get behind as a place to watch track.