This weekend brings another twist, with the Track and Field Association (TFA) ProChampionship meet in Uniondale, N.Y. The TFA, which plans to have a full schedule of five to eight meets in 2000, is the brainchild of 37-year-old former sports agent Brian Vandenberg. The TFA's innovations include assigning each athlete a permanent number for the series, an idea that could fly. One of track's inherent weaknesses is the inability to sell, say, a Michael Johnson jersey like the ones fans have for their favorite team-sport athletes. "Long-term, we hope this creates marketing opportunities," says Vandenberg.
More dubious is the TFA's "jackpot" prize-money system. In each meet one event will be randomly designated as a prize-money race; the jackpot for the Uniondale meet will be $100,000. The rest of the events will offer no prize money; athletes will simply be paid appearance fees. The prize-money-versus-appearance-fee debate rages on in track and field. On one side of the argument is the theory that track needs prize money to prompt top stars to compete against one another and to give the public a sense that these are bona fide professional athletes. On the other side is a genuine concern that track athletes cannot make a living. It is an issue that will not be resolved easily. In the meantime, though, jackpots are low rent, a risky move in a sport that has already been dangerously marginalized. TFA would be better off spreading that prize money among all the events.
Double Olympic gold medalist Johnson has a simple take on the TEA "I'm not up on all their concepts, but I know it means more meets," he said. "That's what track needs, more meets."
Johnson vs. Greene
Head-to-head In the 200
Rivalries are at the core of every sport, yet they are exasperatingly rare in track and field, where top athletes too often avoid each other. Not so in the next month when Michael Johnson will twice run 200-meter races against reigning world 100-meter champion Maurice Greene. The first meeting is on Saturday in the inaugural TFA meet, and the second will likely come at the nationals. (Johnson will skip the 400 meters at the nationals, which serve as the qualifier for the world championships, because, as the defending world 400 champ, he has an automatic berth in Seville. The same is true for Greene in the 100.)
The two have faced each other only once at 200 meters since Greene's ascent to world-class level. That was at the 1998 Prefontaine meet, and Greene beat Johnson. At Sunday's Pre, both looked sharp. Greene won the 100 (in a wind-aided 9-84 seconds, the same time as Donovan Bailey's world record) and the 200 (walking across the line in 20.07, also windy), while Johnson took the 400 easily (44.51).
Their approach to the upcoming races mirrors their personalities. The hyperkinetic Greene says, simply and playfully, "Rest in peace, Michael," while the phlegmatic Johnson says, "I don't get geeked to run against one particular person. I have to run. [A matchup like that] is more enjoyable if you get to watch the race." That, of course, is the point.
A Golden Age For Jacobs
It is no accident when a runner gets better with age. Regina Jacobs, who will turn 36 on Aug. 28, ran personal bests last summer for the mile (4:20.93), 3,000 meters (8:39.56) and 5,000 meters (14:52.49) and equaled her 11-year-old PR for the 800 (1:59.36). After winning Sunday's Pre Classic 1,500 in a '99 world best of 4:07.90, Jacobs will be the favorite in both the 1,500 and the 5,000 at the nationals and a medal threat in whichever event she chooses to run at the worlds.
For Jacobs, who never won an NCAA title during her career at Stanford, improvement has been the result of attention to detail. Jacobs and Tom Craig, her husband and coach, monitor every aspect of her training. After intense workouts they draw blood to measure lactic acid buildup. They chart her heart rate every day and test her oxygen uptake every few months. "It's to prevent me from overtraining," says Jacobs. "If it were up to me, I would do far too much." She still does plenty. In May she ran 400-and 800-meter races on a Friday night in Palo Alto and repeated the double the next day in Modesto, Calif.