Not all sports are created equally, and as a result the way that numbers are perceived is quite different. Many of the most revered numbers in sports are those achieved over a lifetime or at least a season. Baseball has the lifetime homerun record for batters and the 20-win season for pitchers. Football has its leading rusher, most TD's, and most pass receptions over a season and career. Basketball has its leading free throw percentage, career points and career rebounds.
Track and field boils down more to numbers that represent a single performance – best time, best height, best distance. It is the sport of the PR (personal record).You are known by your numbers. And someone who has never met you will make instant assumptions based on a single performance.
That's what makes the sport so interesting, but so nerve-wracking. It doesn't settle for less than your best. In baseball, even if you're batting .350, people understand that you'll have those 0 for 4 days because that stat deals with averages. In track, no one cares what your average mile is! If you've run 4:30, they expect to see you run 4:30 or better – certainly not slower.
I call it the “wow” factor. Anything less than your personal best just isn't going to generate widespread excitement. But that number is your calling card. If your wow factor is “WOW” people's expectations rise and a buzz precedes your performance.
The biggest buzz I ever witnessed was in 1981 when Ayer lined up at the Massachusetts state finals with a good shot at breaking the Massachusetts and national record in the 4X1. They had already run under 42 seconds at least once, and earlier in the meet Mike Morris had set a state record with a 10.4h. During that 100M race there had been a collective gasp as everyone rose to their feet in a standing ovation. For the relay, the anticipation had everyone up early. But the collective gasp came when the leadoff runner (this was back in the day that the top seed was placed in lane 1) only made three steps before he slipped and fell to the track.
How did I get on this tangent? Because this morning when I checked the results of the Connecticut Championships I said to myself, “WOW”? I thought the Massachusetts results looked great, but we're going to have our hands full.
One more tangent before I get down to the preview. I've had many conversations with the runnerville.com pundits about track's double-edged sword of using record attempts to generate interest in the sport. When records don't materialize – which is most of the time – people may walk away feeling let down. But take heart. There are enough good races coming up this weekend to give you the “POW”. I consider pow the rush you get from watching a race go down to the wire.
FRiday I'll be posting my preview.