Every four years. That’s what track and field coverage in the United States has turned into… every four years. 2016 is an Olympic year, with all the pageantry and glory associated with the modern Olympic movement. Since 1896, the nations of the world come together (more years than not, MOST of us come together) in sporting experience and fellowship.
The Games of the XXXI Summer Olympiad will showcase everything from fencing to swimming, archery to tennis, gymnastics to (wait for it…) track and field. The U.S. calls it track and field but most other countries call it athletics. It’s as if to over-sell the point that runners, throwers and jumpers really are athletic, I suppose.
Track and field is somewhere between professional bowling and cricket when it comes to interest in the U.S. I’m not knocking bowlers or cricket players, but let’s face it, unless you’re actually a participant or a parent, interest by the general population is rather lacking. Of course, except for that every four year thing, when athletics seems to shine. Among the “amateur” sports, track and field is the main draw for the Olympics, along with swimming and gymnastics.
I recently flipped on the TV (a rarity for me) on a Friday evening (even rarer) to watch a track meet that pitted teams from four U.S. cities in a friendly competitive meet. It seems this meet was developed in an attempt to capitalize on the four-year movement and uptick in interest in athletics and also provide some additional competition for some of our Rio-bound runners, throwers and jumpers (and those who didn’t make their country’s team). Thanks to social media, I discovered it was on, clicked on the channel, and watched some pretty nice competition. I hope it becomes a regular thing.
Over the past couple of months, I was able to participate in a series of track meets held annually in Maryland. The five-event series started in early June and finished the end of July. I participated in four of those five meets, and had a ball. The entry fee was cheap ($2 per event), the competition was good (one young man will be participating in this summer’s Paralympics in Rio – he’s legally blind and ran sub-52 seconds for 400 meters) and the weather was summer-like (88 degrees at the start of the meet most evenings). I was able to draw some inspiration from the likes of Allyson, Meb, Brenda and Bernard, all recent U.S. Olympic track trials competitors.
As runners, we all understand that our sport isn’t an every-four-year thing. If it were, we’d all be in terrible shape when it came time to train and race. In fact, none of the sports involved in the Summer Games (or Winter Games) are just every four years. Those who strive to make the team or make the standard work hard almost every day in between, too. Try picking up a bow, loading an arrow, and hitting the bulls-eye after a 48-month layoff.
There are road races, track meets, cross country races, trail runs, relays, marathons, Spartan events and more almost every single day of the year somewhere on the East Coast. That gives some of us mortal athletes the chance to strive and compete in our own little Olympiads on a pretty regular basis. And I’m pretty sure Bernard and Allyson don’t hang out for three-plus years, waiting for the next Summer Games training cycle.
Athletics start on Friday, Aug. 12 for the Rio Games, with the first event being men’s qualifying in the discus. The last event, as has been the tradition, is the men’s marathon, to be held Sunday morning, Aug. 21. In between, the best “athletics” performers in the world will contest the pole vault, hurdles, long jump, dashes, and relays (drop the baton and you owe me 20 push-ups). Two weeks after the conclusion of these Games, the Paralympic athletes will take to the same venues to compete.
I hope you enjoy the competition and the fellowship that is the Olympic movement, watching whatever sport it is that floats your boat (yes, there’s even rowing competition). May it lift you to get out the door and enjoy a few miles, a few power lifts or a few spikes in the sand. Just try to do it more than once every four years.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.