Thursday, July 3, 2008

Track Town or Nike Town?

This is not about facts. This is about appearances. Nike is the major sponsor of USA Track & Field, and of the Olympic Trials. This is the Nike that makes the shoes I wear. This is the Nike that has driven much of its marketing with the inspirational images of a runner who died 32 years ago. This is the Nike that has weathered international criticism over the low wages it has paid workers in its Asian factories.

Before I left Michigan for the meet, I joked to a friend that I wondered if I would see the Nike swoosh on the Oregon state flag. For better or worse, Nike's influence on this event is massive. Now I fear we may be seeing some of the worse.

For years I have heard athletes and agents say words to the effect that, "Nike gets what it wants; Alberto gets what he wants." Alberto Salazar that is, former great runner who is now a noted coach and a big power in the Nike machine. Whether or not that's really true, I can't say. I'm writing about appearances.

Today the town is abuzz with talk about Adam Goucher, one of Salazar's top runners, being added to the 10,000m field on appeal. He will apparently run the race, but he was added to it over seven athletes who are not being allowed to race.

Tonight, USATF released a statement saying that the addition of Goucher to the 10,000 was not unusual. It concluded, "“It is not unusual for past national champions who lack qualifying standards to be granted entry into national championship events, and Mr. Goucher's case is no exception.”

Unfortunately, it will appear to many as if big money is pulling strings behind closed doors, and guys who deserve to be in that race are getting screwed. The appeals process needs to be clarified so that we don't get these public relations disasters in the future.

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