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  • How I Jumped onto the Bandwagon

    I know that most of the people who post here on the T&FN board became fans after having been participants. In this respect at least, I’m very much an oddball here, although not completely unique. So now that the Beijing Olympics have drawn to a close, I’m inspired to relate the story of how I became a fan.

    Four years ago I was, like most Americans, a casual fan of T&F… for one week out of every four years. The other 207 weeks, had you asked me, I probably would’ve been able to logically surmise that the sport still existed, but otherwise couldn’t have told you anything about it. But on the Wednesday evening of the second week of the Athens Olympics, I experienced what would later turn out to be a (sort of) life-changing event.

    I’d sat down that evening and turned on the TV with the deliberate intent of watching the Olympic coverage, but without any particularly concrete notion of what sports they’d be showing. Shortly after switching it on, Bob Costas said something about “going to Dwight Stones for coverage of the Women’s Pole Vault”. Right now the NBCOlympics.com site has a video clip of their coverage of the women’s pole vault competition from Athens four years ago. I haven’t quite worked out how to get a direct link to it, but if you go here, in the “Related Video” section there’s a hot link labeled “Athens: Women’s Pole Vault”. This little two and a half minute segment was the first link in the chain of events leading to my conversion.

    I had a vague recollection that the event had been won by an American woman in Sydney, but evidently the gold was being contested by two Russian women that evening – a blonde and a brunette. I’ve always been something of a Russophile, so this didn’t particularly bother me, and of the two, the brunette was a bit easier on the eyes, so I absently decided that I was cheering for her. They only actually showed four jumps – two by each of them – and I hadn’t consciously registered it the first time, but something that caught my attention was a little shriek as the brunette passed over the bar. When I figured out, upon viewing her second jump, that this shout was actually coming from her, I literally laughed out loud. Not because I thought she was silly for doing it, but because I so strongly identified with what (I believe) she was feeling. For a little over a decade – before I got married, had kids, and took out a mortgage – I had been an avid skydiver, and I felt a strong sense of recognition for those moments when, without seeing, but just from the feel and rhythm, you know with certainty that you’ve done something exactly right. So I found this gal’s mid-air whoop of delight both familiar and endearing.

    The coverage of the event was over pretty quickly of course, and five minutes later, had you asked me the name of this gal, I’m sure I couldn’t have told you. But I know that she was still a little bit on my mind later, because my 13-year-old daughter (at the time) soon asked me to help her with her chores out in the horse barn, and I recall telling her about this “squeaky” Russian pole vaulter while shoveling out one of the stalls.

    Under different circumstances, that would’ve been the end of it, but the following day at work I needed to pull down a full refresh of my company’s source code base to my computer, which I typically only need to do every couple of months or so, and which keeps me from accomplishing any real significant work for about an hour. So, with a little time on my hands, I decided to take a peek at the NBC website to see if anything interesting would be shown during the Olympic coverage that evening. Right in the middle of the page was a photo of this Russian gal, and the story about her world record. It included considerably more detail about drama of the competition than had been conveyed on-air the night before. It also included a description of her enthusiastic celebrations afterward, and a number of quotes from her subsequent press conference. All of this led me to being further charmed by this Yelena Isinbayeva, but I still suspect that had you asked me to recall her name the next day, I would’ve had a pretty hard time doing so.

    The third link in the chain of events occurred nine days later. My whole extended family was meeting the first weekend in September at my step-brother’s house in Chicago to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. I’d gotten there Friday evening, but a number of others weren’t arriving until mid-day on Saturday, so that morning, while some folks were off picking people up at the airport, and others were out shopping for the afternoon’s meal, I had a lot of down time, and wound up reading the sports section of the Chicago Tribune from cover to cover (something I’ve never done before or since). ’Round about page twelve, under the heading “Other Sports” was a little four paragraph story about some track meet the night before in Brussels called the Memorial Van Damme, and how two world records had been broken there – one in the men’s steeplechase, and the other in the women’s pole vault. Sure enough, it was the same gal. I might not have been able to recall her name cold, but I recognized it when I saw it. Furthermore, of the four paragraphs in the story, two were about her celebratory antics afterward; about dancing around the stadium in the back of a convertible Volkswagen, and joining singer Helmut Lotti on stage for an enthusiastic rendition of the Russian national anthem. It quoted Swedish triple jumper Christian Olsson saying of her: “The woman is an insanity.”

    Well, having now entered my consciousness for a third time, a sufficient impression had been made for me to deliberately try to find out more about this woman. The following week I googled her name, which I was now able to recall, found quite a lot of material, and discovered that she’d be competing again the following Saturday at something called the World Athletics Final in Monte Carlo. There was a website belonging to some outfit called the IAAF that would be providing live scoring of the event, and there was also a website belonging to what appeared to be Europe’s answer to ESPN, that was going to have live blogging from the event as well. On Saturday morning I made a point of being online and following the competition, and even though Yelena Isinbayeva failed to break the world record that time, she did seem to give it a good try after having won the competition handily.

    The precise sequence of events over the following months is lost to me now, but it seems that being a fan of just a single event in track & field would be pretty difficult. So even though it was one gal in one event that drew me in, four years later I think that I’ve become moderately savvy about most of the events, and at least the major names at the elite level. I have my own favorites in many of the events, both men’s and women’s, and I’m sure there are more than a hundred competitors who I can recognize by sight.

    I’ve sometimes referred to myself as the “Joe Sixpack” of T&F fans, but I suppose I’m a bit of an oddball among the nation’s Joe Sixpacks as well. So there may not be any clues in my story about how track and field might be promoted to attract a wider audience, but if there are, I think it’s that the personalities – and the humanity – of the stars can be very compelling advertisements for the sport.

  • #2
    good story, Bruce, but . . . *gasp* . . . at the very limit of my attention span!

    Comment


    • #3
      Enjoyed the post, Bruce. I'm an odd duck here on this website, too, because most of the people here are experts and I'm not. But I love the sport. I know I speak for all the board members here when I say we're glad to have you in the fold.

      Comment


      • #4
        Thank you, Bruce, that is an Interesting account of the evolution of a T&F fan.
        I don't know how it would be possible to poll the posters here but it would be interesting, to me at least, to know how others were/are motivated to loiter here. How many are current or ex-athletes, coaches, officials parents of athletes, track nuts or casual observersmm etc.. .?

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: How I Jumped onto the Bandwagon

          Originally posted by BruceFlorman
          I’ve sometimes referred to myself as the “Joe Sixpack” of T&F fans, but I suppose I’m a bit of an oddball among the nation’s Joe Sixpacks as well. So there may not be any clues in my story about how track and field might be promoted to attract a wider audience, but if there are, I think it’s that the personalities – and the humanity – of the stars can be very compelling advertisements for the sport.
          Translation....keep human interest stories on TV.

          I also think that showcasing Brian Clay's two little kids will do wonders for the sport!

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: How I Jumped onto the Bandwagon

            Originally posted by BruceFlorman
            but something that caught my attention was a little shriek as the brunette passed over the bar
            & that's the reason i hope jenn kicks her butt in the future

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by BillVol
              Enjoyed the post, Bruce. I'm an odd duck here on this website, too, because most of the people here are experts and I'm not. But I love the sport. I know I speak for all the board members here when I say we're glad to have you in the fold.
              We all think we are experts. :lol: :lol:


              I can't say I got excited about Isi's win...DH loved her technique and that is what we focused on.

              Her antics are getting a just a tad tiresome.

              (never thought i would say that). ops:

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by mojo
                Originally posted by BillVol
                Enjoyed the post, Bruce. I'm an odd duck here on this website, too, because most of the people here are experts and I'm not. But I love the sport. I know I speak for all the board members here when I say we're glad to have you in the fold.
                We all think we are experts. :lol: :lol:


                I can't say I got excited about Isi's win...DH loved her technique and that is what we focused on.

                Her antics are getting a just a tad tiresome.

                (never thought i would say that). ops:
                Issy yes or Issy no, it could have even been about how impressed he was with 32second run by the Samolian girl in 200m. It was still a good article. Nice sunday morning testimonial.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Cool story!

                  I'm a non-athlete, but long time fan. I fell in love with Track as a 10 year old watching the awesome and (to me) underrated Evelyn Ashford, along with Moses and King Carl burn up the track in 1984.
                  You there, on the motorbike! Sell me one of your melons!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by scottmitchell74
                    Cool story!

                    I'm a non-athlete, but long time fan. I fell in love with Track as a 10 year old watching the awesome and (to me) underrated Evelyn Ashford, along with Moses and King Carl burn up the track in 1984.
                    Were you at the Coliseum, or watching on TV? Evelyn Ashford had one of those careers where things happened for her (or didn't) at the wrong times. She was 5th in 1976 in the 100, won the Word Cup in '77 in the 100, IIRC. In 1979, IIRC, she beat the East Germans (Gohr in 100 and Koch in 200) in the World Cup, but was boycotted out of the 1980 Games in Moscow. In 1983, she was injured and DNF the 100 final. She won the Olympic gold in '84, but the East Germans weren't there, so it was somewhat hollow. I don't know what happened in '87 (don't have my old T&FN), but she did not place, so probably didn't go for some reason. Then, in 1988, along came FloJo, and it was too late (sort of like Asafa and Bolt). She ran 2nd in 10.83w, but was a block behind. She did get a gold on the relay. She "hung around" until '91, finishing 5th. Back in '79, I thought she was better in the 200 than the 100, but she didn't run it much after that.
                    Cheers,
                    Alan Shank

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