By Kyle Merber
April 27, 2022
I’ll tell you what is undoubtedly good for the sport — debate! Generally, there isn’t much to get fired up about in April, but when the Oregon T&F social media accounts dropped this teaser, it became the most polarizing topic in our little corner of the internet since we were all trying to figure out what color that dress was.
For some quick context, the On Athletic Club announced six weeks ago that they’d be attempting to break the 4 x Mile World Record* at the Penn Relays this coming week. Quietly, and behind the scenes for months, the meet organizers have been lobbying for all the best professional and college teams to come together to take a crack at the 15:49.08 set by an Irish all-star team in 1985. They had some takers, but none as likely to give the OAC an honest race as the team apparently being assembled out in Eugene, for a separate event a week earlier.
The controversy was exacerbated by the irony of the poster. You can’t “call all challengers” a few days before a race after opting out of participating in a much more publicized and famous event. I am not certain when the Oregon Relays began, although I am confident it wasn’t before 1895. And while there may have been hundreds of fans lining the track, there weren’t thousands packing out a stadium.
With this news breaking, I was temporarily glad that every white guy decided to start a podcast during the pandemic, because we got to hear how the move was received by the OAC, directly from the OAC, and specifically Olli Hoare. What opened as an emotional rant turned relatively logical. Essentially, they want the rivalry but know this sport isn’t always as black and white as we want to paint it.
My favorite talking point has become that there are too many meets and opportunities for athletes — this is a good example. And while it isn’t necessarily fair to put the burden of popularizing the sport on a few athletes, it is equally as understandable for fans to be upset that the biggest names constantly find ways to not line up against one another. Part of being a professional athlete is dealing with some criticism and compared to having beer bottles thrown at you in the outfield of Yankee Stadium, having to read a few annoying tweets is relatively mild. I’d surmise it was not the athletes’ decision to actively avoid competing, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re now the target of vocal disapproval.
I like Hayward and the new stadium is one of the most comfortable and enjoyable places you could ever watch a meet. But there are other cool venues! And when there are certain meets that act as pillars of the sport then we need to embrace them. The tradition that is the Penn Relays transcends our bubble of diehard fans. Because of that, it should 100% be on the radar of all top athletes, to showcase the best possible presentation of track as entertainment. Would it be impossible for World Athletics to integrate the World Relays into the program? The 4 x 800, DMR and 4 x mile are currently homeless anyway.
I digress — admittedly at the start of the race, my feeling was that it’d be a shame for another team to swoop in and steal the thunder a week before the OAC’s longer-established turn. But then as I was watching things gradually changed. The leadoff leg, Matt Wisner, is an 800m specialist and was thought to be the weakest link (the announcer’s words, not mine!) or biggest question mark. He validated his role rather quickly, handing it off in under four minutes. And while the race against lights and the clock is not quite as exciting as one against another team trading blows, it’s always a treat to watch these guys run. Teare looked fantastic on his way to running 3:53, and for a moment it seemed like there was a possibility he’d climb out from under the deficit.
The 4 x mile sounds easy on paper. There have probably been dozens of teams of men who’ve crunched the numbers of their personal bests and assumed they’d smash 15:49.08. With its collective pedigrees, surely OAC is in the same boat. But the OAC is far from a shoo-in to break it on Friday, and appropriately their best competition will come in the form of an Irish team of modern times. (Unfortunately, the college section featuring Ole Miss and Texas will be run separately on Saturday.) One or two subpar laps — which is common when only racing a clock — is enough to falter the entire operation. If only there was another team who could help keep things honest!
While it is definitely irritating for fans’ voices to resonate loudest when questioning decisions professional athletes are making in regard to their own careers, it’s coming from a good place. If loving Cole Hocker outkicking a star-studded field is wrong, then I don’t want to be right! And do you know what’s #goodforthesport? That Cooper Teare can’t take a piss without us all talking about it.
Still, while it may be #badfortheirseasons, part of me is hoping for an off-the-top-rope, last-minute entry from the Men of Oregon, just for the craic.
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.