As I continue to sample all the Notre Dame sports, I run into some fun surprises, like the Jan. 22nd Notre Dame Invitational track and field event. ND’s Loftus Sports Center had the air of a three-ring circus, minus the animals and any semblance of central heating but complete with amazing variety acts, including the clown-like warm-up antics of several athletes.
“It looks like the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks,” one spectator commented when two male runners flapped their arms as they pranced sideways and a female competitor daintily did a toe-and–heel step down the track.
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But the day-long ND Invitational was serious business to the athletes representing Notre Dame, Michigan State, Western Michigan and DePaul. And for spectators, it was a chance for an up-close-and-personal view of races both short and long — from a 60-meter dash to a 1-mile run — and field events both weighty and soaring, including the shot put, high jump and pole vault.
Small stands of metal bleachers were scattered throughout Loftus, and as I perched on one barely 5 feet from the sandpit for the men’s long jump competition, I got the true fan experience, even close enough to hear a disgruntled leaper swear whenever his jumps fell short. To his credit, the oaths were never X-rated.
The girlfriend of the MSU athlete who wound up easily winning the event and the parents of a ND long-jumper happily shared commentary on the action, while student managers raking the sand were glad to chat about their roles. At some point, we could have joined hands for a warming round of “Kumbaya,” it was such a neighborly bunch.
Field events started at 10 a.m. but it wasn’t until noon that the public address system came alive with a welcome to the fans streaming in to watch the races. Bleachers were placed along the perimeter of the Meyo track, one fifth of a mile long, but the best seats were in the balcony, offering a bird’s-eye view of the fast-paced action.
“Fast” was the appropriate word for ND sophomore Rebecca Tracy, who won the mile with a time of 4.42.14, making it the second-best time in the nation. As she sped up to pass a MSU runner in the final lap, I was yelling with the rest of the crowd, caught up in the excitement as though we were at the Olympics.
And it struck me that the Olympics are the true goal for all these hard-charging athletes, and these meets, lacking in glamour as they are, are the price they must pay.
It also struck me, as I strolled around during the field events, checking on young women heaving the 20-pound weight throw and athletes attempting to pole vault over a stick some 16 feet in the air, and then watched the hurdlers and runners from a handy spot on the balcony, that the only other thing missing in this venue sans concessions was hot coffee.
Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at email@example.com.