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 LetsRun.com 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.
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