MJ Article about Survival of Athletics

Not a big fan of MJ’s commentaries, but I think this is a good article. :slight_smile:

Athletics: Drastic times call for drastic measures
By Michael Johnson (Filed: 30/09/2003)

The 2002 athletics season ended with Tim Montgomery breaking the 100 metres world record to become the fastest man in the world and being kissed by the fastest woman in the world, Marion Jones, at the Grand Prix final in Paris. At that point it was revealed that the two were a couple. Good stuff for athletics!

Unfortunately things went downhill fast from there. Those two went and hired one disgraced coach, Charlie Francis, and then Denise Lewis recruited another, Dr Ekkart Arbeit.

All of that happened before the 2003 season even started, and by the time it ended it had to have been one of the worst - if not the worst - seasons for the sport.

The times were terrible, quality was lacking, and then there were the World Championships in Paris. The championships actually provided great competition across several events, even though the times were not great, and the event was well organised and supported by the French. But all of the drug news and the false start controversy and, more importantly, the way these things were handled by the International Association of Athletics Federations, played into the hands of people who don’t care what happens in the sport.

The way these events were explained and handled made the sport look disorganised and out of control. I hear people in athletics say it’s a shame that television networks do not show more events, that the sport isn’t bigger in the United States and that track and field athletes are some of the best athletes in the world but get no recognition.

What is a shame is that this is not a new problem and these aren’t new complaints but the organisation and the people responsible for doing something about it don’t.

My suggestion for athletics is to start by admitting there is a problem, it’s not anyone else’s fault and that we need to fix it quickly. The sport has to admit that there are half the number of sponsors it used to have and that several competitions have disappeared due to lack of backers and financial woes. Then figure out how to get those sponsors back. Figure out how to make the sport more appealing and easier to televise.

This is done by looking at other sports, how they have survived, and what makes them so popular, and by finding out what people find appealing about athletics and what they don’t.

Focus on, and get back to, the simplicity of the sport and what originally made it appealing, that is the competition between the athletes, and stop contributing to the obsession with breaking records.

Track and field is four disciplines in one: sprinting, distance running, jump events and weight events, and they’re all very different. Some have absolutely nothing in common with the others, yet they all come under the same governing body, take place at the same venue at the same time, and attempt to appeal to the same audience.

That dynamic makes it very hard to televise and very hard to grow a fan base.

The sport is at a point where it has to reinvent itself to move forward and possibly to survive. This may mean that some events won’t continue to be a part of the professional athletics circuit even though they are part of the sport. The decathlon is a good example because it is not a part of the professional circuit because it takes too long to complete.

To most of the people who make the decisions in this sport, eliminating some events would probably seem an impossible suggestion. I would say to them, drastic times call for drastic measures.

The other complaint I heard a lot this year was that we don’t have any stars or personalities in the sport any more, and that’s the problem.

Right, blame the athletes! There are plenty of personalities but we don’t have stars because this sport doesn’t make stars.

When great track athletes do great things at the Olympics they become stars because that’s when people around the world actually pay attention to athletics.

It is because of the Olympics that the sport hasn’t gone completely off the map, but I believe that the fact that athletics is the centre-piece of the Olympics has caused the complacency that is to blame for most of the problems.

Yea after reading that article it makes me feel even more strongly that these Olympics are important for the sport. There needs to be a dominant runner who put the public (not just track and field fans) in awe.

Thats where I come in.

And you are? :stuck_out_tongue:

Michael Johnson has some advice: “Start by admitting there’s a problem- it’s not anyone else’s fault.” That’s good advice- but who should take it?
MJ says the sport needs stars, yet he claims that Paris had great competition without the times! Which is it?
MJ complains that the IAAF doesn’t cow-tow to the TV networks even more- yet, it is the TV driven false start rule change that has destroyed the sport’s premier event- the 100m.
MJ wants sponsors to come back- yet it is HE who was the single most vile representative of the sport to sponsors- sometimes showing up 3 hrs late for press conferences.
MJ decries the loss of meets- yet he was the first to refuse to compete in them when they could no longer meet his escalating demands for appearance fees.
MJ moans over the lack of publicity the sport receives in non-Olympic years- and then goes on to provide it- all bad!
He wants the sport to re-invent itself with special events and new competition ideas, such as one-on-one competition. That was tried already- with HIM- and we all know how that turned out!
After keeping the press waiting for hours at promotional opportunities, leaving the sponsor holding the bag for his colossal appearance fee, he either, a: came into the race injured and took the money under false pretenses or, b: fell behind in the first 30 meters and then quit with 100 meters to go in a 150. Whatever the case, he singlehandedly guaranteed that no-one will host an event like that in the future.
Through his diatribes, we’ve learned that he hates Marion, he hates Mo, he hates the IAAF, and, it seems, anyone he doesn’t hate, he deems incompetent.
His answer now? Get rid of half the events in the sport. If the sport really needs to get rid of anything to move forward- perhaps there’s another place to start.


I would like to make an ebook of Charlie’s greatist hits! This stuff is great!

The difference in Athletics, is that the athletes make the sport.

The problem w/ MJ and Carl, etc, is they think that the universe revolves around their wants and needs. This is what made them so great as athletes, but also makes them into intolerable bores. The sport has 5 areas to it, as well, as he failed to recognize that the walks are also part of the sport. Its amazing that the media will give someone like him a platform based upon being fast with his feet, yet fail to recognize that his mind is so slow it barely operates at all. Its so horrible that they trump out “names” without finding out if they have gray matter in between the ears. Carol Lewis is another example of an “expert” on the sport who can barely speak in complete sentences.

The whole idea that the sport needs the stars is true. But he would have you believe that it can only be a handful of people instead of a great number of them. This sports is big & diverse enough to promote all the greats, as they will appeal to someone as fans of those events. USATF has followed this pattern itself, and it has failed to really drive the sport into the minds and hearts of the people. I’ve fought this battle, but few are willing to listen.

I was speaking to a major athletics agent and she told me when Johnson ran 19.32, Hart and others said something like, ‘Oh no, he’s gone TOO fast’. Ahhhhmmm.

You’re not the only one who said that David …