The new American Track League bills itself as “a track meet within a rock concert.”
The show starts Friday with the first of at least five scheduled meets, highlighted by Lolo Jones, a house band and a 40-yard dash in Bloomington, Ind.
The league, which also has dates set in Charlottesville, Va.; Atlanta and Austin and Houston in Texas, provides more opportunities for home fans to watch athletes from the greatest track and field nation in the world.
“I’m just tired of the U.S. fans saying, ‘Hey, when can I see you run?'” Jones said in a press conference. “I’m like, well, every four years at the Olympics, on TV. Having track races in the U.S. on a regular basis allows our fans to not only watch us every four years. That’s huge.”
Jones is scheduled to make her season 100m hurdles debut after losing more than 20 pounds since placing 11th in bobsled at the Sochi Olympics in February. Jones participated in a shuttle hurdles relay at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last Friday.
She’ll be joined in Bloomington by Olympic 400m hurdles silver medalist Lashinda Demus, 400m bronze medalist DeeDee Trotter, 4x100m relay silver medalist Trell Kimmons and 1500m runner Morgan Uceny, among others.
Olympic champions Sanya Richards-Ross and Ashton Eaton are slated for league meets later this spring, and Usain Bolt may run in a league meet in August, The Associated Press reported.
”Usain wants to figure out how to be involved,” agent Paul Doyle, the league creator, told the AP. ”We’re discussing different ways to get him in.”
The league was designed to bring more fan interaction to track and field, with fans allowed down on the track, and to cut lag time between events and fit the entire competition in a two-hour window. There will be a house band — The Velveteen Playboys — and a dance team.
“If we can get people to fill the seats, and us on the other end perform at the top of our capability, I think it will work brilliantly,” Demus said.
The U.S. has led the medal table in track and field at the last six Olympics. The American Track League gives the world’s best athletes a chance to regularly compete at home, if it can be sustained through initial hurdles such as a fraction of prize money compared to European meets and the search for a title sponsor.
There are other track meets in the U.S., such as Diamond League competitions in New York and Eugene, Ore. Many stars also enter open college meets in the spring before heading to Europe in the summer.
“We can basically have a platform to stand on outside of just being a lot of individual athletes running in circles,” Trotter said. “This is a great opportunity for us to actually expand and bring a lot of visibility to everyone here in the States.”
One of the intriguing facets of the Bloomington meet will be a 40-yard dash open to anybody to qualify for the men’s 100m, creating a chance to upstage an Olympian in a race.
“It blows my mind,” Jones said. “If they get beat by a regular Joe Schmoe off the couch, their pride is going to be so damaged.”
Sprinters say they’re often asked what their 40-yard dash time is. Kimmons, who owns a 100m personal best of 9.95 seconds, said he has never been clocked in the 40 before.
“I’m going to prove to the world … that [NFL running back] Chris Johnson‘s not the fastest 40,” Kimmons said.
Johnson set the NFL Combine 40 record of 4.24 seconds in 2008.