Lashinda Demus on the record: “we know that we’re competing in a dying sport”

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 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

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.

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at


  1. I was in New Zealand one year and watched the most amazing track and field event ever. it was a 1-hour decathlon. There were only 3 competitors, an American, a Frenchman and the New Zealander.

    Over the years when I’ve thought about this event I’ve done so trying to figure out why it was so much fun.

    •First, I knew the competitors.
    •It was a 1 hour event.
    •The competitive spirit could be felt in the air.
    •The longest event was 1,500 meters. There’s nothing more challenging for me than watching heats of the 3k, 5k 10k – (juniors, B heats etc.)
    •The spectators got to follow the competitors around the field to the event location. The meet was quaint and personable but with HIGH degree of skill. Tim Bright was the US athlete.
    •The nature of the event (the pressure of time) created many instances of quick decisions. Like the decision of the Frenchman (Alain) to throw the javelin in his sprint spikes because he didn’t have time to change his shoes.

  2. Everything Lashinda was right. I think when people hear of track and field on tv they want to see the top runners in all events compete. What happens is many top runners don’t show up for many reasons. The viewers don’t care why the top runners didn’t show up, they just say, wow, another track meet without the top runners.

  3. People aren’t waiting by the TV, mailbox or newsstand for you (i.e. Track & Field athletes and meet managers) to reach them. They’re finding all the information they need themselves. They’re searching the Web, reading the news, and asking questions on social networks. The fans want to connect and engage.

  4. it started to die the right about the time nbc was awarded the contract to telecast the olympics. has anyone seriously taken a look at their broadcasting of the olympics? inane commentators, inundation of beach volley ball… is it any wonder

  5. @ Justin, so correct. not to mention NBC’s repeated showing of gymnatics and swimming, over and over.
    Remember the much anticipated men’s 100m final in the last Olympics was shown at near midnight when everyone including cats and dogs were sleeping. While, the rest of the World including the impoverished countries already seen the race at 6:00am the same day. I had to rely on families and friends from the Island and Canada to give me updates…..SHAME!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I agree most with the comment by Jimson Lee following this article: People are no longer waiting to watch T&F Athletics on TV. That time has passed. People want to be connected much more intimately via other media. What excites me is that a traditional track meet (not shortened or any such gimmick) is PERFECTLY suited to the new media options. Imagine how awesome it would be if every camera on the Olympic track would be simply posted/accessible as an option along the margin of a webpage accessible by iPad or computer. I could split my screen into quadrants and (simultaneously) watch 4+ different events unfolding in the stadium LIVE. I could be my own producer instead of waiting for some person in a TV trailer to pick the scenes for me. I could even re-play the moments that I would choose. This is how T&F is meant to be experienced!! NOT produced as if it is some football game with one play happening at a time (and usually focusing on only ONE person) with commentary bringing boredom to the action. Bring on the future!!

  7. Fact: IAAF Worlds in Osaka (2007) was a turning point in this matter. It was the first World T&F Championships since the death of former IAAF Pres, Primo Nebiolo, that IAAF money had to be paid to NBC (net flow TO the network as opposed to $$$ flowing FROM the network to the sport!!) in order to have the event made available to TV viewing audience. That should have been a wake-up call to our global leaders. Maybe they’re listening and are about to reveal new ways to access the sport??? [I sure am hopeful that this will happen. Perhaps not til a new/younger IAAF President takes the helm? My vote would go to Seb Coe as pres]

  8. I remember t&f glory days and it is certainly not like that today, but Lashinda definitely went a little overboard in saying a “dying sport”. T&F is still the most participated sport in grade school, there are more professional t&f athletes and they are earning more money than ever before. Go to a H.S state or national meet, an AAU or USATF youth meet, an NCAA championship, the Penn Relays or one of the high profile pro meets or spend time on an Internet messageboard and still tell me it is a “dying sport”.

    There are lot of pro meets that have went away, but most of them have been replaced by other meets. The biggest decline has been in the large media TV/Magazine support, but a lot of that has been transitioned to the new media (the Internet). There is far more competition for network air time than it was a couple of decades ago, you have to compete with beach volleyball, XGames, BMX, UFC, MMA, poker, NASCAR, WNBA, international soccer and basketball, etc. The landscape has changed and t&f needs to adapt, but you can’t measure the health of a sport by simply how often you see it on TV.

    Btw, $15,000 is not a lot of money, but when t&f was most popular, the athletes earned ‘no money’.

  9. I have been a fan of track & field since May of 1954, when the then weekly LIFE magazine had a big spread about Bannister’s first sub-4 minute Mile (3:59.4) at Oxford in England. I saw the Bannister-Landy (who ran 3:57.9 to break Bannister’s record six weeks later) duel on television at the British Empire Games in Vancouver B.C., Canada. I met Landy after a sub-4 race in Los Angeles in 1956. A month or so later, Charles Dumas became the first man to high jump over 7 feet, and Glenn Davis becoming the first man to run the 400mH under 50.0 (he ran 49.5). I was in attendance at the aforementioned two events in 1956, and track was big back then. It still was during the 1960’s, but seemed to fade from the 1970’s on. Why? I tend to think that the massively funded publicity about baseball, football, ice hockey and basketball brought in more money and such sports soon overwhelmed the “poor” sports like track & field. The media outlets are now big boosters for such “bread and circuses” games. Football reminds me of the ancient Roman gladiator events and chariot races in the Circus Maximus in Rome as it is violent, and that pleases the masses. It was so then, and it is so now. Americans, for the most part, enjoy watching violence-as long as they aren’t involved! Nascar is another example. Many people go there in hopes of seeing car crashes. They deny it, but it is true as people I know have admitted it. ESPN even has covered such inane “sports” as world championship poker. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s they used to have one hour tape delay coverage of some of the European meets, but even that is now gone. Better marketing would help T & F, but it would still be an uphill battle. More prize money for hard working athletes would help as well.

  10. NBC did indeed show more swimming at Beijing than they usually do because like it or not Michael Phelps was hands down the story of the games and America wanted to see that. Regarding the comment about NBC showing lots of gymnastics, that is true because gymnastics gets absolutely huge ratings among women. The gymnastics coverage is not really in competition with track and field because gymnastics is on at the beginning of the games and track and field begins half way through.

  11. @ justin and lannate.. NBC started broadcasting the Olympics in 1988. Then they had 1992, 1996, and 2000, all with track & field as the big ticket sport. Then Michael Phelps came along. IMO, to blame NBC for the downfall of track & field is wrong and ridiculous. The sport fell apart when the big names of past glory all started to retire and then they got replaced with years of drug scandals headlined by Marion Jones. That’s what’s caused the downfall of the sport.

  12. NBC has disrespected the sport. Lannate is right. My friends & family in the Islands were calling me with the results long before I saw the event on NBC.

    Secondly, we need more meets on TV and the top athletes must stop avoiding each other ahead of the big meets and compete more often.

    More televised meets accross the television spectrum. Stepped-up competeing schedules by top athletes. That will solve the problem. There is no shortage of excitement in track and field.

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