It wasn’t the type of news any track fan, especially those in the Tri-State area, wanted to hear the first week of March of an Olympic year. But there it was, in a brief press release from Global Athletics & Marketing: After more than a decade showcasing world class track and field in the Big Apple, the adidas Grand Prix would not be coming back to Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island this summer.
Over the past 11 years, the meet, one of two IAAF Diamond League events in the U.S. along the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, had produced 20 national records, two world marks, and nine of the fastest performances ever recorded on American soil. Perhaps the most memorable of these was Usain Bolt’s 9.72 in 2008, when the meet was delayed almost two hours by a summer thunderstorm that sent fans scurrying beneath the stands and lit up the New York skyline with a thunderous electrical storm. When the lightning finally passed, it was the Bolt on the track who shocked those present, including a large contingent of expats from his native Jamaica, with a scintillating WR.
Over the years the meet bounced around the calendar a bit but in recent years had settled on an afternoon the first Saturday in June. This usually coincided with the New York Road Runner’s Mini 10K, meaning track and field scribes and fans could watch the oldest all-women’s road race in the morning, then hike across the East River to take in world class athletics in the afternoon, making for a full day smorgasbord of the sport at its highest levels.
Although the Grand Prix was usually an SRO event, it was never an easy sell for GA&M’s Mark Wetmore, the meet director. While Icahn Stadium may be one of the finest tracks in the country, it is also among the most inaccessible; ask a New Yorker for directions to Randall’s Island from Midtown and he may reply, “You can’t get there from here.” While not completely true, with only one road, the Triboro Bridge, providing access to the facility, traffic into and out of the meet was horrendous, causing many fans to exhibit Bolt-like alacrity when heading for their cars after the final event.
Sponsor adidas has been highly critical of the IAAF in the wake of increasing revelations of corruption and cover-ups by the world governing body for track, and this is just one more way for the three stripe boys to issue a face slap to Seb Coe & Co. For its part, adidas and GA&M plan to take several of the Grand Prix’s signature events, including the high school Dream Mile and Dream 100, to a city street event in June, which will also feature elite distance and sprint races and field events. Plans for that event, which Wetmore hopes “will bring the sport to a whole new audience,” should be announced early next month.
But in the meantime, American track fans can do little but bemoan the fact that the number of world class outdoor meets in this country has been reduced by half.