The U.S. Track & Field Championships wrapped up a four-day run at broiling Hornet Stadium on Sunday with another exciting day of top-flight performances and a number of surprising upsets.
On this final day of competition, I decided to watch only the coverage on NBC. No streaming coverage. No checking results online. Only an occasional glance at twitter. I wanted to see the final day as most viewers at home would see it.
I have written in past days about the poor coverage for the field events on NBC and NBCSN, and Sunday was no different. The women's hammer throw recap was a total of 35 seconds which gave time to show one throw. Ditto for the men's high jump - a total of 30 seconds which included one jump and an extended celebration by winner Bryan McBride. Shot put got two throws, while pole vault and long jump had four attempts each. Very disappointing.
I wonder if NBC has ever considered doing a post-competition interview with a field event winner? There sure weren't any such interviews at this meet. Wouldn't it have been great to ask Ryan Crouser about his dramatic sixth-round winning toss in the shot? Or to ask Sandi Morris how it felt to clear 15-9 and win a national championship in the pole vault? Field event athletes are generally pretty interesting, articulate people, and I for one would love to watch an interview with one of them. Leaving out the Ato Bolden NASCAR promotion piece would have freed up 90 seconds, time enough for a couple short interviews.
The big advantages of watching major network coverage are the high-quality of camera work and the full complement of expert commentators and interviewers. The visual presentation of the U.S. Championships was, of course, very good, and certainly much better in that regard than watching online.
But the NBC announcing crew, with the exception of Craig Masback, did not have their strongest day. Masback correctly picked Drew Windle as the one who could pull a surprise in the men's 800, and he did come through in the home stretch to claim third place. Masback also supplied several interesting back stories in the men's steeple, and was insightful in his commentary on the three distance races.
Masback does have an easier job than Ato Bolden or Sanya Richards-Ross since the distance races allow plenty of time to relate an anecdote or some little nugget about the runners during the race. Of course, it is different in the sprints and hurdles, but there is plenty of time during the race set-up to do the same.
Unfortunately, the announcing crew consistently seemed stunned when there was an upset, and there were plenty of upsets. In the 100, 200, 400 and hurdle races, the favorite, as picked by the NBC crew, only won four of the ten races. Obviously, upsets happen frequently in track and field, and announcers have to be prepared for that.
Lead announcer Rick Allen, in particular, was very slow to see what was happening on the track in real time. In the men's 200, he focused on favorite Christian Coleman and never mentioned winner Amer Webb's name until several seconds after the race. And neither he or Ato Bolden ever mentioned the surprise third-placer, Elijah Hall-Thompson. Bolden was too busy giving Coleman advice about what he needs to do between now and London to notice much of anything else.
In the men's 110 hurdles, Allen said that Aleec Harris won with his lean at the finish line, when, in fact, he led the entire second half of the race. As the 400 meter hurdlers came down the homestretch, Allen excitedly proclaimed "Here comes Kerron Clement," when Clement was actually in seventh place and fading.
Why is it so hard to see who is leading the race, if you know who is in what lane?
I also was flabbergasted that no one mentioned that Noah Lyles had withdrawn from the 200 meters. Lyles was picked to win the 200 by Track & Field News and is one of the bright young stars in the sport, but there was no mention of why he withdrew or even that he had withdrawn.
Speaking of bright young stars, Deajah Stevens of the University of Oregon really emerged at the championships, taking second in the 100 and easily won the 200. Sanya Richards-Ross was understandably focused on favorite Tori Bowie to the point where after the race she said she was completely shocked and had expected Bowie "to bury this field." Even in her closing comments, she focused solely on Bowie, which seemed a little strange after her struggle to just get third.
Stevens came into the 200 final as a 2016 Olympian in that event, and had the fastest first-round time and third-fastest semifinal time. She had also done very well in the 100. Not only was this not the upset of the century, but it was a missed opportunity to talk about Stevens rebounding from her collapse in the NCAA 200 final. Bolden mentioned the incident briefly without really saying what had happened; Richards-Ross evidently didn't do her homework or just couldn't get over the shock of Bowie losing.
If this all sounds like unfair nit-picking, I will gladly admit that announcing track meets is a tough gig. I am sure they all put time into preparing. Yet, stadium announcers generally manage to call the action accurately and in a timely fashion. It can be done, but you have to know the sport and you have to know the people in it in more than a superficial way. Favorites get beat regularly, so you can't expect to always follow the script in a given event.
One last suggestion for the next championships: Everyone likes predictions so how about pre-race predictions by the announcing team? What does every football pre-game show end with? What team is going to win. Predictions are just as fun to make in track and field, and that might help our crew focus on more than just one athlete per event.