In Wednesday's New York Times, the "paper of record" in the US, contained some uncharacteristic errors in a retrospective photo collection from the 1972 Olympic Trials that were held at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. In the gallery of photos the Times published the caption on the tenth photo, that showed a scene from the men's 5,000 meters(HERE). It said that the winner of that race, Oregon's Steve Prefontaine, had set a World Record.
Pre ran an American Record of 13:22.8 at the Trials in 1972. The error was quickly corrected. In the photo accompanying the story by Steve Sutton, the photographer who took the pictures in 1972, two runners were identified as Rick Wohlhuter and Dave Wottle, who finished one, two at that year's trials in the 800 meters(Photo HERE). But the photo was from the 1,500 semi-finals and while it was indeed Wottle with the cap, Lowell Paul was the runner next to him. That error took a bit longer to correct.
I mention this not to embarrass the Times. Mistakes are made, and when discovered, corrected. Perhaps this was more of a symbol of the decline of the sport in the US that such mistakes would happen and take some time to correct. "Track and field is kind of a vegetable sport," said University of Minnesota track and cross country men's coach Steve Plasencia by phone as he was en route to Hayward Field in Eugene for the 2012 US Olympic Track & Field trials on Wednesday. "And generally 'Joe Public' doesn't like vegetables."
"I wish Joe Public had a wider appetite, but what do you do to a vegetable to make it something people want?" said Plasencia. "The mass media has a ton to do with (what people gravitate toward or want to see). To really be a major sport in the US you have to be accepted, embraced by ESPN. Track and Field does nothing to make it a spectator sport. It's treated as more of more of a participant sport."
From being the glamour sport of the Olympics, track has fallen to the "vegetable bin" in the minds of the public and the media, said Plasencia, who made the Olympic team at 10K and lived in Eugene for 15 years. He has many fond memories of Hayward Field, nicknamed "the Cathedral" of the sport in this country. It's the Wrigley Field or Fenway Park of the sport to make a baseball comparison. Eugene is "a city that does love track and field," Plasencia says. "It embraces the nuances of the sport."
"I always get a thrill and a joy to come back to this area," Plasencia said. For the next 12 days(June 21 to July 1 with a two day break on June 26-27) Oregon will play host to the center of the track world in the US. The stands at Hayward Field will be packed with track fans making the pilgrimage to Eugene for the once every four years event. There will be media coverage. Olympic broadcast rights holder, NBC, will televise parts of the trials on the NBC network and NBCSN(schedule HERE).
"The excitement is still there," said Plasencia. "Hopefully, the internet and the websites help to fuel the interest in the event." So, get out your "forks" and be ready for a nutritious serving of "vegetables."