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Sir Walter Miler not your grandfather's track and field meet

Tony Casey • Updated Aug 12, 2015 at 4:39 PM

Screaming fans are not often associated with track and field meets stateside, but a new tide is coming and has been in the works for several years to bring the level of excitement found at European and other international athletics competitions to the United States.

This past weekend, the Sir Walter Miler invitational meet took place in Raleigh, North Carolina, welcoming fields of some of the best men’s and women’s milers on the planet. Compared to the likes of the Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, the adidas Grand Prix in New York City or even the Payton Jordan Invitational on Stanford University’s campus in California, the Sir Walter Miler meet would be considered smaller and more regional than national or international, but through the cooperation of Pat Price, Sandy Roberts and other running aficionados in the greater Raleigh area, they continue to push the boundaries of what’s expected with track and field meets and show the hand of what I hope will be the future of the sport.

As has been the case with America’s pastime, baseball, where measures have been taken to speed up the game to keep the ever-distracted attention of sports fans, track and field needs this shake up. Personally, I’m the kind of track geek who would be willing to sit through a three-hour track meet, feverishly watching the outcomes of everything from women’s triple jump to the men’s 10,000-meter race, but recognize for the sport to grow, it needs to mix in meets that are more “quick hit“ than that.

Through the help of track and field media companies like Flotrack, Runnerspace and Letsrun, which promote the sport through different means, the athletes have been given the opportunities to let their personalities shine through. In a world of smartphone video, an athlete can give pre-, post- and analytical running interviews, giving them more personal value than before and the ability to better their brands.

Flotrack was on hand, doing what they do best, filming live for their FloPro subscribers, who pay for the ability to watch track and field meets in real time. As Flotrack’s first intern and someone who wrote for them for several years, I got to see, from the inside, exactly how they work with meets like the Sir Walter Miler to promote the sport, rightly giving these athletes a chance to increase their celebrity and marketability.

Not only does this enlighten track fans to the personalities of the sport’s stars, but it could very well bring in new fans, which is much needed.

Sir Walter Miler most definitely did that. It was a track meet, but it was much more than that, incorporating craft beer and food trucks, which were parked just across the road from the Meredith College track where the meet was held. Mix a little beer and food in with music and ecstatic fans and you’ve got the makings of a party.

Speaking of which, there were before and after parties surrounding the meet, which more resembled the fun that can found on the European track circuit.

As fun as it was to enjoy the before and after festivities, what Sir Walter Miler did best was allow raucous fans down onto the track to surround the competitors. After the first 100 meters of the elite race began, the outside four lanes were flooded with local high school, college and post-collegiate runners, as well as track and field fans like myself.

Making the finish of the race a tunnel of people, with the volume cranked up to 11, we all witnessed two of country’s best talents — adidas’ Robby Andrews and Hoka One One’s Kyle Merber — battle up the final hundred, with Andrews just pipping Merber in the last meters.

Johnson City’s own Christian Brewer earned his way into the race as well, finishing a dozen or so seconds behind, taking advantage of his victories in ”pop up” miles to qualify himself for this professional race. It was a mixture of all things good for the sport, as well as some new tricks to get fans new and old, into the meet.

In one of the best, quickest meets I’ve ever been to, I can’t wait to see more like it.

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

 

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