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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Sacramento residents are used to spotting big shots hanging around the California State Capitol Building.  But when the 2014 Outdoor Championships opened today with the men’s and women’s shot put competitions being held in the shadow of the state’s capitol building, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 500 was given the opportunity to witness big shots of a different kind.

The biggest shot of all was Joe Kovacs – or at least his 5th round bomb of 22.03m [72’3½”] was.  This winning heave moved Kovacs from 3rd to 1st and represents the outdoor world leader this season.  “I feel really confident in training,” proclaimed the new champion.  “I know there is a lot more to come.  I’m just glad to be able to start it off here.”  Kovacs global outdoor season best pushed him ahead of early leader Kurt Roberts who finished second with a 3rd round best mark of 21.47m [70’5”].  “Honestly, I knew it was there,” Roberts revealed.  “My training had been setting up for it.”  Asked if he ever thought he would complete a shot put competition with two marks over 70 feet and not win, Roberts unhesitatingly responded, “No.”  Durable veteran Reese Hoffa, the leader after the 1st round, finished third [20.78m / 68’2¼”].  “Right now, I am just trying to put up a number of 21 meter throws,” explained Hoffa in describing what keeps him motivated.  “I have the most all time – above Christian [Cantwell] by two.”  When pressed about his future plans as an elite world class athlete, the former world champion equivocated on his early announced intentions to retire at the end of the current outdoor season.  “I am thinking about coming back next year.  A lot of it will depend how the Diamond League goes. I think I am having too much fun,” Hoffa confessed.  Fourth place finisher Jonathan Jones of Portville, New York was just off the podium with a best mark of 20.75m [68’1”].

In the women’s competition, Michelle Carter’s 4th round throw of 19.45m [63’9¾”] proved to be the “biggest shot.”   The New York Athletic Club athlete led the women’s competition from the first round and was never headed.  “I’m OK with it,” stated the new champion.  “I’ve been working on some timing issues.  I didn’t really throw as far as I wanted to throw, but I still had a great series.”  Felisha Johnson uncorked a final attempt of 19.18m [62’11¼”] to move from 3rd  to the runner-up spot.  “The competition helped me,” offered Johnson in explaining her big personal best.  “It was a PR for me.  So that’s always good – especially in this type of competition.  I finally caught one.”.  Tia Brooks – with a best mark of 18.83m [61’9½]  in the 5th round – was not disappointed with her third place finish.  “It was best I’ve thrown all season,” Brooks stated.  “So I am honored to experience this history in the making.”

For true blue track & field fans, the shot put is almost always a dramatic battle among some of the sport's strongest and most coordinated athletes.  But to hold the event in singular focus near the seat of California's state legislature seemed to add a special festive flavor that drew a larger and more diverse crowd and appeared to inspire the shot putters.

Track & field – often cited as having more grade 9-12 participants than any other high school sport – is constantly exploring new ways to showcase its top performers, reward its loyal supporters, and expand its fan base.  And highlighting a selected field event at a non-traditional location is one of the sport's newer innovations.  In 2012, a large and diverse crowd gathered at Nike's sprawling Beaverton campus to witness the kickoff of Olympic Trials competition with the men's and women's hammer throw.  For several years now, the venerable Drake Relays has staged a well-attended pole vault exhibition in Des Moines' Jordan Creek Town Center – The Vault In The Mall.  And this year,  Drake added a new marquee field event exhibition: the Hy-Vee High Jump – a highly-covered exhibition actually held inside a supermarket of one of Drake's more important sponsors.

Jill Geer, USATF’s Chief Public Affairs Officer, offered insights on the importance and the goals of off-site field event staging.  “The first time it [unique field event staging] was really high profile was at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games when they had the shot put out in ancient Olympia,” noted Geer.  “What makes this unique is that it [the unique staging] is the first time we have done a shot put event like this in championship competition.  And of course we did this [a special venue] with the hammer throw at the 2012 Olympic Trials.”  Geer was quick to note other benefits.  “Especially with the shot put where we have some of the world’s best, to be able to feature that on its own stage is really great.  You bring track & field to the people instead of having the people come out to the event.  The athletes love it.  Our sport really needs innovation like this.”

Participating field athletes – whose top flight achievements can often be overlooked in the three-ring frenzy of a customary track & field presentation –  relish this opportunity to be front and center.  “The venue was great and the crowd was great.  It was great to be close and personal with the people,” Carter stated.  Brooks also noted how the different venue and expanded fan presence lifted everyone.  “For them [the varied fans] to come out and be, ‘Wow, what’s going on?  Look at this. They’re really throwing this ball far.’  Everybody is excited with everything.”  Perhaps Hoffa summed it up the best.  “The setting and atmosphere here were awesome,” declared one of the more popular pros.  “I had a lot of fun.  What more could you ask for?”

Because there are no guarantees that spotlighting selected field events at new and different non-stadium venues will ultimately prove successful in showcasing excellent field event talent, rewarding loyal top-shelf sponsors, or exposing the world's oldest sport to new audiences, some meet directors are inclined to shy away from this staging experiment.  But – as can be seen today – for USA Track & Field and the City of Sacramento, it’s worth a shot.
 

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