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March 19, 2017

Track needs celebrity fans

In terms of cultural currency, nothing’s worth more than a famous idiot doing something dumb. It’s what drives news cycles. It’s what lubes the wheels of commerce. It’s what our president is and does daily. And it’s partly why bigger sports like football and basketball are so intertwined with pop culture. Players of these sports ascend to the ranks of celebrities themselves, then become friends with other celebrities, perpetuating some big fame-fed masturbatory cycle that continues to push both high-profile sports and their fans into the limelight.

Take note that the celebs, whatever they may be at again, and the enhanced-popularity-through-proximity they bring, are sorely lacking from track. And in their absence, there’s no public figure there to lend credibility to the sport’s intrigue. No famous face to dupe the common man or woman into thinking plopping one’s happy ass down on the metal bleachers at a track meet is the height of what’s fashionable. And nobody beautiful for the cameras to pan to during frequent lulls in action.

But that’s just what track needs. Although ideally any remotely famous person who becomes a public advocate for track is smart, cool and nice to people.

So I’ve selected a handful of celebrities of various levels of fame, fortune, and ability, for us — hapless fans of track and field — to collectively persuade to start showing up at random track meets or road races. They range from famous-enough-to-only-need-one-name types who maybe ran a marathon once, all the way down to musicians from bands I personally like, who may have tenuous ties to the sport.

Please keep in mind, there are other celebrities who would work as fans of running. These are just a few options. If this first round of pleas is successful, we can always write some more open letters. Email us at [email protected].


oprah runners world coverThough more brand than human at this point, Oprah famously ran 4:29:15 at the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994, establishing an arbitrary time to beat for recreational runners the world over. This one’s definitely a stretch, but imagine if Oprah — who owns a gaudy home in Santa Barbara, California — started rolling up to Westmont College every morning, coffee in hand, and screamed herself hoarse encouraging the members of the Santa Barbara Track Club during their practices? The popularity of the multi-events would erupt overnight.

Pippa Middleton

There’s never been a better time to be a fan of UK distance running. Laura Muir is setting the world on fire at the moment. Mo Farah’s gonna do what he does for at least a couple more years. And a slew of up-and-coming milers have burst onto the scene over the past few outdoor seasons, most recently Josh Kerr, after upsetting Edward Cheserek in the NCAA indoor mile. It’s only natural a high-profile monarchical socialite who happens to be a fairly regular marathoner should start making some appearances at UK Athletics championships.

We did take a little step forward when Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton raced at the Olympic Park in London.

Dana Carvey

The track internet is an extremely bizarre world, insular and generally self-defeating. So it’s tricky to track down PRs for celebrities without entering a K-hole of purely speculative message board threads. But apparently Dana Carvey was at least a 4:27-miler in high school. With those sort of running chops, and a certain nerdy charisma, he was pretty much born to be an emcee of a distance carnival, perhaps out west in the Bay area where he grew up and where there are plenty of such events?

Luke Wilson

Before Luke Wilson became a frat household name thanks to his performance in Old School, the Dallas-native was a cracker jack 800 meter specialist at Saint Mark’s high school, where he ran a personal best of 1:54.99. Luke, if you’re reading this, hello. My friend Paras is hosting an elite mile in Austin, Texas, this May, and it’d be really nice if you could make it!


Per an MTV News article from 2003, Ashanti was a standout high school triple-jumper. In fact, the Nassau County-native was recruited to jump collegiately at Princeton, among other schools. Anyway, now that her career’s slowed down a little, maybe the R&B superstar wouldn’t mind returning to her old stomping (and jumping, ha!) grounds at the Armory for next year’s Millrose Games.

Ben Gibbard

The Death Cab for Cutie frontman has two major ties to the sport. He is a pretty active member of the ultra-marathoning community, and also, when I was a freshman in high school and just beginning to run, I’d log my every-other-daily two-mile runs while listening to a 512 MB MP3 player that only contained Death Cab’s “Soul Meets Body” and “Crooked Teeth.” He’s a natural fit.

Leslie Jones

Comedian and SNL star Leslie Jones was one of the more high-profile people on Twitter expressing their outrage over NBC’s slapdick handling of Paul Chelimo’s temporary disqualification during his silver medal run in this summer’s Rio 5,000m final. So she’s paid attention to track before. Plus, in a sport lacking big personalities, she provides plenty.

(Note: We’ve entered the personal bias portion of the article.)

Craig Finn

I know Craig probably isn’t a household name, nor is his band, The Hold Steady. But it’s well documented he runs regularly around Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he’s written a song called “Runner’s High,” I’m a big fan, and his live performances always kick ass. And being from Minneapolis, but now living in Brooklyn, he’s got plenty of chances to come pal around a race.

Ted Leo

Probably best known for his work with the Pharmacists, Ted Leo is a mainstay in the East Coast DIY scene. He also tweeted prolifically and knowledgeably during the track & field portion of the Rio Olympics – and I think may have mentioned running the 400 meter hurdles in high school in a pretty quick time. It seems like he lives in Rhode Island now, not too far from where the annual Blessing of the Fleet 10-miler takes place, attracting basically the entire state. And Narragansett’s just a short drive from Boston, where a ton of running events also take place.

(Aside: Just minutes after the video linked in the Craig Finn section above was taken, Ted Leo hopped on stage and helped out with a cover of “A Pair of Brown Eyes” by the Pogues, and it was glorious. I could probably write about 18,000 words on that show alone and I will as soon as Chavez lets me.)

If you see your name above (or even if you don’t, but, like, have a verified Twitter account or something… we’re not that particular), drop us a line via email ([email protected]), or reach out via Twitter (@citiusmag). We’ve got some additional suggestions for events to show up at, and perhaps even promote (compared to other sports, running-related events are way more likely to have a charitable bent), and who knows, you might have a decent time too. You don’t have to be a vocal presence like Spike Lee at a Knicks game. Just being physically there is more than half the battle, which for track, granted, is an uphill one. If nothing else, please let me interview you.

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