This year's Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles were a massive success. Yes, we saw elite runners challenge each other for the podium. Yes, we saw an amazing marathon debut from Galen Rupp. And yes, we saw six runners who will be representing the United States this summer. But that's not the big reason why LA was a success. Los Angeles was a success because it was the best race for the fans, both hardcore and casual.
Quick, where did you watch the marathon trials for the 2008 Olympics? On your computer? Following on twitter? Now, where did you watch the marathon trials in February? That's right, NBC. The carrier of the Olympics took a gamble this year and chose to broadcast the marathon trials live this year and in HD TV. For those who can't get enough of the marathon, you had three hours of coverage that included the entire race along with post-race interviews. To go along with it, NBC had a quality team of broadcasters who walked a delicate balance of explaining the race to outsiders while still providing strong analysis. Netflix and streaming may be the future, but sports are still dominated by television, and NBC brought us quality.
But the trials could have been held anywhere in the country and still be on TV! They could have even strapped Go Pro's to everyone's heads! What makes LA so special? Well, location means everything, and LA hit a home run. The race started and ended with LA Live and made that location a featured point for the race. LA Live is a model for all cities in terms of creating an urban location to center arenas and to surround them with quality restaurants, shops, and other sources of entertainment. Anyone visiting the core of Los Angeles goes to LA Live at least once, and it is truly unrivaled in major cities. The race began with a quick 2.2 mile loop that sent the runners a bit north of LA Live and into downtown before coming back. By the time they passed by the start line again, the runners had developed more of a rhythm and pace that spectators could see. The course then took the runners down to the Coliseum and back up for a six mile loop that they completed four times. That six mile loop gives spectators great views of both the runners and the city, and allows them to see the runners several times. Loops are not ideal for a marathon course to most athletes, but having six opportunities creates intrigue for those watching the race, as they can see how the race develops. Watching the race on TV, I could see several spots that were densely populated with spectators, and having them cheer on the runners no doubt provided a boost to their spirits on the hot day.
Now previous trials have had scenic courses, with New York coming to mind, but LA did have one advantage for the fans: the weather. Yes, having it hit in the 80s was not good for the athletes and not ideal for elite runners, but did the hot weather actually impact who is heading to Rio? Having it be that warm helped the fans tremendously in wanting to be out watching the race. Sports like football and soccer can draw crowds in cold weather, but an event needs warm weather to draw casual people in. Your favorite restaurant is right on the marathon course? Why not eat outside and cheer on the runners? The weather allowed more fans to come out and watch, even if they had no prior interest in the marathon. Now Houston had this benefit as well four years ago, but the amount of people in Los Angeles really made this evident during the trials.
LA did a great job hosting the olympic trials from a spectator standpoint. We can hope that future trials will keep this up and improve upon the event and spectacle of such a unique race. Along with that, we can hope that the athletes are treated better and have their needs met. Will LA, or should LA host it again in 2020? We will have to see. I think whether or not they will host again, they will still be able to make a compelling case that they put on the best trials for spectators.