I had mixed feelings when the U.S. Olympic Trials organizing committee officially announced its plan for “Hammer Time” last October. Moving the Olympic Trials hammer throw competition from Eugene up to the Portland area could very well highlight the event, but without the right support it also means that the hammer could further vanish into obscurity.
Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed first hand how taking an event out of the stadium can benefit both the event and the meet. Here in Zurich, the Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meeting invests hundreds of thousands every year into hosting an elite shot put competition in the train station the day before the meet. The shot put competition not only publicizes the main event, but draws more attention to the throwers than they likely would have received in the main stadium.
Hammer Time has this much potential and more. Taking place the day before the week-long festivities begin in Eugene, Hammer Time provides the Trials with a great promotional opportunity: the competition will take place in a bigger media market, on the campus (and with the backing of a Fortune 500 company), and produce the first members of the U.S. Olympic track and field team. Local media that might not travel to Eugene will no doubt highlight the event. But the overall success depends on how the Hammer Time is marketed and promoted.
There are a number of downsides too. Many of the sports core fans and media will be in Eugene and not Portland that day. The announced 12 hours of live national TV coverage only begins on Friday with the main competition. I also feel that the meet’s chosen format takes away one of my favorite parts of the Trials. Field events at the Trials normally take place over two days: a one day long qualifying round, and then a quick final featuring the top 12 throwers in the country on day two. The Hammer Time schedule sounds like a bore. The six hours of scheduled competitions will feature multiple flights of throwers with prelims and finals right after each other.
Conspiracy theorists immediately said that this decision was made not to highlight the hammer, but to free up some valuable space at Hayward Field. The popular stadium is already cramped for space, and the large hammer field just south of the stadium gives the meet directors and sponsors more room to accommodate fans and athletes. I disregarded these accusations at first, but am now coming around to them. I have seen no promotion of the event in the six months since it has been launched (despite my attempts to work with the meet organizers to promote it on this site). Vin Lannana and some local athletes visited Portland last Thursday to spread word about the Trials and top track journalist Ken Goe noted, “In Portland, 100 miles north, the Trials haven’t really registered.” What better opportunity is there to generate interest by mentioning that the Trials actually start in the Portland area? Instead, little or no reference was made to Hammer Time during the media blitz.
As defending US champion Kibwé Johnson said on Twitter this week, it is also frustrating to see all public references to the Trials mention the start date as June 22nd, when the event actually starts with the hammer on June 21st. Even the USATF website lists the Trials dates as “June 22 – 25 and June 28 – July 1, 2012” and when you click on the schedule it automatically skips the hammer and shows you the schedule for “Day 1 – June 22.”
I’m not ready to give up on the event since it still presents a great opportunity to highlight a wonderful event. With a near American record by Jessica Cosby on Friday and great progress by Kibwé Johnson this offseason, we could potentially see two American records at the event. But people have to be watching for it to grab the headlines. There are still two months left for things to change, and I’m hoping the organizing committee and Nike will use the opportunity to throw their weight behind Hammer Time for the benefit of our event and the Trials as a whole.