Best of Times?

Record controversies often obscure the true appeal of track and field
May 01, 2011

Mainstream sports pundits are quick to beat up on track and field and its sister sport of marathoning, easy targets that deserve better. Track itself was once mainstream, but like so many other sports has been shoved into a niche by the major professional and college sports. Elite marathoning ignited the first U.S. running boom in the late 1970s but now belongs to the remarkable yet little-known East Africans. Thus, it was no surprise that the critics burst into a chorus of derision when Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon ever, 2:03:02, to win the Boston Marathon on April 18 but did not receive credit for a world record because the Boston course is downhill and point-to-point, potentially (and this year, actually) assisted by a tailwind.

The same thing happened when Michael Johnson beat the world record in the 200 meters at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials but had his time disallowed for too much wind. And again 12 years later when Tyson Gay eclipsed Usain Bolt's world record in the 100 meters with too much wind. There was braying all around, as if track were robbing itself of acclaim by policing itself too closely. Which is ridiculous. Wind and downhills (and Boston, even with its daunting climbs, is a net downhill) aid performance. It's not a difficult concept.

Records are a key facet of track, but they're not the entire show. Mutai's run was mesmerizing, on the most historic course in the world. That it was disallowed as a record should be a minor footnote.

The outdoor season takes off in earnest this week with the Penn Relays, a true sports spectacle. The world championships are in August, a preview of London in 2012. Gay will be chasing Bolt. U.S. sprinters Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross will resume their rivalry. David Oliver will continue to be the best hurdler in the world. Try just watching. Never mind the details.

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

Included in a list of activities deemed by the New York state health department to pose a "significant risk of injury" to children: Capture the Flag, freeze tag, kickball and Wiffle ball.

PHOTOBRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS (MUTAI)WINNING SMILE Mutai's glorious race at Boston almost certainly won't count as a record, but no one has ever run faster.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)