FALSE START #I - NOVEMBER 2006 by David E. Ortman

Medals, Patches and Curtain Rods

In November, 2006, Steve Vaitones of the New England USATF association proposed doing away with patches for winning national masters track and field championships. Iím not big on patches. I donít sew very well, and other than gluing them onto jackets and such, they donít seem to have much use.

One could say the same thing about track and field medals. You canít really wear them to work pinned to your chest or drabbed around your neck. Once while hitchhiking I was picked up and later the driver picked up two more guys. One of them was a Native American who had been a track runner and we compared events and times. The other hitchhiker, who had just gotten out of the Louisiana State Prison, asked me whether any employer had ever given me a better job or more money because Iíd won all those medals? And I had to admit that no one ever had. So why does our satisfaction level at a track meet drop if no medals are awarded?

Would we run any faster or slower if there were no medals? Would a first place Olympian be any less first place if there were no gold medals awarded? Wouldn't we really like to know the actual distance jumped by an ancient Olympian rather than know that they were the winner? To say that someone is a world record holder, instantly says something about that person. To say that someone won the gold medal at the Olympics says nothing about the quality of the performance, other than that at a particular point in time that person crossed the finish line first.

Most high school and college sports donít award medals. After a high school or college football, baseball, basketball, or soccer game, or tennis or golf match, the athletes donít wait around for medals for who hit the longest home run, or scored the most free throws, or kicked the longest field goal. Although, medals are generally not given out after track and field dual meets, if you participated in two medal meets during a week in high school or college, you might come back with as many as eight medals.

The first medal I remember receiving in high school was as a sophomore in cross country and only because Coach would give small medals to the top ten finishers in our end of season squad meet. The first track medal was from our regional meet where I placed third as a sophomore in the 120 yard hurdles, the meet where I finally learned how to ďthree-stepĒ the hurdles for the entire way. From then on, medals accumulated. Some were more coveted more than others. Only seven medals from my high school days included both a medal and a ribbon compared to one in college (the short kind, not the ones around the neck). How do I know? At home I had a bulletin board in my bedroom where I arranged all my high school medals and later my college medals as well.

After college, when I moved to Seattle, I carefully noted the position of each medal, packed them up and then put them back in place on the same bulletin board in the den (somehow the wife was not keen on the bedroom location). After discovering masters track and field I started adding those medals but quickly ran out of space and had to start hanging them from the curtain rod in the den.

What does one make of all this? First of all, just by looking at one of my high school or college medals I can recall the race, the competition and often, even the weather conditions. Try doing that with a wilted wreath of laurels. Second, even though they are more recent, it is much harder to do with masters medals. Many of my high school and college medals (with the odd exception of our high school regional and state meet and college conference championship medals) were of different designs with different action figures for each event. So a long jump medal was clearly different from a relays, or hurdle medal. But masters medals all tend to be round with a ribbon. They are the same for all events and many could just as well be given for the top prize for 4-H hog raising. This is particularly true with the Senior Games where they have everything from track and field to badminton and order the same medals for all the different sports. Third, high school and college medals were small, often the size of a postage stamp. Now, masters medals, even for local meets, are often three times as big.

What if instead of medals we do what I proposed in July of 2005, namely ditch the age group medals and make use of the age-graded tables? At the risk of repeating myself, page four of the 1994 age-graded tables give a solution and a purpose for the tables, namely, "Using age-grading, 'full fields' are virtually assured in every event, because everyone can mathematically compete in the same 'division.' In a track meet, three quality medals can be awarded per event, just as in open competition, rather than three mediocre medals for each five-year age group per event."

So why not age grade all men and women marks by year at a meet. Then give a monetary award to the top three age-graded marks in each event. At $50 for 1st, $30 for 2nd, and $20 for 3rd ($100 per event), nineteen events (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5K, 10K, SH, LH, SC, LJ, TJ, HJ, PV, DIS, SP, JAV, HT, PENT) would require $1,900. But it would dramatically increase interest in the age-graded tables and increase respect for both women's marks and older age year marks. Plus, your spouse might be happier if you brought home $80 instead of more medals for the shoebox or curtain rod. And it would sure beat getting a patch.

(c) Copyright 2006, David E. Ortman


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