Tyson Gay's Front-Page News Keeps Track and Field on Back Page

Red ShannonFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2013

image: Matt Dunham/AP
image: Matt Dunham/AP

It comes with the territory.

A columnist whose product consists primarily of track and field minutia understands the limitations of his labor:

His work will seldom see the front page, he will have a relatively small audience and his writing will reflect the perpetual challenge of reaching two dissimilar target groups—the informed hardcore track fan and the prospective new track convert.

OK. I get that—and accept it.

It wasn't always that way. Nor does it have to be that way.

But as long as bad news sells, it will probably stay that way.

I understand the attention-grabbing shock of world-class sprinter Tyson Gay—who advertised himself as a squeaky-clean athlete—getting busted for failing a drug test. That's not just bad news, it's real news.

But there was other more worthy news in track and field in 2013—and we're not done yet.

How about pole-vaulter Jenn Suhr's indoor world record of 16 feet, 5.5 inches this year? She reminded us that Russian vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva's stratospheric flights are no longer exclusively reserved for one woman. This feat was of the same magnitude as a man eclipsing one of Sergey Bubka's records.

Was anything more newsworthy than the 17-year-old prep distance runner, Mary Cain, who literally re-wrote the American high school record books?

The names of legends like Mary Decker, Kim Gallagher and Lynn Jennings don't erase from those books easily, but in 2013, in the dust of Cain's heels, they just went poof. And now Cain is poised to test her mettle against the world's best in the 1,500-meter run at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

That was news.

Gay himself made real news earlier this year. Running injury-free for the first time since 2008, he recaptured the national 100- and 200-meter crowns he relinquished in 2012.

At 30 years of age, blazing to world-leading times in the 100 (9.75 seconds) and the 200 (19.74), Gay planted seeds of optimism (at least in the USA) that American sprinting might reclaim a token of its former dominance this August in Moscow.

And though we now know Gay may have had a chemical assist, at that time news of Gay's resurgence was genuine front-page material.

Yet, beyond the usual track-focused media outlets, these stories were lucky if they got a mention in the "sports briefs" column (Cain's story was so obviously compelling that she did get a featured article in SI Vault).

So why is it, in a world we're told is looking for heroes, that great accomplishments often go unnoticed (or purposely overlooked) while corruption, failure and scandal grabs the spotlight?

Is it the sport?

No. Track and field, with its diverse disciplines, basic elements (running, jumping, throwing) and unmatched history has proven itself to be universally popular over—not decades, but centuries.

Yes, drug-related incidents have (unfairly, in my opinion) sensationalized the sport. Having one of the most stringent testing programs on the planet can be a double-edged sword, I suppose.

Is it the media?

Not entirely. The media by necessity only responds to the demands of the public. But those who determine content priorities could use a little more gut instinct and a little less cold, hard metrics.

Is it society?

Probably. But until the Second Coming or until our culture becomes so sickened with negativism that public opinion changes, bad news wins the day. And almost always bad news is rife with misinformation.

Sure, bad things happen in sports, and there will always be someone willing to tackle those assignments.

It's been too good a year in track and field to get sidetracked by Gay's misfortune. There is still a lot of good news to come in 2013.

I'll be back here in section D to write about it.

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