By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BOSTON (18-Jun) — With spectators packed three deep on each side and rhythmic clapping filling the air, the atmosphere here at the inaugural adidas Boost Boston Games was electric. Quite simply, track and field captured the attention of one and all on a gorgeous afternoon downtown, bringing the sport to thousands of wide-eyed onlookers.
Meet Director Mark Wetmore and many of the Olympic athletes participating today agreed that the first competitive street track and field meeting in American history was a resounding success.
“We’re really thrilled with the turnout, the crowd, with how the whole thing came together,” said Wetmore, speaking exclusively to Race Results Weekly while standing on the five-lane blue Mondo track. “You can never be sure when you’re doing something like this that’s never been done. We’re really pleased.”
From an idea that was conjured up earlier this year to the two-day meet that unfolded within Boston over the last 48 hours, the adidas Boost Boston Games achieved Wetmore’s ultimate goal: bringing track and field to the masses, showcasing Olympic medal contenders and top athletes in a fun, engaging environment.
Highlighted by Marvin Bracy’s 10.23-second 100m upset over Olympic gold medalist Yohan Blake, and Torie Bowie’s 11.03 clocking in the women’s 100m, today’s competition was all about the sprints and field events. Drawing both athletics enthusiasts and those simply strolling through Boston Common, each sprint, jump, and vault drew the admiration of an attentive crowd.
While Wetmore could not project an estimated crowd figure, one would guess a figure in the 3,000 to 4,000 range, similar to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix here which Wetmore also directs. Amidst the crowd was Boston Police Commissioner William “Billy” Evans, who recently completed his 50th marathon. Wetmore did say that approximately 2,200 attended Friday night’s distance carnival in nearby Somerville.
“It surpasses my expectations a little bit,” Wetmore said. “We had a beautiful day and there were so many people here, I can’t even begin to estimate.”
Reactions from athletes were primarily positive. The unconventional 190-meter straightaway combined with the crowd being a mere foot from the action made for an unforgettable experience. Many competitors said that the event was among the most exciting they’d been a part of, simply for the ambiance and atmosphere.
Save for a few hiccups (Olympic champion and fan favorite Jenn Suhr withdrawing from the pole vault before making her first attempt, and Blake calling the track “atrocious” following his loss for it’s bouncy quality), the meet appeared to go off without a hitch. Though the track may have been bouncy, it saw fast times like Bowie’s winning sprint.
“There’s a learning curve to it, to the underpart of this track,” Wetmore said. “I think next year when we can get things properly lasered and all of the things that can happen over six or eight months [preparation], I’m confident that we’ll have a track that’s much higher quality. It was a little bit like running indoor track, where if you catch the wrong board. It had a little bit of that [bounce], and I think a lot of the athletes embraced it knowing that this track was only made today.”
More important than fast times and the track’s elasticity was the fans’ reaction and appreciation for track and field. Over the course of five minutes, Wetmore reflected on the last 48 hours and the event’s potential impact on the sport. More importantly, he saw the event had an impact on the community at large.
In multiple pre-race interviews, Wetmore wanted people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy the event. That was evident during the meet’s presentation, both informational for the casual bystander and technical for those who follow the sport religiously. After the end of competition, families could be seen racing one another on the straightaway, experiencing their own Olympic moment while organizers began disassembling the venue.
“After the meet was over, there was 20 kids running down the track before we take it apart, including two of my own… When kids see [the track] they are attracted to it and that’s the first thing that they want to do, get on the track and start running,” Wetmore said. “It’s exactly what we wanted. There were people who were just coming up [to the event], asking ‘Hey what kind of event’s going on? Oh it’s track and field, like the Olympic Games. Oh OK!’ People who clearly had never been to a track meet before, and they were enjoying it.”
It is unknown if street meets like these are a way of the future for track and field, but Wetmore sees this method working across the country. His company, Global Athletics and Marketing, now owns the track, shipped from Italy earlier this week. Wetmore didn’t indicate whether another meet of the like would be organized soon, but did leave open the possibility that something similar could be presented elsewhere.
Eric Stokes, the adidas Boys’ Dream 100m champion, called the meet “amazing.” Sprinter Bowie likened it to the feeling she got when she was 15, running down the middle of the road back home in Mississippi. Bracy said it was a blessing to simply be a part of the event.
Coming on the heels of the IAAF’s decision to continue the suspension of the Russian athletics federation for supporting a pervasive doping culture, it was nice to have a positive event that brought athletics to the forefront for the right reasons. Athletes gave out their bib numbers, signed autographs, and posed for pictures, creating new fans and solidifying others.
On a subway car leaving the city, a group of Boston Red Sox fans departing Fenway Park sat down next to a family coming from the adidas Boost Boston Games. One could overhear the back-and-forth conversation, which was dominated by tales of the exciting action on the track (and not by the Red Sox 6-2 victory). Rarely do the Red Sox play second fiddle to anyone in this city, let alone track and field.
“It’s a great event for a city to embrace, and excite the sports base and bring track and field to the community,” Wetmore said earlier in the day. “From one year-olds to 101, everyone loves track and field. We just have to present it, I believe, in a slightly modernized format.”