Hadley: Revamping running for winter
Greg Hadley | Thursday, November 13, 2014
If you happened to stay inside all of yesterday, never once looking out your window, checking any social media or interacting with another human being, I have some shocking news for you — it snowed. A lot. Like way too much for Nov. 13.
So in order to honor the South Bend weather we all know and so dearly love, I would like to point out a way snow can make sports a whole lot better.
In the Summer Olympics, one of the premier sports is track and field. Olympic stadiums the world over have been the sites of some of the most iconic moments in track and field history. Jesse Owens winning four gold medals. Carl Lewis burning down the straight-away. Michael Johnson and Usain Bolt breaking world records.
I love track and field. I watch all the events I can, from the javelin to the triple jump. I think the Olympic marathon, which some consider boring, is an absolutely incredible race.
I just have one problem with track and field: the 10,000 meters.
Who wants to watch people run around an oval 25 times, especially when no one is willing to go fast early on and risk burning out? What the race usually comes down to is a dead sprint for 800 meters, if you’re lucky. The other 9,400 are just filler. The world and Olympic record are separated by almost 45 seconds on the men’s side. That’s almost three-quarters of a lap behind.
Advertisers and broadcasters know this. When the 10,000-meter race comes on, they’ll show the first lap or so, cut to commercial, come back to show the finals of the high jump, cut to commercial again, and finally come back to the race for the last half-mile. What happened in the intervening five miles? No one cares. At least in the marathon, you have the opportunity for hills, scenery and something other than gradual left-turns.
So here’s where snow comes in. The Winter Olympics has a rule that every sport at the Games has to be contested on snow or ice. Now, I wouldn’t recommend running a 1o-kilometer race around an skating rink, but there is another possibility.
A 10,000-meter cross country race is far more exciting than a track affair. In cross country, you have massive hills to negotiate, streams to leap, hay bales acting as hurdles and mud to wallow through. Now add a half-inch of snow to the mix. This event would be crazy in the best possible way. You would have people wiping out all over the place, putting on extra bursts of speed at unexpected moments, scrambling up hills. Anyone could go from the back of the pack to the lead in an instant.
Here’s what I envision: 30 runners on a one-kilometer loop packed with hills, hay bales and a creek. Now, because this is the Olympics, not a tough mudder, we want to keep the course fit to run on. This is a race, not an obstacle course.
So to make sure it stays that way, after the first lap, the last three runners are removed. Then, after the second, three more, and so on and so on. This is a variation of a track race called “Devil Takes the Hindmost,” and it makes each lap thrilling to watch as every athlete tries to avoid elimination while also conserving energy for later on. No one can take it easy the first few laps and kick on the very last circuit.
Approaching the end of nine kilometers, there would be six runners left. Because it would be boring to guarantee someone a medal before the race was even over, only two runners are eliminated heading into the last lap. Everything comes down to one final push.
Such an event would have everything — no ridiculous amount of monotony, drama every three minutes or so and endless strategy to discuss. It would also keep fans on the edge of their seats to the very end.
Also, because it would be in the Winter Games, away from the usual running season, you would have the closing speed of 5,000-meter specialists going up against the incredible endurance of marathoners.
If you think this is an insane idea that will never come true, well, you’re probably right. But hey, BMX made it into the Olympics. Now that’s a sport I would like to see on snow.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.