It might be hard to believe, but high school track and field season is upon us. If you’re like me, the only thing you look forward to more than watching 37 heats of the 100-meter dash is reading about it in the paper the next day.*
When it comes to post-race interviews, it seems like there is some kind of unwritten code of conduct followed by most runners and reporters. It goes a little something like this: reporters are expected to ask canned, cliché questions, and runners are expected to give canned, cliché answers.
As someone who has been on both sides of the tape recorder, I can say with absolute certainty that 99.9 percent of the time, this makes for really. Boring. Stories.
I mean honestly, who wants to read a heroic account of a come-from-behind win in the 1600 meters when it is peppered with such moving remarks as, “I guess today was my day. I just felt really great.”
It was your day, huh? I would have never guessed it staring at that shiny gold medal around your neck.
A lot of the time, such colorless quotes are the direct result of stupid questions asked by uninformed (read: stupid) reporters. Or maybe they are informed but understandably burned out on covering JV softball and middle school soccer.
Either way, a question like, “So, how did the race go for you?” is almost guaranteed to draw up an ambiguous and painfully uninteresting response like, “Well, there were parts that went really well, but I think there’s always room for improvement.”
At some point, whoever is reading this crap is bound to put down the paper and wonder if he is reading a sports story or a Sarah Palin interview.
Sometimes, though, even a solid, well-researched question asked by the most seasoned sports journalist will fail to extract a single worthwhile sound bite. This often results from an athlete’s inability to articulate what she is feeling for one of two reasons: (1) she is a teenager without access to some kind of keypad or (2) SHE JUST FINISHED RUNNING A FREAKING LONG DISTANCE RACE.
Leave it to a deadline-crazed reporter to saunter up to you with a notepad and pen as you stagger away from the finish line with a fresh string of mucusy spit dangling from your chin. Clearly, he has no idea that you are stepping off of the track to avoid yarfing all over the next heat of runners — not to provide him with a QuoteGarden.com-worthy line for his pullout box.
And so, as you struggle between labored gasps of air to provide answers to questions like So, how did the race go for you? you somehow end up with quotes like I think it went well, considering it’s so early in the season printed next to your name.
What gives? Why can’t you just be honest? Why can’t you say, “I felt like a huge order of crap with a side of crap, which is probably why I ran like crap.” Or: “I realized about halfway in that I shouldn’t have eaten that hot dog from the concession stand.”
And why do you always feel obligated to indulge the eager reporter who follows you to the trashcan where you fully intend to empty the contents of your stomach? Why can’t you just say, “Sorry, but could I just have a couple of minutes to vomit alone in peace?”
I’ll tell you why: because there is a small part of you that gets excited to see your own golden drops of wisdom printed in black and white ink on page 10 of the sports section, right next to the senior bowling league scores. Just like there is a small part of every reporter that gets excited to see their story about the local high school invitational printed in black and white ink on page 10 of the sports section, right next to the senior bowling league scores.
Without that little heart-flutter of pride and vanity, what would keep us coming back for more? Certainly not the hot dogs.
*I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same spot multiple times and then suck on a vinegar Popsicle than watch multiple heats of the 100-meter dash at a high school track meet.