TrackTown Series gives athletes chance to showcase skills close to home
Events also aim to make track more fan-friendly
Starting guns, sprint blocks and finish lines.
Most college and professional track meets last for hours. Athletes and fans wait race after race, jump after jump or throw after throw to determine champions and record-breakers. The high stress and relatively low media coverage of these events has sparked conversations about how to increase audiences and enjoyment at meets.
When the organizers of TrackTown USA Summer Series invited top American track athletes such as Olympic medalists Brigetta Barrett and Paul Chelimo to compete, they decided to do things differently. They designed a track meet to showcase elite athletes in less time and a fun atmosphere.
The series took place over three days in three cities. The first meet began on June 29 in Palo Alto, California, moved to Portland, Oregon, and ended at Icahn Stadium on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Besides typical track meet paraphernalia such as hurdles, batons and starting blocks, Icahn Stadium featured four dunking booths and children’s races before the main events. Organizers played music from Migos to Slick Rick, and fans were allowed to flood the track and cheer on athletes for the last two races of the night.
Many of the athletes seemed to relish this energetic atmosphere. After winning the 100-meter hurdle race, 2008 Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison shared her experience.
“Oh, it was turnt up. Even at the starting line, they were playing the music and we were dancing before we got in our blocks,” Harrison said. “And sometimes having a more stress-free environment can breed better performances.”
The TrackTown Summer Series, now in its second year, also provides much-needed U.S. exposure for athletes. During the summer season, many track and field meets are not televised and are held abroad, leaving track and field off the radar of much of the American public until the Summer Olympics.
Several competitors said having a professional track league in the United States not only allows them to conserve travel expenses but also allows them to build a national following in non-Olympic years.
Former Hampton University standout and Philadelphia native Ce’Aira Brown said TrackTown is a positive innovation. Brown, 23, hopes TrackTown will help boost not only her career but the sport itself.
“What’s different here is that they get the community involved, which is very helpful for people who don’t really know what track is,” Brown said. “So I think it is really good what they are doing with the community, bringing kids in with elite athletes and people who have been further in the sport.”
Former NCAA Division II outdoor 400-meter champion and Stillman College alum Dontavius Wright enjoyed being able to race on U.S. soil and give the fans a show.
“This is a great opportunity. It’s good to come back home and give the fans something,” Wright said. “This is something new. The USA is more serious — they block the fans off and everything — but this is something where the fans can come down with the athletes and the athletes can be with the fans and we can build off each other.”
Audience members seemed to like the event as well.