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The underappreciation of Track & Field in today’s sports landscape

In this day and age, outrageous statements have become the norm in sports media. Networks compete tirelessly for the best ratings, and oftentimes the best way to attract viewers is to give them something to talk about. Nevertheless, it is always possible to take things a step too far. In discussing the best teams, players, and coaches, I am entirely accepting of contrasting opinions. But when ESPN television personality Max Kellerman declared that track and field was not a sport, I had to take issue.

Admittedly, people like me are the reason that Kellerman’s comments are getting more exposure than they deserve. Prominent members of the track and field community, including nine-time Olympic gold-medalist Carl Lewis, have also drawn attention to the matter by voicing their displeasure on Twitter. But regardless, there are numerous flaws in Kellerman’s argument that needed to be addressed. And the real moral of the story, in my opinion, is that more people should be paying attention to track and field. Whether you spend your entire Sundays watching football, or have never played a sport in your life, track and field can be appreciated by everyone.

Kellerman’s controversial claim was based on the fact that track only tests one specific athletic ability: “How fast you can go from point A to point B.” He went on to state that track stars are usually “failed football and basketball players” due to shortcomings such as a lack of toughness. Clearly, Kellerman failed to realize that track and field encompasses much more than just running events. Events such as the triple jump, pole vault, and discus involve technical movements that require a combination of speed, strength, and coordination. Even sprinting events such as the 200 meter dash demand a high level of planning and patience to execute on the biggest stage. In regards to Kellerman’s second statement, there are in fact instances in which athletes from other sports make the transition to track. But in most cases, track & field athletes at the highest level have devoted their entire lives to their sport.

Moving past that debate, there are many important matters to discuss in the realm of track and field. As the World Championships come to a close this week in Doha, Qatar, anticipation for track & field events in Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics should only be increasing. While the electric personality and talent of Usain Bolt will be missed, the sport of track & field is still full of starpower and intrigue. Eliud Kipchoge, a marathoner best known for participating in Nike’s Breaking2 attempt, has the current world record and has not lost a marathon since 2013. Sifan Hassan, fresh off a victory in the 10,000 meter run at the World Championships, also set the women’s world record in the mile earlier this year by running a time of 4:12.33. And the 400 meter hurdles are loaded with talent on the men and women’s sides, highlighted by Sydney McLaughlin who qualified for the Olympics as a 16-year-old four years ago.

Track and field may not be as watchable as other sports, but it can be argued to be much more historically significant. Track athletes are not catching footballs or shooting three-pointers, but rather testing the boundaries of a human’s physical capabilities. Part of the allure of the sport lies in the question of when peaks in ability will be reached, and what those peaks will be.

While it is easy to get lost in the numbers, anyone with a concept of time and distance will realize quickly how impressive the feats of track athletes are. Trying to imagine clearing eight feet in the high jump, or hitting a max speed of over 27 miles per hour in the 100 meter dash, is nearly impossible. But nevertheless, there are people that have trained a lifetime for moments like those. And when it comes down to it, these athletes should be recognized just as much as any other.

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