FALSE START #C - Sept. 2000 by David E. Ortman


It was great to learn that FOX Network intends to run an hour program on the National Masters T&F Championships in Eugene. There is also talk about streaming broadcasting on the WEB. But before Masters Track and Field can hope to attract attention, something needs to be done about the sad state of Track and Field overall. A car vacation in July during the 2000 Olympic Trials revealed a dismal lack of press interest.

We left Seattle on Saturday, 15 July. I wanted to keep track of Ja’Warren Hooker, a 400m University of Washington sprinter who I had run against in a summer all-comers meet a few years back. Sat. morning’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried an AP story from Sacramento (they couldn’t be bothered to actually send a reporter), but no Trials results in the Scorecard section. [They did report that Howard Twitty shot 8 over par in the Senior Players Championship at Dearborn, Michigan, but no time on the third place finisher in the men’s 10K.]

Saturday evening we stopped in Butte, MT and watched NBC. Michael Johnson won his 400m semi, but I never saw Ja’Warren Hooker win the other semi heat in 44.78.

Sunday, 16 July we drove through Billings. The Billings Gazette carried a nice write up on the Montana Big Sky State Games that included results for badminton, bowling and rollerskating with a few track and field events thrown in. The Trials did not make the front of the Sports Section, nor were any results listed in the Scoreboard section. [But if you wanted to know that Teddy Johnson finished 10th in the second round of the Steer Wrestling at the Calgary (CAN) Stampede you were in luck]. A short AP story on the Trials ran on page 6B.

On Monday, 17 July, I picked up the Sunday Denver Post, hoping to catch up. The Post actually sent a reporter to Sacramento, so there was a front Sports page story, but it was all about local Colorado runners, no other coverage and no results in the SuperStats. [But, Throughthegears finished eighth in the Eighth Grayhound race at Mile High].

I can’t report on all the NBC coverage, but the two-hour program on Sunday 23 July was some of the worst I have ever seen on TV. In the first thirty minutes they managed to show three races that lasted approximately 20 seconds each. Major league baseball would never allow TV coverage that showed the first three pitches of an inning and then went off to explore the childhood fantasies of the ump behind the plate. If NBC was trying to discourage people from watching the Olympic’s in September, they couldn’t have done a better job. And never during all the focus on the "trash-talking" men’s 200m did anyone at NBC attempt to explain or ask why the semi-finals and finals of the 200m are scheduled less than two hours apart.

The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus-Leader at least carried the stats during the week. But Sunday’s Olympic Trial final including the outcome of the Greene-Johnson showdown, didn’t even make the front page of Monday’s sports section.

* * *

No, if you want real Olympic coverage, don’t turn to NBC. Track down (pun intended) a VHS copy of "Olympia" by Leni Riefenstahl on the 1936 Olympics. Many have labeled Riefenstahl’s films "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" as glorified Nazi ideology. "Triumph of the Will" would qualify, but I would urge you to take another look at "Olympia."

I also had heard that it was a Nazi propaganda film. I watched it recently and found it to be a much more "neutral" Olympic film than I expected. It focused on the athletes and athletic action. For example, Jesse Owens’ successes were given full coverage (it was new to me that Owens ran the first leg, not the anchor leg in the 4x100 and that he won the Long Jump on his last try). It was also interesting to watch the 100m runners dig holes in the track since they used no starting blocks. Also, at that time athletes were high jumping using the scissors method to reach six feet eight inches.

Other winners from other countries were given credit, even when they beat athletes from Germany. The German women’s 4x100 relay dropped the baton, and this was also covered, even though it seemed to undermine any premise of German superiority. I found it to be a more even treatment that what we usually get from USA uber alles ABC/NBC/CBS "Sports."

In fact, I could imagine (although I have no way of knowing) that Hitler was probably furious after seeing the film since it hardly showed German superiority as he no doubt would have wished. In this case, I would have to give Riefenstahl a lot of credit for directing and producing one of the best "sports" films ever done, instead of producing, surely under intense pressure, a purely propaganda film.

Track down "Olympia." You’ll have plenty of time to view it between Olympic events shown on NBC. Oh, yes, I final got to see a rerun of the Olympic Trials 400m finals. Hooker ran 45.05 and finished 7th.

© Copyright 2000, David E. Ortman

"False Start Index" OR NEXT COLUMN