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January 10, 2018

Thursday Reminder Indoor Track Exists

I have a confession to make: I don’t like writing.

This is strange, because I’ve been writing about track and field off and on for more than fifteen years. I’ve written my own blog, I’ve done a small amount of writing for Track and Field News and I co-founded the now-defunct DailyRelay.com. Two years ago I won the Track and Field Writers of America’s Adam Jacobs Award for outstanding online writing. All the while I’ve found the process to be painful and tense.

It always has been for me. I hated writing in high school, so much so that I decided to study math in college in no small part because I figured I wouldn’t have to write. Part of that dislike came from sensing what I was wrote was garbage because of course sixteen-year-olds write garbage. Yet somehow I’m here writing this and you’re reading it, because we both love track and field.

Masters of the craft such as Kenny Moore produce writing that is otherworldly. That’s not who I aspire to be like, because I might as well aspire to be eight feet tall. No, the sportswriters who I most admire and try to emulate are Joe Posnanski and Drew Magary because their writing reads like a conversation. Posnanski has written in many different formats for Sports Illustrated, the Kansas City Star and MLB.com, but he seems born for blogging. Magary, one of the mainstays at Deadspin.com, has barely ever written in any other format than online columns.

Posnanski expresses what it feels like to be a sports fan in ways that few other people get; read what he wrote about long jumping and you’ll see what I mean. Magary celebrates the other side of being a sports fan, the ways we use social interaction around sports to retain immaturity well into middle age. Whether you consider it “holding on to youth” or just being juvenile might depend on your perspective, but I ask why can’t it be both?

So this weekly column on college track and field is meant to be an homage to Magary’s weekly Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jambaroo. I won’t stoop quite as low as he does (the column includes a weekly “Great Moments in Poop History” and rates upcoming games on a scale of one to five throwgasms) but I will attempt to keep the same level of irreverence.

LAST WEEK’S MEDAL WINNERS

There was very little collegiate competition last weekend since most teams weren’t even on campus yet. What were the best things in college track?

Gold – Tradition Part 1, Rivalries
Saturday saw the 47th Navy – Princeton indoor dual meet (a men’s-only affair) and the 23rd Indiana-Tennessee indoor dual meet. Navy won over Princeton for the first time since 2014 and Tennessee came a half-point away from sweeping Indiana for the first time in 20 years.

Silver – Keenon Laine
Laine high jumped 2.27 meters (7′ 5¼”) at the Clemson Orange & Purple Invitational. I’m usually not one to get all worked up about marks, but this is pretty good. It’s not just a PR for Laine, who was third at last year’s NCAA Indoor, but a height that only one active collegiate jumper has bettered. That jumper, Eastern Kentucky’s Tequan Claite, illustrates why marks should always be considered in context: his PR of 2.28 is a good ten centimeters higher than any other height he’s ever cleared.

Bronze – Tradition, Part 2 – Dartmouth?
Dartmouth holds an annual indoor relay meet. I did not know that it was the 49th edition of that relay meet. An indoor track on a college campus was extremely rare in the 1960s and basically unheard of before that. I did know that Glenn Cunningham set a world mile record indoors on the Dartmouth campus in 1938, and the story behind that is fascinating.

WHAT2WATCH THIS WEEKEND

My completely unscientific ranking of the meets to see this weekend, rated on a scale of one to three dip finishes.

Three Dips: Wolverine Invitational

The University of Michigan’s shiny new indoor facility hosts its first meet on Saturday. I’ll be on site to cover it for CITIUS. The highlight race will be the very first final ever held on the track, an elite men’s mile at 12:20pm. The eight-man field will be Nick Willis, Will Leer, Mason Ferlic, Hamish Carson, Julian Matthews, Peter Callahan, Corey Bellemore and Mitchell Black. This could break the record for the fastest indoor mile ever run in the state of Michigan, which is currently 3:57.89 by UTEP’s Suleiman Nyambui at the 1979 NCAA Championships at Cobo Arena in Detroit.

So far as I know, the last banked indoor track built in Michigan was for the 1983 NCAAs at the Pontiac Silverdome. Michigan hosted the NCAA Indoor Championships from their inception in 1965 through 1983, up through 1981 at Cobo and then the Silverdome in ’82 and ’83. The meet was the brainchild of Don Canham, the UM athletic director and former head track coach and Big Ten high jump champion. Canham made a few other smart decisions too, including hiring a little-known football coach from Miami named Bo Schembechler.

The NCAAs at Cobo always drew in excess of 9,000 fans for the final day, and the ’83 meet at the Silverdome drew the largest single-day track and field attendance ever in the state of Michigan (15,060). The Silverdome was slated for destruction last month but wiring issues made that planned implosion a failure and they finally got the job done right this week. The original plans for the new indoor track at Michigan included enough seating to once again host the NCAAs, but somewhere along the road to construction that got reduced and the capacity is now just 2,000. The NCAA requires seating for 5,000 to host the NCAAs but that requirement is almost universally waived – recent hosts such as Texas A&M, Birmingham, New Mexico, and Boise State did not seat that many. Still, I think 2,000 is more than likely to be too small unless some extra temporary seating can be crammed in there.

Three Dips: Wisconsin at Minnesota

There’s not enough hate in college track. Football is so widely popular in no small part because it embraces that hate. Years ago I was at the NCAA cross country championships and when some guy out on the course heard I was from Toledo he said I should be happy that the Toledo Rockets qualified their women’s team. I said no, I ran at Bowling Green and that he didn’t understand how rivalries worked. While I harbor no ill will against the Toledo athletes as individuals, as a team I’d like nothing better than the earth to open up and swallow them whole. I want them to be worse than the Cleveland Browns. Wisconsin-Minnesota is a meet predicated on that kind of hate.

Two Dips: Kansas and Wichita State at Kansas State

Triangulars are good meets, but how do you split your hatred three ways? And what if it isn’t split three ways? What if Kansas and Kansas State see Wichita State as a third wheel? And there are few things that make a quality mid-major program angrier than being treated as beneath contempt by “Power Five” programs. Dammit, the Shockers deserve contempt! They will earn your contempt and make you eat your ennui!

Also, the meet will conclude with a mixed men’s/women’s 4×400. This may be a first in college track.

Two Dips: Dick Taylor Carolina Cup

There are a small number of rivalries where three-way hate works and Duke-North Carolina-NC State is Exhibit A. East Carolina is also competing in this meet to round it out as a quadrangular. Does that make the Pirates a fourth wheel? And if so, isn’t that the worst metaphor ever?

One Dip: UW Preview

There are a lot of stars making their season debuts at the UW Preview in Seattle: Shalane Flanagan, Aries Merritt, Brittney Reese and more. Few if any of them will face real actual competition. And that’s kind of the point. This time of the season is for rust-buster races and meeting up against high-level opponents is something to be avoided. If you like just seeing the stars in action, this is a great meet.

One Dip: Arkansas Invitational

I don’t know anything about this meet because no information has yet been released other than the schedule and that it will be broadcast on SEC Digital Plus.

BAD MOVIE OF THE WEEK

If you’re looking for some truly over-the-top awfulness, it’s hard to beat the 1980 classic Flash Gordon. It has everything: Max von Sydow chewing the scenery as Ming the Merciless, an epic miscast of Topol as a mad scientist, horrible use of green screen “technology”, ridiculous dialogue, and even more ridiculous action. The topper is an epic soundtrack by Queen, one that is far better than anything happening on screen. Supposedly one major reason why this film turned out to be a blunder was a language barrier between an Italian crew headed by director Dino Di Laurentiis (that’s right, Giada‘s father) and an American one. Did I say blunder? No, this is AWESOME! Exquisitely bad, almost unbearably putrid. Watching it is time well spent.

Enjoy the meets!

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