Olympians Vied At Indoor Nationals
Although there were no track and field athletes with direct ties to Albuquerque competing for the U.S. in the recent London Summer Games, the Duke City can still puff out its chest for being the launching pad for many of the standouts who earned podium finishes in London.
According to USA Track & Field, there were 33 medal winners in the Olympics who competed at the USAT&F National Indoor Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center over the past three years.
Is there anywhere else in the world but the Olympics that someone can see that many medal-caliber athletes in one location?
“No. You’re not even going to see that in swimming,” said UNM track and field/cross-country head coach Joe Franklin of the collection of talent at the Nationals who went on to Summer Games success – including gold in eight track and field events in London.
Six athletes who performed in Albuquerque earned multiple medals in the games: Allyson Felix (gold in 200 meters, 4×100 relay, 4×400 relay), sprinter Carmelita Jeter (gold 4×100 relay, silver 100M, bronze 200M), Sonya Richards-Ross (gold in both the 400M, 4×400 relay), DeeDee Trotter (gold 4×400 relay, bronze 400M), Will Claye (silver triple jump, bronze long jump) and Justin Gatlin (silver 4×100 relay, bronze 100M).
Albuquerque is also scheduled to play host to the Nationals in 2013 and 2014, to the delight of Mayor Richard Berry, a former decathlete at UNM.
“It took a lot of work by a lot of people to get this event,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “We encourage fans to come down March 2nd and 3rd next year. Lock it in on your calendars, and we’ll see you down there.
“You’ll get to see a lot of the past stars and those of the next generation – all of whom you can go down and shake their hands. … You can be sitting 10 feet from the track watching athletes you just saw on the worldwide stage. You don’t have to sit in the stands a half mile away and use binoculars.”
The city also awaits word on its proposal to play host to the 2014 NCAA Division I Indoor Championships. Dan Ballou, director of sports marketing at the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, said an announcement could come this fall. Albuquerque has never been host of this event before.
The USAT&F, meanwhile, boasts of a wonderful relationship with the Duke City.
“Albuquerque has shown itself to be an outstanding host to our USA Indoor Championships the past three years,” said Jill Geer, chief communications officer for the organization. “Their community support, strong attendance and logistical seamlessness work strongly in Albuquerque’s favor.”
Dale Lockett, president and CEO of the ACVB, is equally pleased the Duke City is becoming a mecca for the sport.
“Bringing this event back year after year has generated national media coverage for our destination, which is one of the primary reasons we continue to pursue the opportunity,” Lockett said via email. “In 2012, the event was nationally broadcast on ESPN to approximately 470,000 households. This helps us showcase Albuquerque’s desirability as an outdoor recreation/sports destination, especially with several of the athletes training here leading up to the meet and some throughout the year.
“Hosting this event also draws a variety of trade media within the track and field circuits who cover the championships in detail and put Albuquerque in the spotlight of the track community. This also helps keep Albuquerque on the radar for opportunities to host future track competitions.
“Being fresh off the Summer Olympics, where track and field is a major highlight,” continued Lockett, “the ACVB is planning to heavily tout the Olympic connections as we promote the 2013 Indoor Championships.”
The ACVB estimates the championships generate about $1 million in direct spending for Albuquerque each year. Not bad considering the bid fee to host the event was $15,000 for each year from 2010-12. The fee for 2013 and 2014 is in the negotiating stage, but the ACBV says it’s just a formality before the deal is signed.
“TV exposure itself will help us recoup what we spend,” Ballou said.
Franklin gushes over the facilities at the Convention Center, which can seat 2,800 for indoor track.
“They’re unbelievable; it’s one of the top tracks in the world,” he said. “The city and Parks and Recreation Department have done a great job maintaining the track and hosting the competition.”
The running surface plays a special role.
“It’s mondo on top of marine-grade plywood,” he said. “You get a lot of return on the track. The infield is also elevated, which is different than any track in the U.S. Most tracks adhere their track to concrete.
“And the television people love the lighting – the best lighting for a track meet other than in Doha, Qatar, which hosted the World Championships because they have more money than they know what to do with.”
And those aren’t the only reasons Albuquerque has had a stranglehold on the championships.
“I can’t even explain how easy it is to get in and out of Albuquerque,” Franklin said. “No other city is like this. You’re a five-minute walk from your hotel to the Convention Center, five minutes to restaurants, five minutes to entertainment, and it’s just five miles to the airport.
“It’s the easiest place to get in and out of in the country.”
All of which is paying benefits when it comes to recruiting at UNM.
“It’s all name recognition,” Franklin said, “without a doubt.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal