With the 2013 adidas Grand Prix in NYC just days away, meet director Mark Wetmore, president of Global Athletics & Marketing, Inc., sat down to talk.
Q: You launched this meet in 2005 with about six weeks’ notice. How did that come about?
Mark Wetmore: The USOC was trying to hold a meet that fell apart. So there was a television window, the USOC had a budget to put a meet on, we got Reebok [the original titleholder] to sponsor it and the meet took off from there. Icahn Stadium was new—I’m not even sure all of the electricity was working yet. We had been planning to try to put a meet on in New York somehow, and then the opportunity presented itself. David Raith was working at USATF at that time. We were putting on the adidas Track Classic [in Carson, CA] and he said “hey, is there any chance this thing could come together in a relatively short period of time?” We said, “why not?” Eventually the adidas sponsorship of the Carson meet came to New York, in 2009, and that’s where we are now.
Q: What do you predict will be some of the highlights this year?
MW: The women’s pole vault is going to be great. This year we’re going to set up a special runway so the event will take place parallel to the home stretch, to give fans a better view and a better appreciation of how these women can jump. With six of the top seven women in the world last year it could very well be the best pole vault that’s ever been held in the United States. In the men’s 100 I’m eager to see what Tyson Gay can do, and the field is good: Nesta Carter, Ryan Bailey, Richard Thompson, a lot of good people. In the women’s 400, Sanya Richard-Ross’s season debut, running against Amantle Montsho and Christine Ohuruogu and the rest. That’s essentially an Olympic final.
Q: And what about the 800-meter Olympic Champion and World Record-holder, David Rudisha?
MW: I think after Doha, he’s going to be really confident and he’s going to try to get after a fast time. I think it’s his goal to run the way he ran last year, and when you watched it last year you couldn’t believe what you were actually watching. It was one of those kinds of races that you don’t see very often, where he just kept separating himself, and the athletes he was separating himself from were so good you realized with 50 meters to go that either he’s going to run very, very fast or all those guys are a lot worse than I thought. So when he hit the line and that time popped up—1:41.74, the fastest ever run in the country—it was just spectacular.
Q: Some people have described Rudisha’s final lap last year as “pure poetry.”
MW: I haven’t seen a sprint-oriented crowd show such an appreciation of a middle-distance race in a long, long time. That’s when you know someone is truly special. To see the appreciation our fans, American and Jamaican alike, in that last 100 meters, everyone on their feet and screaming, it really was something. David Rudisha could very well be someone who, 20 years from now, you’re telling people you saw him run. He’s that kind of guy.
Q. And he’ll be running on a new track.
There have already been some youth records set on the new blue track from Mondo, called Super X Performance, and I’m sure we’ll see some meet records on Saturday. Tyson checked it out on a recent trip to New York and didn’t even have to run on it to declare that it’s fast.
Q: Rudisha’s race is obviously one of the highlights of the first eight years of the meet, but what are some of your other favorite moments?
MW: I thought we had something special that time we had the thunderstorm delay, in 2008, and infield announcer Lewis Johnson did such a great job of keeping the crowd entertained for so long. Some fans on the backstretch had to evacuate and stand under the RFK Bridge for protection until the lightning stopped. We were just terrified that everyone was going to just go home and the meet was going to get canceled and all these awful things were going to happen, and basically everybody stayed because Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay were still coming. It was just one of those special nights.
Q: Didn’t a squirrel start running around the track?
MW: That’s what I mean about Lewis Johnson keeping the crowd going. With his commentary, that squirrel alone captivated the audience for five minutes. I think it got the second-loudest cheer of the night when it broke the finish line.
Q: Considering that Bolt broke the World Record in the 100 after that storm delay, I guess the crowd was glad it hung around.
MW: A couple of times we’ve had thunderstorms and after the storms had spectacular performances. Whether that’s coincidental or the whole atmosphere gets charged, I don’t know, but Meseret Defar broke the World Record there at 5000 meters after a thunderstorm the first year of the meet. That race was special, too. She was way off the pace until the last three laps and then just pulled it out.
Q: What are some of the issues around putting on an event in New York City?
MW: The logistics. If it rains, it becomes so much harder to get around the city. We’re working so hard to get in the landscape of the New York spring sports scene and it’s just hard to stand out in New York. We feel like we’re getting there. I think the meet has become the thing to do for people who have any appreciation of running track and field, but trying to promote a meet in New York is really hard. We don’t have the finances to compete with everything that’s going on in the city. It’s a lot of grass-roots work, and that’s a hard way to fill a stadium.
Q: What about the meet falling on Memorial Day weekend this year?
MW: This year will be a little more of a test. New York is one of those cities where people don’t really hang around on Memorial Day weekend. That’s one more challenge that we have this year, but that’s the way the Diamond League schedule came down. We’re reminding people that it’s a great way to kick off the summer. Go to the beach next weekend when it isn’t as crowded anyway! And I’ll say this, having the meet on Memorial Day weekend certainly hasn’t hurt the fields. These are the best fields I think we’ve ever had for our meet, from top to bottom.
Q: When the Diamond League was formed in 2010, the adidas Grand Prix became a charter member. How did that change things?
MW: We have a lot more field events; we have a lot more events that don’t tend to be dominated by Americans. I think the Diamond League shows in 132 countries, so it’s important for the league to showcase all the events in as equitable fashion as possible. The 100 meters is still the 100 meters, but it’s important to the sport that we highlight all the events. In our international broadcast every single Diamond League event at our meet is included, whether it’s the complete race or a highlight package. The challenge of having multiple long throws—discus, javelin—causes us to schedule some events outside of the live television window, which is frustrating for the athletes, for us, and for the fans, but that’s the reality. We can’t hold seven field events in a two-hour window. There simply isn’t room on the infield.
Q: What is the hardest part about putting on the event? What’s the easiest part?
MW: The easiest part now is recruiting the athletes. The Diamond League has done a good job of putting itself on the schedules of most of the major athletes. The league has become a major part of the sport. A lot of athletes want to run. The hardest part is being able to accommodate them all, really.