Saturday at the U.S. Track & Field Championships was another day of marvelous performances, incredible drama and surprising finishes. The kind of day that reinforces our love for the sport.
It was also a pretty strong day for coverage of the events at Hornet Stadium, especially the streaming meet coverage on NBC Sports Gold.
In my post yesterday I vented about the poor coverage of the field events online, and how the impressive performances in the women's high jump and men's triple jump were largely ignored, even when the competing action on the track were devoid of drama and had little significance.
I can't say why, but I am very happy to report that there seemed to be a big change overnight on NBC Sports Gold. The five field event finals on Saturday all gained substantial screen time, most of it live, on the streaming meet coverage.
The men's discus final, which began at 10:15 am, was carried in its entirety, though without commentary apart from the stadium announcer. This was not a major problem because you could hear him clearly and there were enough on-screen graphics to provide context about distances and placing.
The action next moved to the men's javelin. Even with track events beginning, coverage kept switching back to the javelin between first round heats of the 200. The javelin competition was held outside of Hornet Stadium and thus no PA announcer, so it was good to have the broadcasters - Tim Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson - providing commentary. There was little technical analysis, but they did carry on a relevant discussion about the financial challenges faced by post-collegiate field event athletes in America and how that translates into a relatively poor showing on the world stage in certain events (i.e., no American men currently have a world championship qualifying mark in the javelin).
In both the discus and javelin the camera angles were better than during the men's hammer final on Thursday, allowing the viewer to easily get an idea of the distances being achieved. There were also more close-up views, so we got to see the second-place thrower, Cyrus Hostetler, energetically exhorting the crowd to get behind leader Riley Dolezal last attempts.
Following the javelin, there were three other field event finals underway. Despite that, the streaming coverage ended for about 15 minutes before starting again when the most important track races began.
Surprisingly, even with some enthralling track finals going on, the streaming coverage continued shifting back to the field events at every opportunity. First to the women's shot and the men's pole vault, and, later, to women's long jump.
One of the live look-ins at the shot gave us the fifth round throw of 64-5 1/2 by Dani Bunch, a 1 1/2 foot PR which moved her into the lead. The dramatic winning throw of 64-10 by Raven Saunders, which was four feet further than her next best mark of the day, came in the sixth round; it wasn't shown live, but was shown very soon after it happened and was followed by the last throws of the athletes she passed. A terrific competition, and viewers got a real taste of the drama there.
Similarly, there were enough live looks at the pole vault and long jump to know what was happening. And live views of Sam Kendricks' clearing 6 meters and two of Tianna Bartoletta's three jumps over 7 meters were a nice bonus.
I haven't mentioned the NBC coverage because it was pretty much what we have grown to expect. Lots of time setting up the races, and replaying the shorter sprints and hurdles. Going to commercial break during the distance races over 1500 meters. Recapping each field event with one or two brief highlights of the top jumps and throws, usually showing no more than four attempts in each.
One thought that occurs to me is that if meet organizers would space out the track events just slightly more, it would allow for more live focus on the field events. I know TV likes a tight two-hour coverage window, and this would expand that. But the tradeoff is that viewers would get to see more of the meet.
And, really, who is tuning in to non-Olympic coverage of track and field? It sure isn't the easily-bored casual viewer; it is much more likely to be the passionately interested fan of the sport. If paying to watch is, in fact, the future of track and field, then broadcasts will need to provide more than cursory coverage of field events.