Is the quest for records hurting our sport?


A NYTimes opinion piece from Tracy Sundlun from 25 years ago started me thinking:
* T.A.C. must lead an effort to sell the sport for what it is - competition and the striving for excellence. We will kill it in the public’s eye if we continue to market track only by the presence of stars and record possibilities. Where would football, basketball, baseball, tennis, gymnastics, auto racing, boxing and the rest of them be if the success or failure of an event or an athlete rested solely on whether or not more points were scored that day than ever before?

you need to know:

Most runs in the modern era (after 1900) occurred August 22nd 2007 when the Texas Rangers won 30-3 over the Baltimore Orioles.

Most combined runs for both teams in a game occurred on August 25th 1922 when the Chicago Cubs defeated the Philadelphia Phillies by the score of 26 to 23. Remember the game well…it was one of those days when the wind was howling out of Wrigley and any flyball was ending up in the seats


This thread is along the lines of a post I made on letsrun a few weeks back after watching the Millrose Games on the thread titled “Why is track and field losing the TV war?”

Personally, I think a large part of it also has to do with the way races are run; one or two rabbits out front with a long single line chasing an arbitrary time. I am a huge track fan, I go to multiple professional meets every year and dozens of college races, but even I find it incredibly uninteresting. In most rabbited races, there is no passing, no tactics, no RACING for the majority of the race. Everyone just lines up and runs perfectly even splits until the pacer steps off. I know everyone is quick to blame the commentary, and I’ll be the first to admit it is pretty horrendous, but it’s not easy to talk for 13 minutes about a race where literally nothing is happening.

People on here often refer to the “casual fan” of track and field, which some argue doesn’t exist as far as watching meets go. I’ll go with the example of my parents. Both more knowledgeable about professional track than the average person, both can name probably 15-20 runners and know the backstory of 5 or so. They enjoy watching track when it’s on, but don’t seek it out, so if they come across it on tv on a weekend, they will watch it for a bit to see if they know anyone or if the races are exciting. With Millrose this past weekend, they loved the close races between Centro/Willis and Sowinski/Andrews. Dramatically different racing tactics made for very exciting races and close finishes. The 5000, where not much happened until the final 800, not so much.

In short, I (and most people I’ve asked about this) don’t find it particularly exciting to watch runners go for fast times. When you are watching on a screen (or in person for that matter), it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the runners are on pace for 13:05 or 13:25. 13:05 with a great battle back and forth throughout the race will be better than 13:25 with the same scenario, but if two rabbits are required to reach 13:05, and that means no racing until the final km, that’s when it becomes less exciting. Of course, I feel even more strongly about this in the marathon, but there are still several races (Boston, NY) that go without pacers there.

I think my biggest proposal to track meet directors would be to focus on big match-ups and building rivalries, not on fast times. Andrews/Sowinski/Solomon is a great one since they all have different tactics, OTC vs BTC vs NOP provides some sense of rival teams, Simpson vs Rowbury, etc. Those are the kind of match ups that will sell seats and get viewers. Save the pacers for rare occasions and very specific times.


My only problem with pacers is when they are out front running by themselves with no one following (which must look mighty strange to someone not well-versed in the sport), and fact that it has become nearly impossible to run fast (or even respectable) times without one, 2012 Olympic 800m notwithstanding. I would love to see a world class 1500 or 5k field in a non-championship race without a pacer and not have the winning time be 3:40 or 13:30.

I don’t think distance events are going to have much of a mainstream audience either way. It doesn’t matter how fast the field is going, the layman just sees a pack/line of people going around the track with someone pulling away to win at the end, and those without a background/passing interest in the sport don’t care enough to sit and watch anything over a minute or two, especially when they don’t have any vested interest in the individuals running (which is a bigger problem for T&F, specifically the distance events, IMO).




Our sport is very different from a sport like baseball, football, soccer, etc. In those sports, having a record isn’t as meaningful. You can set a records as a team but not win a major championship. In our sport, the records pretty much show who the fittest person is. USUALLY those record setters also have Olympic/World golds.
In a team/tactical sport, records don’t mean as much as they do in a fitness sport like ours.