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An Inside Look at the US Olympic Marathon Trials

Trials on the Horizon

 

by Josh Nemzer

 

 

I had entered the world of consulting a short while ago. Having
worked for what seemed like decades for Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises (DMSE,
and actually 33 years) and the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A., and actually
19 years) my goal was to become involved with races that needed my area of
expertise (I can move road cones with the best of them). The reality was that I‰Ûªve
managed in excess of 300 events and generally know my way around road races.

 

So there I am waiting to go out for a run while contemplating
all this‰Û_and then the phone rings! Actually (using that word a lot, actually) I
received an email. It came from Tracey Russell and Murphy Reinschreiber of the Los
Angeles Marathon. The event had received the bid to host the trials for both the
men and women‰Ûªs races that would be used to select the US Olympic Marathon Team.
I had previously talked with Tracy and Murphy about getting involved with the Olympic
Trials.

 

The email essentially asked if I would be willing to serve
as the event‰Ûªs program manager. My responsibilities would be to assure that the
trials experienced no operational hiccups. They wanted to make sure that the races
went off as smoothly as any of the events that are part of the New England Runner Pub Series (they had impossibly
high standards, ha!).

 

So, off I go to la to have a discussion about what an Olympic
Trials Program Manager (boy, that‰Ûªs a mouthful) would do. I wanted to see the
course and to meet the other folks who would be part of the race management
team.

 

The trials are generally held on the same weekend as the
host city‰Ûªs marquee running event. In Los Angeles, the LA Marathon would be
held on Sunday Feb. 14, while the trials would be held on Saturday, Feb. 13. This
format generally works well but usually requires independent teams to work on
each of the events. The motto is ‰ÛÏdivide and conquer.‰Û

 

So here I am in LA, land of sunshine and smog (how do you
get both together?) and I like what I see.  They have a nice group of people lined up to help with the
OT‰Ûªs; some I knew, others I did not‰ÛÓbut one of the things I‰Ûªve learned from my many
moons in the road race management business is that the road race industry
attracts good people. They work hard and want to produce quality events; after
all, we are in the business of making dreams come true.

 

The course map displays a good layout and shows off downtown
LA. Organizers have great city support and are ready to welcome 300 of the fastest
men and women in America; in short, I liked what I saw and signed up for duty.

 

All of this was occurring during the late summer, so in the
spirit of a true New Englander, I went hard to work right after Labor Day (which
was late this year).

 

I began to review materials that had already been developed;
interacted with USATF (it‰Ûªs their race); interacted with the US Olympic
Committee (they also have an ‰ÛÏownership‰Û interest); and interacted with my
fellow team members on all aspects of the race including start/finish line
management, fluid station management, elite athlete management and management
of the media (NBC is planning a live 3-hour broadcast of the trials).

 

LA‰Ûªs trials course mimics the model that has been used over
the last three or four quadrennials. There‰Ûªs a 2.2-mile loop that gets done
once and is coupled with a loop of 6-miles that‰Ûªs done 4-times. The goal of a
course like this is to accommodate athletes that will be running in Rio in less
than 6-months time while, in addition to being runner friendly, also being
spectator and TV friendly.

 

The LA course loops the athletes through downtown for the
first 2.2 miles and the accompanying 6-mile loop incorporates the USC campus,
the LA Coliseum and the Exposition/Science Park complex. All in all, it‰Ûªs a
fast course with no hills to speak of.

 

As of now, 150 men and 150 women have qualified to run the
trials. It‰Ûªs expected that about 125 of each gender will actually toe the line
in February with 10 or so of the men and women having a legitimate chance to
make the team. For the vast majority of the athletes, qualifying for and
running in the trials is the highlight of their career.

 

The start/finish for the trials is at Gil Lindsay Plaza in
front of the Staples Center and LA Convention Center. A nice spot if you don‰Ûªt
have to share space with the Grammys. The Grammys will be taking place the same
weekend as the trials, in the same space as well; only in LA does this type of
thing happen. Adding to this, imagine the feeling I had when told that we
needed to be broken down by 4:00 pm when our event wouldn‰Ûªt be over much before
1:30 pm. We would need to be quick and efficient on our buildup and breakdown
to allow the Grammys time to build their structures.

 

The remainder of the course was not without it‰Ûªs own
challenges. We have to make sure that when we run through the campus of USC we
don‰Ûªt have any bleary eyed students stumbling onto the course and disrupting
the athletes. We also have to make sure that customers going to visit the
Science Museum have access to the exhibits; again, more opportunities for
people to inadvertently meander onto the course.

 

Add to this all the vehicular detours that need to be put
into place (remember, LA is the car capital of the USA) and setting up and
securing the course is not going to be an easy task. At this writing in the
early part of October, things are slowly but surely falling into place. I have
additional trips planned for November and will ‰ÛÏcamp out‰Û in LA after the first
of the year.

 

All in all, the eyes of the world will be on LA in February
of 2016 and you, NER reader, will be kept up to date on all the happenings in
future installments of ‰ÛÏAs the Trials Turn.‰Û

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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