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RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football?
Compare to gymnastics and swimming. Neither sport is "popular" in the way that football or basketball is, but both are certainly more popular than running in terms of media profile. Come Olympics time, they're on air constanly and people like Nastia Liukin and Michael Phelps and Aaron Piersol and Shawn Johnson become celebrities. This happens because Americans compete legitimately with the rest of the world, and American viewers and consumers like to see that and cheer them on. In the 70s, American distance runners competed with the rest of the world. No matter what the sport, people like the idea of becoming famous. So when runners were getting famous, legions of younger runners tried their damnedest to be like them. Now gymnasts and swimmers are getting famous, so more kids go to gymnastics camp and join swimming clubs than put in miles on the 'crete and assorted other surfaces.
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