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Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:37AM Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I always keep hearing about the "golden days of the 70s/80s". Why was distance running so popular then? Was it more popular than football, or baskeball? Or was it just a more "mainstream" sport? Was it because of people like Prefontaine?

If you look at many old courses that have been around for decades (I come from California, so the courses that have been around for a long time here off the top of my head are Crystal Springs, Mt. Sac, and Woodward Park). A lot of the top 20 times are from the 70s and 80s... for example, on Crystal Springs, in the last decade there have only been a handful of boys and girls that have gotten on to the top 20 list (Tori Tyler being the most notable, for her amazing 16:51 run all alone).

Why is this? You'd think with all this new technology today the record books would be constantly reset, but no, most of the records are from decades ago...
yeah, okay
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:46AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
"Was it more popular than football?"

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A little more seriously: today's runners (mostly) haven't had a lot of phys ed and free play before they take up high school xc/tf. Kids back then had more. As a result, current kids can't handle training loads as well--without breaking down--so the loads are (have to be) lower.

Also, there was a real "more is better" aesthetic in the 1970s. By the 1990s, there'd been a major shift to "work smarter [so called], not harder" and the performances got worse.

Plus, there were more kids back then participating in sports and fewer taking afterschool jobs. Et cetera.
HRE
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:48AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
It was never more popular than football. Not even remotely close to it. It wasn't nearly as popular as baseball or basketball either. And the number of participants was probably smaller than now.
What was different was the way a lot of people approached it. The average age at a race is probably much older now than it was then. Many of us put in loads and loads more training miles than people do now. A lot of people, though certainly not all of them, were running for performance rather than for health.
Curious Coach
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:54AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
One:
Running for the mainstream population was seen as new and exciting during the running boom of the 70's and early 80's. As the novelty of the activity wore off, so did the excitement surrounding competition.

Two:
It cannot be stressed enough how much talent soccer has pulled away from middle and long distance running in the US. Soccer attracts huge numbers of kids. These kids were running track 30 years ago.

Three:
As a culture we do not stress participation in sports the way Americans did in the past. In 1975 EVERYONE did SOMETHING. Whether it was wrestling, basketball, baseball, football, or running - very high percentages of boys participated in organized sports. At many schools some sort of extra-curricular activity was required. Most girls were in the pep club. A few played sports. Boys played sports. A few did something else. Period.
ditka power
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:56AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
i think it was up there in terms of recreational popularity, but the only running you ever saw in the olympics.

there wasnt so much tv coverage back then, so it was a totally different story. i think baseball was bigger back then with the powerhouse cincinatti reds, oakland athletics, and pittsburgh pirates.

i think football became much more popular in the 80's when you have guys like dan marino, jerry rice, and others who became icons.

i think that basketball owned the late 80's and early 90's with the Jordan era and the dream team.
Birdlegs
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 10:57AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
When Frank Shorter won the '72 Olympic Marathon, running suddenly became the thing to do, and it became more mainstream. A writer named Jim Fixx put out a book about running that became a best seller, and it introduced a lot of people to running. (I don't think the book said anything extraordinary, it was just the right book at the right time.) It was no longer considered weird to be out running. Those two events could be credited with starting the "running boom".

Also, as a previous poster stated, HS kids were less distracted with after school jobs.

The more runners you have, the tougher the competition, the faster the times.

Was running more popular than football? No. But it was considered less geeky to be a cross country runner than in the 60s.
set8ux
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 11:02AM - in reply to Birdlegs Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Joan Benoit was also another person who became very famous, if I recall correctly. After she won the marathon, she could not go places without being recognized.
a big reason among others
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 11:10AM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Ever heard of a guy called "Pre"? Steve Prefontaine. You had to 'be there' to understand it all. (oh, and I know how pissed off that makes alot of you young guys who are not happy that you missed out on this era, so you lash out).
Sneaky Pete
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 11:56AM - in reply to Birdlegs Reply | Return to Index | Report Post

Birdlegs wrote:

When Frank Shorter won the '72 Olympic Marathon, running suddenly became the thing to do, and it became more mainstream.


The most important part of that was that he made it look so easy.
mother clucker
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 12:43PM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
As with most "movements" there wasn't just one thing.

Multiple things were occurring simultaneously.

Shorter
Rise of Nike
Budweiser and Coors poured lots of money into advertising and races.
Lots of people were kicking over from heart disease and there was an emphasis placed on exercise and diet.
Road races became more main stream - lots of people racing down Main Street USA - it was a novelty.
More of an emphasis was placed on competition and not so much on participation. People would ask how high you placed or how far behind the winner - they had not yet been indoctrinated into "finishing is winning".
People who ran back then were actually fit.
If you wanted to run Boston - qualifying was a real challenge.
Track meets and marathons were covered live or ~1 hour delay, start to finish. There were only 3 - 4 channels back then.
American guys won races or the winners had names that people could pronounce.
Blowing Rock Master
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 12:58PM - in reply to mother clucker Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Do you remember the ITA pro meets? I can remember watching Ryun and Keino racing indoors when I was a little kid. I think they showed them live on Friday nights.

To your list I would add Dave Wottle winning the Olympics with that stunning kick. That's what inspired me to start running.
mother clucker
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 1:59PM - in reply to Blowing Rock Master Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
the ITA was a little before my time or before i followed track.

i do remember watching geoff smith and rod dixon going at it - incredible race. it was either live or short tape delay, and was covered start to finish.

also, back then it was often the case that college football players and some nfl guys participated in track meets - renaldo nehemiah, herschel(sp) walker, bo jackson, etc.

somewhere along the way, everything started to collapse - beer advertising pulled out, "aerobics" became trendy, "more is less" and "finishing is winning" began to creep in.

race directors began simply going for numbers - so everyone was welcomed and encouraged. then along came the clown costumes, jugglers, etc.

at the same time came the rise of the africans - the press started covering the obese woman who had a wooden leg with a kickstand.

college football coaches started up more spring training camps, etc. and de-emphasized track.
I seem to recall
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:07PM - in reply to mother clucker Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
In 85 or 86 I ran a 32:42 at a fairly decent sized 10-K and got 47th. Comp was way tougher.
Serious Answerer
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:17PM - in reply to I seem to recall Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Prefontaine had little if anything to do with the larger popularity of running in that era. Almost nothing that happened on the track did. It was a road phenomenon, mainly a marathon one. Patti Catalano Dillon was a more important "popular" figure than Prefontaine, and of course, the four biggest were Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar.
But no, running was not bigger than football.
Slowpokeman
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:22PM - in reply to I seem to recall Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Running was never more popular than football. But football wasn't as popular then as it is today.

It did help that in the 70s/80s there were American stars winning big events, like Shorter, Rodgers, Salazar, etc.

Running also fits well into a Gen X mindset. Independent, latch-key kids who had to find their own way and were willing to work their tails off. Largely ignored by the adult world and driven by instrinsic goals. For Gen Xers quantity and quality were the same thing. Many of them didn't train very smart, but they did train hard.

Running doesn't fit as well into the Gen Y mindset, which is one of having life hyper-organized by adults and also one of cooperative learning and "teams." Gen Y is just much better suited to team sports like soccer. They work great in teams and work hard, but more for extrinsic reasons. And, they seem to take losing in stride much more than Gen X ever did.
Keith Stone
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:24PM - in reply to mother clucker Reply | Return to Index | Report Post

mother clucker wrote:
Budweiser and Coors poured lots of money into advertising and races.

Let's not forget the very big Pepsi Challenge Series. They were giving thousands of shirts to race organizers, helping advertise, etc.


Road races became more main stream - lots of people racing down Main Street USA - it was a novelty.


True, and more cities supported events as part of normal operations instead of for a price. The runners (or bikers for that matter) in those days weren't just looked at as the a**holes blocking the road.


If you wanted to run Boston - qualifying was a real challenge.


In 1970 when they instituted the standards for Boston they were the ability to finish in under 4 hours. It was several years until the standards were lowered and age graded.
Birdlegs
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:26PM - in reply to Blowing Rock Master Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
To: Blowing Rock Master

Yes, I remember the ITA meets in the 70s. Back then the money did not flow like it does now, so guys like Jim Ryun had to try to make money on the "pro-circuit". What a shame that Jim Ryun was so broke after the 72 Olympics that he was reduced to running track meets that were like a circus just to try for TV ratings. If I recall, they often had a string of lights around the rail, and they would chase the light, which was probably set at 4 minute pace or WR pace.
past his prime
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:32PM - in reply to return to the index Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
I mostly agree with the previous postings, but have a few thoughts to add:

1. Track meets, or at least the marquee events, were televised with some regularity on network television (no cable, really, until late 70s and early 80s and it was more a luxury than the norm back then). Think ABC's Wide World of Sports--two hours every Saturday and with a lot of Olympic-type sports coverage.

2. You cannot underestimate what regular doses of seeing Jim Ryun, then Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine on television did for distance running. Others, like Marty Liquori and Dave Wottle, helped, but the big three were Ryun, Prefontaine, and Shorter. Honestly, Shorter did far more to raise the profile of the sport than Prefontaine. Prefontaine's cult following largely came after his death. Ryun truly did get things going.

3. The numbers of truly competitive high school and college runners in the 70s and 80s compared to what we have now is probably exaggerated by the memories of those who were there. I don't recall seeing nearly as many people at the front of the pack in races as we see now at the high school and college levels. There was some exceptional talent in the 70s and 80s, but there really is more of it now.

4. Not only soccer, but also trendy sports such as lacrosse and hockey were not in the picture in the 70s. A typical high school in the 1970s offered football, basketball, wrestling, track and field, baseball, and cross country. Upscale high schools might have had tennis, golf, and swimming as well. Girls sports were just getting started in the late 70s. They basically had volleyball, basketball, and track. Girls cross country was met with disdain by many because it was perceived they couldn't run that far--or at least that it was not healthy for them to do so. So, the competitive running boom of the 70s and 80s was mostly a male phenomenon, Joan Benoit and Mary Decker notwithstanding.

5. While it is also true that most kids went out for sports in high school back in those days, this was largely a football phenomenon. Rare was the high school that had large numbers of distance runners. Football, frankly, always had more sex appeal. In all but a few schools, distance running was widely regarded as a fringe sport for kids too skinny to play football. Skinny was not what anyone wanted to be.

6. It is true that high school kids had a much broader base of basic strength and physical activity back in the day than they do now (though weight lifting was just then beginning to come into vogue). Kids didn't have as many outside jobs, but many more were kept serious busy at home or on the farm by their fathers. Pong, the first serious video game, emerged in the mid to late 70s. Physical activity hasn't been the same since. BUT, running footwear then was not nearly what it is now. Kids ran miles and miles in Converse All-Stars, and got all-star cases of shin splints. I hate to imagine how many cases of stress fractures went undiagnosed, but many of those kids just quit running because it hurt so much. Many runners also quit because of knee trouble. I remember frequently being yelled at by occupants of a passing car as I would run alongside streets, "You're going to ruin your knees doing that!"

All in all, a mixed bag. My assessment? The top talent stood out more then and top talent is always what people remember. There is more top talent now and the top talent is slightly better than then. There is much, much more talent in the average state cross country meet than there was 30 years ago.
mother clucker
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:33PM - in reply to Slowpokeman Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
Interesting observation Slowpokeman. I was listening to a local sports talk show hosted by a retired NBA player. He observed similar things ... He made the point that until he was a sophomore in HS he never participated in any organized sports, no clinics, no nothing. On Saturday morning, he ate a bowl of cereal and headed over to the neighborhood vacant lot with his bat and glove and played till the sun went down. He said that he would have hated going to practice, clinics and camps ... and his mom and dad would have never taken him to all of that in the first place.

I run by these fabulous soccer fields, baseball fields, playgrounds, and they all look like ghost towns - with the exception of organized yadda, yadda - then there are 3000 - 5000 kids and adults watching practice.






Slowpokeman wrote:

Running doesn't fit as well into the Gen Y mindset, which is one of having life hyper-organized by adults and also one of cooperative learning and "teams." Gen Y is just much better suited to team sports like soccer.
mother clucker
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football? 1/19/2009 2:37PM - in reply to Keith Stone Reply | Return to Index | Report Post
forgot about the pepsi challenge - thanks keith!

*********

i talked to some people who lived in boulder during the boom and finally, the city council said enough! no more races because there was a race or 2 every weekend. now in boulder there is really only one race on the city streets - bolder boulder. the rest are at the res, or on the cu campus.
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