Hanging With The Heps and Decs
Pop quiz. How many separate events make up a heptathlon competition?
If you answered seven, you are either a Greek scholar, or you were one of the 75 or so fans that joined me at Edwards Stadium on the campus of Cal-Berkeley last Sunday to witness the staging of the Pac-10’s Heptathlon and Decathlon Championships. This event is actually part of the overall Pac-10 Track & Field Championships that are being conducted this upcoming weekend at the same venue, but with 17 different activities going on in the heptathlon and decathlon it could get kind of crowded down there on the field. So the best overall athletes at each participating school get their own weekend to showcase their stuff. Except there was nobody there to be show-cased to.
To be fair, the morning’s intermittent rain and chilly wind was less than welcoming, and that may have kept some people away. But I think it’s more a case that we’re talking serious under-the-radar-screen stuff here. This competition is so outside the mainstream of attention, its name was misspelled on the Pac-10 website. Yes, we’re talking about the one and only “Pac-10 Multi-Evnets Championship”. In other words, a Sports Fan’s kind of event.
When I arrived, the competition was already underway – in fact, way underway, to the tune of over an hour (IGTS Official Event-Attending Tip: If a posted Schedule of Events bears the disclaimer “Start times subject to change”, chances are pretty good the event organizers will deliver on that threat). But as they say, there were plenty of good seats still available, and I chose a vantage point that gave me a great overview of the action spread out before me. It also didn’t suck that I was underneath an overhang that kept me warm and dry. But here was the best part: the P.A. system was excellent, and it was being made good use of. Not only was I getting play-by-play from a golden-throated announcer, I was also getting some background color commentary. That, combined with the research that I’d been able to do ahead of time put me in good stead to track (no pun intended) the activity with some kind of rooting interest – which is all a Sports Fan really wants at the end of the day. I was in heaven.
A word about Edwards Stadium. Well, two words. The first is imposing. It’s a hulking concrete structure built in the Post-War era – no, not that war…no, before that one…keep going back…yup, the Post-World War One era. Opened in 1932, it was at the time the only stadium in the world built specifically and solely for track & field use. A $3.5 million renovation in 2000 created Goldman Field inside the environs, and restored the facility to its proper place in the track & field lexicon. Which brings me to the second word: Iconic.
Twelve world records have been set there. 26 American records. 24 collegiate records. In 1940, the 15’ barrier was cracked for the first time in the pole vault. The legendary Jim Ryun ran a 3:51.3 mile here in 1977. On a cinder track. This is pretty heady stuff, and you can feel an almost spectral sense of history as you sit in the stands. And just as I was thinking that things couldn’t possibly get any better, the sun came out.
Track & field events are refreshingly simple. You run the fastest, jump the highest, or throw the farthest and you win (assuming of course that you aren’t throwing when others are jumping, and vice versa). For the most part there aren’t any arcane rules and regulations that you need to become familiar with. Except for these Combineds, as those of us in the know call the women’s heptathlon and the men’s decathlon. For here the object is to earn points in each event, which will eventually add up such that you have more overall points than anyone else. How many points do you earn for finishing say, 2nd in the shot put, or 6th in the high jump? I haven’t a clue. So while it was a pretty straightforward exercise to figure out who finished in what place in each individual event, it was literally impossible to know who was winning on an overall basis. But I had The Voice booming out on a regular basis, telling me what I needed to know. And there was a scoreboard that was fairly constantly updated with the total overall standings. I didn’t even have to think! I could just bask in the sun and watch with admiration as superbly conditioned men and women did a host of things better than I could ever do any single athletic thing with regularity.
But then of course I got greedy. I wanted to get closer to the action. And I noticed that there were some people down on the field that didn’t look all that much like competitors, coaches or officials. They were just milling about at a respectful distance on one end of the field. I wanted to mill as well, but didn’t want to subject my friends and family to repeated SportsCenter footage of me being tasered. Not that they’d be overly concerned about my welfare – my bigger concern would be that they’d somehow figure out how to download the image and make T-shirts out of it. After weighing the odds, I decided to put a toe in the water and use the time-tested, “but everybody else is doing it” defense if needed. I made my move.
To be continued…