A Living Breathing Organism · 24 May 2014

If you have ever been to a track and field meet, you would probably agree that it looks like chaos. Or close. But when you have been to a few, you realize that it is more like a living and breathing organism. It has a heartbeat and rhythm all its own.

When most people think of sporting events, they think of games like football and basketball where there are goals and the participants do what they need to do (within the rules, of course) to meet those goals. In many sports, the goal is to score points by getting a ball (or puck or something) through or into a goal. Scoring points (by placing in events) and meeting goals are part of track and field too, but the goals are a bit different. In track and field participants are trying to outrun, outjump, outthrow, outvault, and just plain outdo their competitors in whatever events they are competing. More importantly though, they are competing against the clock and the tape to try to outdo themselves and beat their own personal records.

All of this competing takes place on the track and in the field. Like I said, it looks like chaos to the casual observer. But once you get the feel for it, there is a rhythm to a track and field meet. In fact, it seems like all the athletes, coaches, and officials are part of one big organism.

Runners take your mark.

Most of the action seems to take place around the big oval track. In the beginning of the meet, athletes are warming up for their events. There are large and small groups jogging around the track. There are people stretching over hurdles or on the ground. There are people who look like they are just milling around. And there is always a flurry of activity around the finish line where officials are getting ready for the competition to start. Before the meet really gets underway, the track appears to just be a jumble of people milling around.


At most facilities, the field events (jumps, throws, and pole vault) are around the periphery of the track. Some of them might even be in the infield of the track. High jump, long jump, and maybe discus or javelin are often right in the middle of the field. The field events start off the meets. So when people and implements (shots, discuses, and javelins) seem to be flying everywhere, the meet has begun. Without a shot being fired. Except maybe as a test.


After the field events are underway for a bit, the track clears and the announcer starts telling athletes to get where they are supposed to go. Then, when the gun goes off for the first race, people start to cheer in earnest. Bang! “Run Forrest! Run!”


The chaos seems to lessen as the meet progresses. People are running, jumping, and throwing. The gun is raised and fired over and over again. Bars are raised, set, and reset. Distances are measured. Times are recorded. The runners hear, “Runners take your mark. Set.” Bang! The jumpers, throwers, and vaulters hear, “Franklin up. Johnson on deck. Jones on hold.” The beat goes on. “Johnson up. Jones on deck. Smith on hold.” And the rhythm is established. “Runners take your mark. Set.”


Order starts to reign at the end of a track meet just as the casual observer starts to figure out the rhythm. Competitors are cooling down with slow jogs around the infield. Field events workers are tearing down their event stations. Judges are taking their results to the meet officials. And the relay teams are getting ready. They sprint a bit together to get warm. Then, they jog around together in a line taking little steps. They look like little trains as they pass their batons forward. The person in front drops the baton and the last one picks it up as they all jog past. Then, they do it all again. Pass, drop, pick up the baton. Pass, drop, pick up the baton. Chugga, chugga, choo, choo! Other races are still happening, but everybody knows, the finale is coming.


When the last laps of the 3200 meter race are finishing, most of the field events are over and the athletes are either cleaning up or completing their warm ups for the finale, often by jumping up and down near the starting line. The 4 × 400 meter relay. Everybody is waiting for the final event except those still jumping, vaulting, or throwing. Yet even they pause at the start of the final race.

A hush comes over the stadium and the chaos is put on hold as the starter goes through his litany one final time. “Runners take your mark. Set.”


The gun goes off for the last time. The athletes and spectators roar as one as they cheer for their teams. The runners sprint around the oval in their lanes. They hand off their batons to the next sprinters who take the first turn and then move to the inside lane. Everybody is jockeying for position trying to give his or her team mate the best advantage. The second hand off takes place and then the third. All the people at the meet are on their feet cheering and screaming. Even those still competing pause between attempts to cheer. Everybody is spent as the runners finish the race. The meet is over.

When all is said and done. When the results are posted. When the athletes, officials, and coaches all go their separate ways, the track and field are as they were before. Empty and lifeless. The chaos called a track and field meet is over. The organism, with its heartbeat and rhythm, are just a fading memory. Until the next time.

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Published 15 May 2014 in Take 2 | The Seattle Times



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