Showing Our Wings
As a passionate track & field fan, I was excited when United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the governing body of the sport in the US, started a fan rewards program in January 2014. The idea was for fans to log-in to their rewards account daily to receive “wings” and to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to promote USATF and also earn wings. With these wings, fans could buy different reward items such as USATF gloves, signed merchandise, and USATF experiences.
When I reached 25,000 wings, I quickly bought a pair of USATF gloves. My wife, Malinda (a.k.a. the Track Widow), also accumulated points but she strategically held on to hers waiting for something “bigger and better” than gloves. As the USA Outdoor Championships, which were taking place in Sacramento, approached a new reward became available for 25,000 wings – the chance to present an award at USA’s. I didn’t have enough wings but Malinda did! By the time we got Malinda logged in and ready to pull the trigger, the reward was sold out. However, the next day, something even better was available – the chance to hold the finish line for one of the races. We logged in and Malinda got it! Woo-hoo! Malinda was the perfect person for this job because three years ago she wrote a blog about the challenges of holding the finish line for a race. (It’s not as easy as you might think.)
We spent the next day strategizing about her options. Should she choose Shannon Rowbury’s race and risk missing getting to watch the race? I suggested a sprint race which increased her likelihood of a close finish and thus some TV time. Malinda put it to her Facebook friends as well as discussing it with her work colleagues. She decided that it was a non-qualifying year (i.e. no Olympics or World Championship qualifying berths were on the line) and thus there was less pressure and it would be okay to hold the finish line for Shannon’s race.
A couple days later a new reward came up on the USATF rewards page – for 25,000 wings you could co-host The Cool Down show on USATFtv. Now that is something I would love to do… but I didn’t have enough wings. A few days went by and I noticed that the reward was still available. I decided to go for it. I started tweeting with the USATF hashtag to get extra wings. Finally one night at 1:00 A.M. I had 25,000 wings and I bought the reward. I was in heaven! The chance to go on internet and talk about my favorite subject – track & field!
The week leading up to USAs was full of excitement. We communicated with Caleb Bailey, the strategic programs manager with USATF. He set things up for us and confirmed that Malinda would hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I would do The Cool-Down show Friday night after the women’s 5000. I was beyond excited. I was going to get to talk to Dan O’Brien and tell him how he gave up his seat on the train one night on the way home from the London Olympic Stadium, which allowed Malinda and me to sit together. I rehearsed in my mind what questions I would ask the 5000 meter race winner, preparing for both Shannon and the other favorite, Molly Huddle. Every night, I would say to Malinda, “Pretend you’re Dan O’Brien; ask me a question!”
When we got to Sacramento, Caleb had a couple more surprises for us. I was going to get to join Malinda and hold the finish line and we would both get to be down on the track to watch the race.
About thirty minutes before the women’s 5000 we were taken down to the finish line area. We got to see behind the scenes for the men’s and women’s 100 meters. Then we were taken onto the track where we watched the women’s 5000 meter race unfold. We were given instructions to stay out of the camera sight lines and to not block any of the sponsor’s signs. We cheered quietly for Shannon, not wanting to create a scene. At one point, some of my friends sitting on the backstretch in the ‘Aggies section’ saw me and started heckling and yelling at me. To their delight, I took their picture as they all waved and cheered. On the track, as expected, Molly was leading and Shannon was right behind her. Being on the track, instead of in my usual seat in the stands, I had a hard time getting a sense of what kind of time they were on pace to run. As the race reached the final laps the small pack of runners who had initially stayed with Molly and Shannon fell back. It became a two woman race.
By this point we were near the finish line and receivinga tutorial about what to do. “Make sure you don’t block the finish line timing camera,” we were reminded. Malinda would be on the infield holding one end of the finish line. She was to let go as soon as the runner hit it. I would be in lane three holding the rolled up end of the finish line and I was not supposed to let go. I remember hearing someone tell me, “After Treniere comes by go on to the track.” It was something I would say at Kezar Stadium at the Tuesday night track workout, “after the guy in the black shorts comes by, let’s get on,” only we were at the USA Championships, not Kezar!
After I got situated on the track I looked up and Shannon had taken the lead with about 200 to go. I felt myself jumping up and down despite knowing I should stay calm. A runner was close to getting lapped so we had to wait until she passed before we handed the end of the finish line to Malinda. Once that was done I looked up and Molly was moving up on Shannon. They were both drifting out. For a split second, Molly was running right towards me. I instinctively backed up into lane four but had the foresight to know that I needed to unspool the finish line tape from the roll or else I would rip it out of Malinda’s hands. Just in time I backed out of the way and Molly crossed the finish line and broke the tape, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Shannon.
It was a great race and a dramatic finish between two of the US’s top runners (they were 6th and 7th place at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow). It would have been a dream situation for me and Malinda had Shannon won, but that’s the drama of sports… you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
We waited awhile for Shannon and then got to give her a hug before she went for interviews and drug testing. Then we were whisked off to the set of The Cool Down show. We got to talk to Dan O’Brien and told him our London train story. I quickly changed into the red USATF polo shirt they wanted me to wear for the show and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the set with a microphone in my hand. The producers were all very nice as they made some small talk to put me at ease. Running friends and fellow coaches saw me and started gathering around the set hooting and hollering and taking my picture. Molly Huddle sat down next to me and put on a headset. We had to wait thirteen minutes for a segment on Kirani James to finish and then the red light went on… we were on the air. After some introductions and opening questions by Paul Swangard, I got to ask Molly a question, and then to close the segment I got asked a question. And then it was all over. Molly and I came off the stage and in our place came Dan O’Brien and Bernard Lagat.
All in all it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a track meet… and I’ve been to a lot of meets. At one point last week, Malinda had remarked, “I hope this lives up to our expectations.” Not only did it live up to expectations, it exceeded them. Thanks #USATFrewards!