USATF Needs to Catch and Ride the Olympic Wave (UPDATED)

Red ShannonFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2012

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MARCH 10:  Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States celebrates as she wins gold competes in the Women's 400 Metres Final during day two of the 14th IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Atakoy Athletics Arena on March 10, 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

UPDATE: April 23, 2012 - The USATF (American track and field's governing body) today announced the unanimous selection of Max Siegel as its long-awaited CEO. You may read the official announcement right here.

Chicago Tribune columnist Philip Hersh also has an interesting take.

Considering the context and the spirit of the following article, this would seem to be a positive step at the top of our sport. And, the timing is uncanny (you'll see what I mean).

Stay tuned as we learn more about the personal vision of Mr.Siegel.

Championship surfers fascinate me.

With an instinct to sense opportunity and timing, they'll let nine super-waves pass under their boards to catch the one superior wave.

They know it's the wave as much as their skill that will render the best results and if they miss THE wave, they may never see another one like it. The great surfers know how to pick their wave and ride it out for all it's worth.

Metaphorically speaking, American track and field—which has been struggling to re-capture a prominent piece of the sporting pie during non-Olympic years—missed a ride on the last big wave (Beijing 2008) and has floundered through three years of flat water.

Typically—except for those two weeks of the Summer Games—one still has to turn to the back pages of the sports section to find any track and field coverage.

Yes, superstars like Usain Bolt and Yelena Isinbayeva have caused heads to turn, but their appearances have been sporadic at best.

And yes, the Diamond League series has done a good job of gathering the world's best athletes to widespread global venues. But it has failed to consistently get those elite head-to-head match-ups the public is clamoring for.

Meanwhile (coming from an outsider—not privy to actual decision-making talks), the appearance of American track policy seems to be business as usual, majoring in the minors and stomping out flash-fires.

Since 2008, our governing body (USATF) has hired and fired a CEO, fought in several skirmishes on multiple fronts, swatted away countless rumors and innuendos and basically ruled by committee since 2010.

One can almost sympathize with the USATF's difficulty in properly promoting the sport considering it's unintentional preoccupation with secondary distractions.

With such feuding within the highest levels of American track and field, is it any wonder the sport cannot sustain it's general popularity beyond the Olympics?

But there is hope.

As a long-time track fan, I can honestly say it has been a while since I've felt or seen such excitement—this early—in the buildup to the Olympics.

There is now dialogue (and action) among coaches and NCAA conferences centered around renewing old rivalries and restoring the regional scored-meet model.

Nothing captures the spirit of Track and Field like a good old college dual meet.
Nothing captures the spirit of Track and Field like a good old college dual meet.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Track writers are stepping beyond criticism and are actually offering valid solutions.

And now, from one of the USATF's own CEO candidates, Tracy Sundlun, comes a comprehensive list of suggestions (I strongly urge you to look over this PDF file. A few really good ideas here).

In short, a rising tide is building within the track and field community along with the natural momentum of an Olympic year.

Die-hard American track fans are sensing this rising surf as London 2012 approaches. In fact, some can see the wind-blown mist feathering on the wave-tops as the "big one" roars on the horizon.

Perhaps it's time for some innovative, outside-the-box strategies.

The timing is right. The window of opportunity is open.

Will our highest decision-makers have at least as much discernment and grab hold of this one?

Surf's up,, Mr. Siegel. Make it happen!


Subscribe to our free digital Olympics newsletter