The TrackTown Summer Series Is Here: Everything You Need to Know from the Press Conference Plus the Pros Don’t Make Much in Europe

July 29, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. — The inaugural TrackTown Summer Series is today in Eugene and the final details emerged about this new meet at Thursday’s press conference.

(For the totally uninitiated, the “Series” is just one meet this year. Athletes in the meet, except for the rabbits, are on one of 4 teams representing cities competing against each other: Portland, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. There will be team points and a team champion with the members of the winning team each getting $1000. LRC preview of the meet here).

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(Speaking of rabbits, the plan according to Vin Lananna is for the men’s 800m to go at 1:45 pace, the 1500m 3:34, the women’s 1500 will go out at 2:10, and the men’s steeple at 8:20. We can’t remember what he said about the women’s 800m but it should be a great one with Brenda Martinez and Melissa Bishop).

First let’s talk details for Friday’s meet. Organizers announced that a co-ed 4×400 will conclude the meet. The co-ed relay is an interesting idea that will likely bring a dramatic conclusion to the meet as there are only 4 teams to begin with and one would think some of them will be close in the scoring heading into the final event.

The athletes also embraced the team concept at the press conference even though they have no allegiance to the teams and some of them didn’t know who was on their teams until they were called up together. Why did they embrace it? Well they are social creatures, and most likely because they get an extra $1,000 if their team wins. That’s decent money for a track athlete. There was some light-hearted trash talk amongst the athletes which is almost never seen at pre-race press conferences and is good for the sport. Chris Hansen of the Eugene Register-Guard has an article that has more on some of the trash talk at the press conference including high jumper Erik Kynard saying, ““We’re gonna win. All the other teams, get used to seeing us up here on the platform.”

In addition, it was announced Olympic Trials 110m hurdles champion Devon Allen will compete at the meet, not on one of the teams but in an exhibition 110m hurdles match race (all the lanes were full in the team hurdle race when Allen said he wanted to run). Allen’s a nice addition to the meet even if he’s not on a team. He’s on the team most Eugene residents care about, the Oregon football team.

Lananna Explains Role of TTUSA

TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna talked about how since the late 1990s when he tried to bring Worlds to the US for the first time and failed to do it in San Francisco or Palo Alto that he wanted to make track and field more viable in the US. The Summer Series is meant to do that. He said, “We need to demonstrate to this country track and field is important and big.” (LRC) asked Lananna what the relationship between TrackTown USA (a nonprofit group out of Eugene) and the TrackTown Summer Series (a for-profit group that nothing is publicly known about) is. Lananna said “we” when talking about the Summer Series and LRC wanted a little clarification on TrackTown USA’s role. Lananna said the investors in the Summer Series do not want to be known at this time, but essentially the investors are paying TrackTown USA to put on this meet. The non-profit TrackTown USA will also put on all of the meets when the Series expands next year. Lananna said the secret investors have already committed to 3 meets next year (one East Coast meet, one West Coast meet and a championship) and five meets in 2018.

There is a 4-mile road race that is part of the Summer Series and is open to the public as well. There will be a beer tent, possibly on the track if we understood correctly. The beer on the track is possible because this is not a University of Oregon event; the facility is being rented by Track Town USA. (Lananna said beer inside the stadium at the Olympic Trials only doesn’t happen because there is not enough space – all the concessions at the Trials are sold outside of the stadium. When Hayward Field expands for the World Championships in 2021, beer sales will be possible inside the concourse).

1,000 children will be at the event and allowed to watch events on the infield. We asked Lananna if fans were actually going to show up, as a lot is unknown about this new event, and he said we’ll find out. Bringing in 1,000 kids for free is a smart way to try to get people (their parents) at the event.

The Athletes Like the $ and Staying in the US

One thing was clear from a lot of the athletes in attendance at the press conference. Travelling and competing in Europe is not that glamorous or lucrative. Shot putter Kurt Roberts said he injured his back because of all the travel and then got subsequent injuries from the back injury that sidelined him even further. 1500m Olympian Robby Andrews said “It’s really fun that I don’t have to travel to Europe and be going all over the place.”

Pole vaulter Mary Saxer said there are two problems with competing in Europe, jet lag and finances. She said, “unless you’re in a Diamond League (meet) you get a couple hundred bucks” for competing plus minimal prize money. Athletes can make much more at Diamond League meets, but there are only so many DL meets and so many athletes who can get in the meet. That leaves a financial situation where she “know(s) going over to Europe I’m starting off in the hole (financially)”.

Every athlete at the TrackTown Summer Series will go home with some money in their pockets. Prize money details are here. Money is paid six deep in each event ($225,000 in total prize money — $11,500 per event x 20 events), plus athletes get appearance money based on where they were drafted (there are 35 athletes on 4 teams so that is $96,000 in appearance fees), plus $35,000 for the members of the winning team ($1,000 each). That makes a total of $356,000 in prize money and appearance fees spread across 140 athletes. (We’ve seen mention of $500,000 in prize money and that is what the Register-Guard said today but don’t think that figure is accurate. For reference, Diamond League meets have $480,000 in prize money across 16 events plus appearance fees.)

One thing is certain and that is athletes don’t have to go to Europe to run fast. Canadian 800m record holder Melissa Bishop set her record at the Edmonton Track Classic and said meets like that and the Summer Series show, “we have huge talent over here, we don’t need to go over to Europe to run fast times.”

And speaking of athletes, you probably want to hear from them.

We spoke to four Olympians: Ben Blankenship (Nike), Emma Coburn (New Balance), Brenda Martinez (New Balance), Donn Cabral (Nike), plus Cas Loxsom (Brooks). Rule 40 started yesterday so the athletes could be kicked out of the Olympics for talking about their sponsors. Ridiculous. So we’ll be sure to mention who pays their bills.

Brenda Martinez of New Balance on the Intersex Controversy at the 800 at the Olympics: “I think it worked out to my benefit where I’m not running the 8 because it’s Caster (Semenya), it’s Francine (Niyonsaba), it’s (Margaret) Wambui” We typed up some of Brenda’s best quotes at the link above as she had more insight on the women’s 800 at the Olympics and Genzebe Dibaba in the 1500.

Emma Coburn of New Balance Talks About Rio Olympics, Summer Series, and Zika
We also typed of Emma’s quotes and have them at the link above if you don’t want to watch (our apologies for the low volume audio the back half).

Ben Blankenship of Nike “Getting through the Trials, it was really nice”

Ben said when Leo Manzano moved up on him for the final Olympic spot with less than 100m to go, he didn’t panic and just stayed focused on “just trying to execute his job.” Ben earlier in the year talked about running the 10,000m at the Trials, but he knew his heart was still in the 1500. Now he’s an Olympian getting to run before the homecrowd fans.

Cas Loxsom of Brooks is Ready to Bounce Back from the Trials But Still Not Happy About the Waterfall Start

Cas Loxsom of the Brooks Beasts had a tough Trials, not making the 800m team and his Brooks Beasts teammates struggled compared to expectations. Cas didn’t sugarcoat it, but said part of the disappointment meant the club had high expectations compared to other groups with bigger budgets. On his own struggles he said, “I was generally bummed out.. (after the Trials). The team in general hit a lull… It was tough.” He’s excited to have new training partner Shaq Walker, who is more of a speed guy like Cas.

Cas also talked about what a joke having a waterfall start in the 800m final was at the Trials was. He said, “that’s high school,” noting that he’s never been in a waterfall start since high school in an 800. Six coaches protested the decision, yet USATF didn’t change.

Donn Cabral Ready for Olympics #2

At the Trials, Donn was pretty disappointed with his race even though he made the Olympic team. With time to reflect he said he wasn’t as disappointed. He made the team after all, and was able to watch it from different angles of video that USATF provided and felt better about it. Now it’s all about getting ready for Rio.

The plan is for the rabbit to go out at 8:20 pace on Friday and Donn likes that saying they can kick to a faster time if that’s the rabbit’s pace. After the meet, Donn will fly to Houston for USOC Olympic team processing. Then he will fly on a semi-private United jet to Rio with other Olympians for the opening ceremonies.

Donn said the USOC and USATF prepare the athletes well and last Olympics some of the veterans like Sanya Richards-Ross took him aside on the team bus and gave him some informal advice on what to expect. He hasn’t forgotten the kind words and now is friendly with SRR.

We don’t think the audio below is audible but you can try with earphones.