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American Track Athlete Lashinda Demus: “we know that we’re competing in a dying sport”

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Lashinda Demus on the record: “we know that we’re competing in a dying sport”

May 13, 2012 by Rich Perelman

Filed under: Olympic Games, Track & Field

LOS ANGELES, May 14, 2012 – There were plenty of headlines coming out of the U.S. Olympic Media Summit, held in Dallas over the weekend, but none more striking than Lashinda Demus, the reigning World Champion in the 400-meter hurdles, telling reporters that track & field is “a dying sport.”

Her comments came in the USA Track & Field segment of the two days of presentations of Olympic hopefuls and U.S. Olympic Committee officials to U.S. media. The hour-long program on track was split into two parts, the first a panel discussion lasting 34 minutes and featuring medal hopefuls Jillian Camarena-Williams (shot put), Demus, Allyson Felix (sprints), Hyleas Fountain (heptathlon), Trey Hardee (decathlon), Brittney Reese (long jump), Sanya Richards-Ross (sprints) and Wallace Spearmon (sprints). That session was taped and posted by

and was hosted by USATF Chief Communications Officer Jill Geer.

About two-thirds of the way through, Amy Shipley of the Washington Post asked the panelists about the state of the sport in the U.S., noting that it was the swimming finals which were moved for U.S. television in Bejing, and continuing:

There’s a feeling that there was this great era in track & field and maybe we’re not quite there. I was wondering if you all feel some sort of responsibility to bring back the name to U.S. track & field or is that a burden that nobody can take on, or am I exaggerating, or is that not even an issue?

The panelists looked at each and then Demus gave the sole answer:

I think we always want to bring attention to our sport, and , of course, if we can’t have that prime time slot, we want to take it. I think that every time we step on the track and perform, we know that we’re competing in a dying sport. We’re always trying to re-birth the sport. So, is it a burden . . . yes and no, because we can only do what we have been doing, which is our best. I think we are always for bringing our sport back to what it used to be. We’re the original sport.

Equally noteworthy was the follow-up comment by Geer, herself a former runner who competed at Arkansas in the early 1990s:

There’s something that also plays into that. First of all, with Jackie [Joyner-Kersee, referenced earlier in the panel discussion], you just have the talent, but also, a lot of times when these athletes are asked who their role models are, often times you name athletes who competed on U.S. soil.

So there’s definitely that element of, whether it was Jackie, or Michael Johnson, competing in the Olympics on U.S. soil seems to be what really puts the sport onto the next level, especially with the public at large. So, U.S.O.C., bring it back here.

The discussions continued, with individual athletes at different tables and Demus elaborated on her comments, as reported by Jim Caple of ESPN.com:

People are making $15,000 a year and calling themselves a professional athlete. To me that’s not a good job.

We don’t have anyone pulling in [viewers] on TV. Our races aren’t on TV like in other professional sports. It’s just less and less. They’re trying to do better than that – you can see that with the Diamond League meets – where you can see on who-knows-what-channel. We’re in the back somewhere.

Asked why, Demus added:

They say the drug thing hurts it and I think that does affect it, but you see people caught doing drugs in baseball and that doesn’t really hurt them that much.

I honestly think our track meets aren’t shown, and one of the reasons they don’t show them is because they’re so long. If we can keep the meets down to a certain number of events to keep the viewership to stayed tuned for 35-40 minutes, it might be better.

. . .

That’s why we need a great marketing team. I don’t have the answers, but more media time would help, more sponsors would all help.

Caple’s report is the only one found with comments from Demus during the round-table discussions. If anyone has a tape or a transcript, don’t hesitate to forward it and we’ll run it in full.

http://www.perelman-pioneer.com/?p=472

If she's talking about the state of the sport in the United States, I agree with her. One of the recent problems the sport has had in the United States is the ability to keep male athletes in track and field. If there is an athlete who can be a phenomenal track athlete, yet he's also a good athlete in another sport (American football, baseball, basketball) he'll probably choose that other sport (especially if that sport is American football).

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For all those who question the importance of the US hosting Summer Games in the near future, the above story is a compelling argument.

To all those who say that sport in the US will be unaffected whether we host or not, I believe you are mistaken and I sincerely hope it wont take several decades of decline to convince you.

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The US should propose the first Summer Olympics without Track & Field--maybe the US will win. No need to build a useless T&F stadium. :lol:

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Yeah, that will go over real well. One of the most iconic sports connected to the Olympics being snubbed by a bid.

Bids don't precipitate what sports to host or not host. Bids simply make plans for whatever sports the IOC wants featured in their Games.

I agree with Athens on this. There are compelling reasons why the Games should come back to the U.S., and this is one of them.

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Track and field is not dying overseas, only in the United States. It's the only sport in America without a homegrown superstar. The closet one is Allyson Felix as she has the attractiveness, and talent to be marketed as the face of the sport in the United States. The problems though are that she has no individual gold medals and uncertainty about whether or not she will be in Rio in four years (she'll be 31 when Rio starts).

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No track & field = No Olympics

No one is seriously suggesting no track and field. That's just we-all-know-who being flip as usual. No matter what happens to the sport in the US M, OF COURSE any American Oltmpics will feature the entire program of Olympuc sports. We're terrible at table tennis, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be part of the Games.

Any suggestion to the contrary is 100% intentional silliness.

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Any USA bid will have track and field, it's just that after the Olympics the stadium holding Track and field will be used for something else. If Miami was to make a bid, the stadium where track and field would be used would either turn into a stadium to lure an MLS franchise back to Southern Florida, a new stadium for the University of Miami football team or a new stadium for the Miami Dolphins.

The problem is lack of interest in the sport domestically. Eugene, Oregon is considered "Track City USA" and is the home of the Prefontaine Classic. It's good enough to host the US Championships, Olympic Trials and a Diamond League event, but it's way too small for the US to ever host a World Championships. Same for Iowa and Drake. Again, there is no homegrown star to build around. It should be Allyson Felix and it might be, but who knows what will happen to her in London or what her future is going to be in the sport after London. She'll be 31 in Rio and she's not really going to be that old in Rio, but who knows, maybe by that time she'll want a family.

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Part of why there's no homegrown star is that the potential track standouts are choosing other sports instead. Why? Those other sports are more lucrative and the Olympics are not as highly revered as they once were. The likes of Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis became stars in Olympics hosted on American soil. If the US hosts the Games again the state of American track and field will improve. If American Games are put off for decades there will be a decline in interest not only among potential American athletes, but among American audiences as well.

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Let's be fair about something.. track & field was the big sport at the Olympics for the United States for the 5 decades between LA 1932 and LA 1984, so let's not entirely blame a whole 16 years since the United States last hosted for the downfall of the sport. IMO, here's the problem..

In the 1980s and 1990s, look at all the familiar athletes we had: Carl Lewis, Flo-Jo, JJK, Michael Johnson, et al. All of them competed in multiple events at multiple Olympics and yes it helped they competed in the US, although not all of them had their biggest moments here. Then what happened in the 2000s? Marion Jones was exposed as a cheat. Ditto for Tim Montgomery and others. So the entire United States team looks dirty and who wants to be associated with that.

Would hosting an Olympics in the United States help heal those wounds? Absolutely it would. It would certainly give American athletes something to shoot for. But I don't think USATF can wait for the IOC to feel sorry for them after years of scandal. And again, as we've noted.. it's not so easy for major American cities to have a top-level track venue at their disposal, certainly not in the past couple of decades where multipurpose stadiums are starting to become a relic of the past. I don't know if there's a solution hoping for the IOC to award an Olympics here. Yes, not having the Games will hurt the cause of track & field in this country, but that's not the IOC's problem to solve. USATF needs to work with what they have since it'll be no less than 12 years until the next Olympics held in North America, let alone the United States.

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Part of why there's no homegrown star is that the potential track standouts are choosing other sports instead. Why? Those other sports are more lucrative and the Olympics are not as highly revered as they once were. The likes of Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis became stars in Olympics hosted on American soil. If the US hosts the Games again the state of American track and field will improve. If American Games are put off for decades there will be a decline in interest not only among potential American athletes, but among American audiences as well.

Of course, but only for male athletes. USATF loses a lot of potential male athletes to other sports, most notably American football. If you have someone who's an All American in both track and football and is projected to be a star in either sport, he will choose to play in the NFL as its more lucrative and if you do become a star in the NFL, you instantly become a household name all over the country. Female athletes though don't have that advantage, which is why I think the homegrown star should be female (Allyson Felix). Some of the female American sprinters have basketball backgrounds, but they give it up when they pick track, unlike the males.

Look at the NCAA championships. The women's events feature one sport athletes, and that's track and field. The men's track events usually have football players: Wide receivers, running backs, defensive backs and even sometimes offensive and defensive linemen (shot put and discuss).

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Quaker perfectly said. If Usain Bolt was LaShawn Dewitt from Alabama track in the US would be huge.

A perfect comparison is swimming, the United States has the majority of the high profile swimmers, swimming has never been more popular. Track has not had a major US star since the late 90's.

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I think the lack of leadership by USATF has been a significant problem in promoting the sport over the past decade. There have been several changes in leadership, including in 2008 when CEO Craig Masback resigned several months before the Olympics, leaving USATF with no CEO in Beijing. They finally have a new CEO who comes from NASCAR and might have some new ideas about how to promote the sport in the U.S.

Another big problem is that almost all of the major track events in the U.S. are held in Eugene. The 2008 and 2012 Trials and 2009 and 2011 Nationals (which served as the World Trials) were all held in Eugene. I understand why the USATF likes Eugene--they always get a big, supportive crowd there for every event--but Eugene is a very difficult place for people to travel, and holding every event there does not spread the sport to a wider audience. The only other cities to hold major national events in the last decade have been Sacramento, Des Moines, and Indianapolis. The USATF really needs to bring events to other locations in order to grow the sport across the country.

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Anyone think that Allyson Felix can be that homegrown star that USATF hasn't had since Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis? I think it'll depend on how she does in London and whether or not she'll be back in Rio 2016 (where she will be 31). London 2012 will determine her legacy. If you google her name, you'll see some photos of her outside the track. She has a marketable look.

USATF does hold a Diamond League track event at Randall's Island in New York City as well as the Penn Relays in Philly.

One of the issues is how the sport is broadcast. Look at swimming. Most of the time, the swimming events are commentated by Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines with Andrea Kremer doing some poolside stuff (sometimes it'll be someone else, alongside Gaines if Hicks is doing golf). In track, it's Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Dwight Stones and Lewis Johnson for the major events, but there's also a rotation of announcers. Sometimes it'll be Paul Sunderland (who also does swimming) with Stones and Boldon or even Darryl Reaves (not to be confused with the New York Jets CB Darrell Revis). For indoor track, Dan O'Brien is a part of the announce team (on another network) as well as a British guy (I forgot his name) alongside Boldon and Stones/Johnson. Also throw in the 2008 Olympic trials and you will hear the voice of Carol Lewis, Carl's sister and former US Long jumper (not sure if she's doing it this year).

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Let's be fair about something.. track & field was the big sport at the Olympics for the United States for the 5 decades between LA 1932 and LA 1984, so let's not entirely blame a whole 16 years since the United States last hosted for the downfall of the sport. IMO, here's the problem..

In the 1980s and 1990s, look at all the familiar athletes we had: Carl Lewis, Flo-Jo, JJK, Michael Johnson, et al. All of them competed in multiple events at multiple Olympics and yes it helped they competed in the US, although not all of them had their biggest moments here. Then what happened in the 2000s? Marion Jones was exposed as a cheat. Ditto for Tim Montgomery and others. So the entire United States team looks dirty and who wants to be associated with that.

Would hosting an Olympics in the United States help heal those wounds? Absolutely it would. It would certainly give American athletes something to shoot for. But I don't think USATF can wait for the IOC to feel sorry for them after years of scandal. And again, as we've noted.. it's not so easy for major American cities to have a top-level track venue at their disposal, certainly not in the past couple of decades where multipurpose stadiums are starting to become a relic of the past. I don't know if there's a solution hoping for the IOC to award an Olympics here. Yes, not having the Games will hurt the cause of track & field in this country, but that's not the IOC's problem to solve. USATF needs to work with what they have since it'll be no less than 12 years until the next Olympics held in North America, let alone the United States.

You're right. It's not the IOC's problem at all. It is something the USOC needs to work on aggressively in tandem with potential host cities.

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Track and field is not dying overseas, only in the United States. It's the only sport in America without a homegrown superstar. The closet one is Allyson Felix as she has the attractiveness, and talent to be marketed as the face of the sport in the United States. The problems though are that she has no individual gold medals and uncertainty about whether or not she will be in Rio in four years (she'll be 31 when Rio starts).

Felix is a three time world champion over 200m. Whilst not an Olympic champion yet, this may well change in London this year.I think U.S track and field is making more effort to market her now.

Athletics is one of the world's great sports -- the mother sport if you like. But in an American context, it doesn't generate the big bucks like other traditional American sports. With baseball for example, people grow up rooting for their fave players, going to matches, buying memorabilia etc. The sport becomes part of everyday culture. But with athletics, that simply cannot happen. And in American society, the most savvy consumer driven society in the world, athletics doesn't quite gel with the people in the way other sports do.

I think the U.S is actually fielding better athletics teams now than it did in the past -- by that I mean it has more depth in events outwith the sprints.

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Felix is a three time world champion over 200m. Whilst not an Olympic champion yet, this may well change in London this year.I think U.S track and field is making more effort to market her now.

Athletics is one of the world's great sports -- the mother sport if you like. But in an American context, it doesn't generate the big bucks like other traditional American sports. With baseball for example, people grow up rooting for their fave players, going to matches, buying memorabilia etc. The sport becomes part of everyday culture. But with athletics, that simply cannot happen. And in American society, the most savvy consumer driven society in the world, athletics doesn't quite gel with the people in the way other sports do.

I think the U.S is actually fielding better athletics teams now than it did in the past -- by that I mean it has more depth in events outwith the sprints.

I hope so. She has marketability. I don't know what her future is for Rio though.

the US Is also the most superstar driven society in the world. Look at Olympic basketball.....all of the best basketball players in the world play in the United States. Look at the reactions that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James got in Beijing before Michael Phelps had his record setting Olympics.

Track and field in the US doesn't have that yet, although I do hope it'll be Allyson Felix. The most well known track athlete in the World is Usain Bolt, but he only appears in American meets every few years so it's not like Tennis stars Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal who compete at the US Open every year (barring injury), or like David Beckham who plays soccer for Los Angeles or even hockey players Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. They are foreigners, but the general American sports audience knows who those guys are. Bolt is in the same category as Cristiano Ronaldo, a foreign athlete that Americans rarely see live, but when he does appear live in the States, people go wow. However, soccer in the United States is in better shape than track and field in the United States.

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NBC Olympics puts up black and white photos of some the athletes who could represent the USA in London:

http://www.nbcolympics.com/photos/track-and-field/usa-track-field-shades-of-gray.html

Couple thoughts:

- Carmelita Jeter is barely recognizable in her photo as is reigning Olympic Champion Dawn Harper (probably the surprise gold medalist of the USA Team from Beijing).

- It's the last chance for many of them to compete for a spot on the London team as there will likely be a new crop of athletes that will represent the USA in Rio. London will be the final hurrah for Dwight Phillips, Doc Patton, Reese Hoffa and Bernard Lagat and probably Carmelita Jeter (who surprisingly has never made an Olympics team).

- Lashinda Demus, Ashton Eaton and Christian Taylor all could be the next great American track athletes, especially if they are able to repeat their World Championship performances.

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I think the U.S is actually fielding better athletics teams now than it did in the past -- by that I mean it has more depth in events outwith the sprints.

I agree that USA track is in a much better position than 10 years ago. The low point in terms of performance was at the 2001 Worlds, where the U.S. won only 13 medals. They won twice as many medals at last year's Worlds.

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Allyson Felix (the potential face of USA Track and Field) believes that if the United States hosts a Summer Olympics again (or World Championships, it could renew interest in track:

http://www.insidethegames.biz/sports/summer/athletics/16928-bringing-big-events-to-us-will-reverse-deline-in-athletics-popularity-says-sprint-star

I agree with her, that it would increase the interest in the sport again, but there is a major problem:

The problem with any USA Olympics bid though is that the Olympic stadium will be used for something else besides track after the games. With the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the track events were held at the LA Coliseum, then home of the Los Angeles (now Oakland Raiders) so the people running the Coliseum had to convert it back to an NFL stadium immediately after the games (of course the Raiders ended up moving a decade later). With Atlanta in 1996, the local Olympic committee knew full well what was going to happen to the Olympic Stadium after the games: a brand new baseball stadium for the Braves.

If a city like San Diego were to make a bid (unlikely, but you never know) and becomes an unlikely host, the plan for a San Diego Olympics Stadium is simple: a brand new NFL stadium for the Chargers. In Miami, the Olympic stadium would be used to lure an MLS team or as a new venue for either the Dolphins or Hurricanes.

If Los Angeles were to bid again and win it again, odds are that the Los Angeles Olympic Stadium would be converted to lure an NFL team back into town. New York would use their Olympic stadium to bring a second MLS team into town.

Other sports take priority over track. If an American host city wins an Olympic bid, it's likely that the stadium will be used for another sport besides track after the games end.

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Athletics (track and field) is probably the simplest sport on the planet (whoever is the fastest, jumps the highest or farthest, or racks up the most points wins), and perhaps the most diverse. The Americans and the Caribbean athletes do well in the sprints, the East Africans do well in the distance events, and the Eastern Europeans do well in the field and race walking events. It seems more accessible than more lucrative sports. I know that a lot of people have been put off of it because of its doping history, but even taking that into consideration, it's a shame that more people aren't getting into the sport.

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Athletics (track and field) is probably the simplest sport on the planet (whoever is the fastest, jumps the highest or farthest, or racks up the most points wins), and perhaps the most diverse. The Americans and the Caribbean athletes do well in the sprints, the East Africans do well in the distance events, and the Eastern Europeans do well in the field and race walking events. It seems more accessible than more lucrative sports. I know that a lot of people have been put off of it because of its doping history, but even taking that into consideration, it's a shame that more people aren't getting into the sport.

It's massively popular in the Caribbean Islands, especially Jamaica. Track and field is to Jamaica what Football is to Brazil. The disinterest comes from the United States, and a lot of that has to do with the doping scandal. The US has the best talent in the world, despite coming away with only 5 individual gold medals in Beijing. And we may see an American surprise gold medalist, like we saw in 2008 with Dawn Harper (who has a chance to repeat, although with the emergence of Aussie Sally Pearson, that may be hard to do. Also she's already done something that Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards want....individual Olympic gold).

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T&F is boring. Everything just happens in seconds; and those long races--who wants to watch those sweaty guys race around the track 20 times? I mean any race rabbit can do that. T&F is just forced onto TV audiences. If network executives had their pick in selecting the most telegenic sports, T&F would be down there with, I dunno, cricket.

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T&F is boring. Everything just happens in seconds; and those long races--who wants to watch those sweaty guys race around the track 20 times? I mean any race rabbit can do that. T&F is just forced onto TV audiences. If network executives had their pick in selecting the most telegenic sports, T&F would be down there with, I dunno, cricket.

Spoken like a person whose sole interest is the ceremonies.

Lolo Jones going down at the last hurdle. Flo Jo blazing through Seoul. Blanca Vlasic revving up the crowd for her winning jump. Usain Bolt breezing to victory. Joanna Hayes' upset win in Athens. The drama of false start eliminations. The catastrophe of the US dropping the baton in their relays. Jenny Simpson's shocking home stretch victory in Daegu. Hicham El Guerrouj finally getting two golds, surrendering the lead and then regaining it. Derek Redmond and his father.

If you think T&F is boring then you haven't taken the time to get to know the sport.

I forgot Feofanova vs. Isinvayeva in the pole vault.... There's plenty more.....

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