Tallahassee’s status as a running Mecca took a big step forward this weekend. Already home of one of the country’s best trail systems, an outstanding local running club and support system, strong high school programs with good facilities and a growing reputation as a hot spot for elite and aspiring to be elite runners to hunker down, the place added one more gold star to its credentials this weekend. Tallahassee hosted the NCAA East Regional, a major track meet that featured top collegiate competition and showcased a load of talent that will play on the world scene, including the Olympics, soon. From the brute strength and endurance of the 3000 meter steeple chase to the grace and strategy of the 800 to the lightening quickness of 200 it was a spectacular weekend. Reports estimated a crowd of around 5,000 ringing the field. The meet ran like clock work with a strong performance by the meet announcer. The only thing missing from the new track facilities was a big scoreboard to keep spectators updated on the jumpers, vaulters and throwers.
It was great to see GWTC members Eric Smith, Bill Lott, Tom Perkins, Chris Sumner, Fritz Stoppelbein, Charlie Yates, Jere Moore, Dave Rogers and Andy Roberts, to name just a few, playing key roles in the meet. Of course it started with the coaches and administration at Florida State. FSU has a reputation for great hospitality and organization when it comes to special events and tournaments. I suspect people like Bernie Waxman didn’t get a whole lot of sleep over the weekend as the school hosted the track meet at the same time it hosted the baseball regional; but the university delivered with a superb performance. There is impressive and growing support for track and field in Tallahassee, no doubt fueled by the outstanding success at FSU. This spring the Democrat has been filed with good stories about track and field.
Tallahassee has a treasure in FSU head coach Bob Braman that has value far beyond the two national titles, four straight East Regional titles and four consecutive outdoor ACC titles. What he has accomplished in a very short time is nothing short of remarkable with his “nuts and bolts” approach. He has exhibited an uncanny ability to find the necessary parts and put them together to build a great program, with quality coaches and players. He keeps the program involved in the community. Whether it is taking the time to work local races, give talks or actively campaign to keep or improve our running venues, Coach Braman and his athletes are involved. But of course coaches are judged primarily by what happens on the field or the track. While FSU has had some great athletes in its track program, not even the glory days of the football team can match the Braman track and field era. In addition to the titles listed above since he took over the reigns as head coach in 2004 his athletes have won 85 All-American awards, including an astounding 33 during the 2007 indoor and outdoor championships. And of course they are competing for their third straight NCAA title.
And just how do you explain Walter Dix? Despite the Olympic year, he has stayed steadfast to his commitment not to turn pro until he graduates. Seventeen hours in the class room let him do graduate this spring, but he is still here to push for the threepeat. One might have thought seven NCAA titles and a collegiate record in the 200 would be enough to justify packing up the college gear and signing a fat shoe contract and start running for prize money instead of garnet and gold. If a major contract was not enough to get him focusing on the Olympics instead of FSU track, he certainly could have used illness (strep throat) or injury (hamstring) as an excuse to skip this year’s outdoor season. But anyone who saw the steely determination he exhibited this past weekend bouncing back to beat a tough field in the 200 after losing to a similar field in the 100 understands that it is every bit as important to Mr. Dix to do his part in confirming Tallahassee’s role as the running Mecca as it is to start making the big bucks. Don’t pinch me; I don’t want to wake up because I might be in Boulder.