Imagine being picked out of the crowd to hold the starting blocks for Lolo Jones before a hurdles race. Or standing so close to the high jump action that athletes actually high-five the fans after clearing the bar.
Or how about this: Running a qualifying 40-yard dash — NFL combine style — with an opportunity to possibly make it into the field for the 100-meter competition.
Agent Paul Doyle is launching the American Track League beginning Friday in Bloomington, Indiana, with fan interaction as an integral ingredient. There will be a house band blaring music, and a dance team to keep the fans entertained.
Of course, some well-known Olympic athletes will be taking the track, too. Jones will be in Bloomington and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt may — heavy emphasis on may — potentially run at an event in August.
The new track series will feature eight stops throughout the summer. Five locations around the country have already been selected and three more will be held at sites yet to be determined.
“We’ve been up late at night, thinking of ways to make this more creative yet not gimmicky,” said Doyle, who’s still searching for a title sponsor. “Because athletes are starving for something like this. The sport doesn’t get enough exposure in the U.S.”
The competitions will be free of charge and quite compact, with only a handful of events taking place at each venue. At the Bloomington stop, there will be 10 events, including the men’s 100 and the women’s 100 hurdles.
The winners will pick up a $2,500 paycheck, which is about a quarter of what they would earn on the more established Diamond League circuit. In races to come, Doyle hopes to increase the prize purse.
The main draws for the first meet in Bloomington will include Jones — who’s represented by Doyle — and 400 hurdler Lashinda Demus, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist.
Hurdler Bershawn Jackson plans on competing in the meet in Charlottesville, Virginia (May 9), while reigning 400-meter Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross is scheduled to compete in Atlanta (May 16). Decathlon world recorder holder Ashton Eaton — another one of Doyle’s clients — is penciled in for some sort of race in Houston (June 6).
But the crown jewel could be Bolt, the world-record holder in the 100 and 200. He’s been invited and while the Jamaican sensation is unavailable for now, he could very well be at the starting line down the road.
“Usain wants to figure out how to be involved,” Doyle said. “We’re discussing different ways to get him in.”
Unlike Europe, track doesn’t have all that many big meets domestically. There are Diamond League stops in New York and Eugene, Oregon, along with competitions such as the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.
Doyle hopes to fill a void with this series — give athletes an opportunity to train more, travel less.
That’s certainly appealing to middle-distance runner Morgan Uceny, who will race Friday in Bloomington.
“There typically have not been many quality race opportunities in the U.S., so it’s great to have an entire series of races geared toward getting top-caliber athletes in an entertaining, spectator-friendly setting,” Uceny said in an email.
USA Track and Field is definitely interested in seeing how the new series is received by fans.
“USATF supports the goals of the American Track League for increasing athlete competitive opportunities and repackaging how our sport is presented to make it more engaging and fan-friendly — goals that we share and pursue in our own events and in our broadcasts,” CEO Max Siegel said in an email.
Inspiration for this concept struck Doyle a few years ago, when he went to a Boston Bruins hockey game and was dazzled by all the entertainment away from the ice. That’s what he wants to bring to the track.
Music will be loud. The action will be nonstop. And, above all else, interaction with athletes will be at the heart of these competitions.
That’s why fans will hold the starting blocks in races and will be brought out of the stands for field events, to better connect with athletes.
There’s also opens auditions for 100-meter races. Doyle got the idea from watching the NFL combine — the next wave of college football players sprinting down the field for a fast 40 time. Doyle thought: Why not bring that to track?
The eight fastest 40 times — even if it’s just a casual fan off the streets — advance to the 100-meter final.
Anything to engage the crowd.
“This is something that can be exciting to even the casual track fan,” Doyle said.
American Track League: http://www.americantrackleague.com