A Day at the Track
During the first week of September, the 1987 World Track and Field Championships will be held in Rome. The casual viewer of "NBC Sportsworld" has undoubtedly seen the events before--the pole vault, steeplechase, sprints and hurdles. But most people haven't developed an appreciation for what the athletes do to accomplish such feats.
So, in order to get an appreciation of the track athlete, one has to go to a meet and experience what happens on the infield. Fortunately, I attended the Greater Boston Championships in Dedham a month ago and investigated.
First, I examined a 16-lb. hammer used by Harvard's James Russell. The hammer is a large steel shot attached to a wire which is in turn connected to a handle. When I picked it up, the handle--weighted down by the shot--dug into my palm. Even if I did try to hurl it, I knew I would have damaged my hand. Hammer throwers wear special gloves to protect themselves from this injury.
I also noticed some very large dents in the chain-link backstop surrounding the throwing circle. One little error in concentration makes the thrower misjudge his self-made centrifuge and commit an illegal throw.
Later in the day, a women's discus thrower from Boston College let me examine her practice discus. It weighed less than five pounds. With such a light weight, I wondered why discus throwers didn't throw the discus like a frisbee. But when I tried to hold the discus in a classic frisbee-throwing position, I found it difficult to do so. No edge had been formed on the outer rim around which I could wrap my fingers.
I also had the opportunity to grip a javelin--it was a long perfectly aerodynamic spear. I hefted the javelin as if to throw it with the tip against my ear. I noticed that the weight was shifted mostly to the rear which made the javelin appear unbalanced. Possibly, this weight shift occurred in response to a 104.41-meter throw by a Polish athlete that sailed off the throwing surface and nearly hit a runner on the track.
Throughout the day, various obstacles were placed on the track. One of the more fascinating races that involved obstacles was the 110 high hurdles. When I compared the height of the hurdles to the height of most of the athletes, I realized that only Manute Bol could possibly run the race without hurting himself. Maybe Spud Webb could run under the hurdles and achieve the same goal.
When the gun shot off, I was expecting a perfect race between Nehemiah, Kingdom and Gault. I was wrong.
The eight hurdlers proceeded to trash more than half the 80 hurdles on the track. By the time the race was over, the front straightaway looked like a disaster area.
I then observed the pole vault competition. I always thought that this event was so easy: in order to set a world record, just buy a 50-foot long fiberglass pole.
But you must first carry it while hoping that it springs you up and over the bar. Anyone who brings a 50-foot fiberglass pole will have problems just lifting it. But even if the pole is made of a lighter substance, like bamboo, it is still difficult to obtain any extra spring from the pole.
As I saw the different events, I also noticed something strange under my feet--the rubbery outdoor track. Gone are the days of slow sod and cinder tracks. Like in other sports, artificial compounds are in.
Then a 16-lb. steel ball rolled onto my foot. I remembered immediately the time I participated in a track meet in my fifth grade school in Austin, Texas.
One of my events was the shot put. For the first several days of preparation before the meet I would throw the hefty steel object like a baseball until I was told it was against the rules.
"You have to put the shot, not throw it," my gym teacher said.
I placed third in that event, which was much better than I could have done if I were called on to perform the day I went to Dedham.