The scene played out like this. A 2013 NCAA D1 indoor conference meet. Women’s 55m Finals. Starting blocks were being adjusted. Practice starts being completed. What I witnessed next is something I hope I never see again while either officiating (as I was this particular day) or spectating a track and field event.
A particular athlete set her blocks, assumed a starting position, and then proceeded to accelerate out of her blocks. Nothing unusual about this – so far. Most sprinters take full advantage of the time allowed to fine tune preparation prior to the start of their race. Typically sprinters practice their starts and run full tilt out of their blocks out to about 20 – 30 meters. But not this athlete. She blew out of her blocks, reached maximum sprint speed and continued to run full speed down her lane. Trouble brewing at 60 meters where a track official stood in this athlete’s lane -with their back to the athlete. Remember this is a warm-up. I can’t recall ever witnessing a runner using the full competition distance to practice before a race.
This runner made no attempt to shut it down or step one half step to her left, but proceeded to run directly forward, clearly and visually able to see the train wreck fast approaching – and levels this official with a forearm to the shoulder that any linebacker would have been proud of. Athlete ok, official down. It was not pretty. Ten minutes later, first aid rendered, official up and off the floor of the track. Competition resumes.
What bothered me about this scenario (in addition to a safety concern for officials) was the athletes’ attitude. Bad. Really bad. Confirmed by observation of body language, facial expressions and a re-play of a conversation between the injured official and this athlete later in the meet. Big ego. Big head. Poor sportsmanship. Not the typical posture of most track and field athletes I have personally encountered.
I left the meet that day with a gnawing thought of; “I didn’t like what I witnessed today”. I had to ask myself, “what are we teaching, allowing, and promoting in our sport?” How far have we allowed the bar to drop to if we condone such behaviors?
Fast forward a few months. I accepted the invitation to officiate a two day state high school track meet. Had to be the most fun I have had officiating a high school meet. Ever. Period. Mix great track weather, talented athletes, a full stadium and two days that exploded with stellar performances. I lost track of the number of records set (stadium, meet, division and state all class).
What I witnessed at the finish line renewed my faith in sportsmanship typically found in track and field. For example – a collision in a boys 800m race sent one athlete down on the track at the 200m mark. He hit the track hard. The track rash sustained looked ugly. By the time he got up and finished his race his pace was reduced to a jog while his peers continued their speed towards the finish line. Upon crossing the finish line, three competitors found this athlete, shook hands and exchanged encouragement with each other. The support between these strangers – who minutes before were engaged in a state final race brought a smile to my face. One of the very big reasons I continue to be involved in the sport.
Fair competition. Support for competitors. Encouragement for each other. Respect for officials and coaches. I celebrate your success. You celebrate mine. I pick you up when you fall. You pick me up when I fall. This is typical for our sport. Witnessing what I did at this state high school meet helped assure me that true sportsmanship is indeed alive and well in track and field. Maybe that is why the NCAA D1 sprinter with the big ego stands out. An anomaly? Let’s hope.
Thank you to all the 2013 Montana High School Athletes who competed and supported each other at the state meet held in Bozeman, Montana this past weekend. Job well done! Thanks to the coaches for their hard work and leadership getting athletes to this event. Thanks to the parents for supporting the athletes – even those from other schools. Lastly – thanks to the other officials who contributed hundreds of hours of work. It was a privilege working with you.
Next up – the 2013 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. Track Town or bust!
Until then – enjoy the run!