NEW YORK — Bob Kersee, one of the nation's most successful track and field coaches, called the conditions Wednesday at Randalls Island's Downing Stadium for the opening day of the USA/Mobil Outdoor Championships unbelievable.
For emphasis, he also included an expletive in his description. But because that word cannot be reported here, his subsequent commentary will have to suffice to indicate the true depths of his displeasure.
"I watched a TV program last night when they were reviewing that movie, 'Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead,' " he said. "They gave it a sub-zero rating. That's what I give this meet."
Although track and field in this country is very ill according to a recent Track & Field News cover story, officials of The Athletics Congress have insisted that reports of the sport's imminent demise are exaggerated. But even they were wondering Wednesday whether track and field will survive its week in New York.
If it does not, the official cause of death might well be asphyxiation. Athletes, officials, press and spectators--all 200 or so of them--were almost overwhelmed by exhaust fumes from the 160,000 cars that daily travel the Triborough Bridge, which hangs over the stadium, hardly a hammer throw away.
The national championships are the responsibility of TAC, which governs the sport in the United States, but the local organizers, the Metropolitan Athletics Congress (MAC), accepted the blame for everything but the thunderstorm that struck in late afternoon and halted the competition for two hours.
"I'm embarrassed on behalf of everybody involved," MAC President Tracy Sundlin said.
Sundlin knew he should have stayed in bed when he arrived at the stadium to discover that there was no wind gauge. Another official started out toward Columbia University, the closest place to find wind gauges, but he got caught in gridlock on the Major Deegan Expressway. He took a shortcut, exiting the expressway against the traffic on an entrance ramp. The police pulled him over.
By the time the official extricated himself from the situation and returned to Randalls Island with the wind gauges, it was too late.
In the first event, Dan O'Brien ran the 100 meters in 10.27 seconds, the fastest time in the decathlon's history. But it cannot count as a record because there was no gauge to determine whether the prevailing wind was over the allowable 4.0 meters per second.
Through five events, O'Brien was 70 points ahead of Daley Thompson's world-record pace. But no score after today's final events will be considered for record purposes because of the absence of a wind gauge. The same goes for Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was 63 points behind her world-record pace through four events in the heptathlon.
Joyner-Kersee, like her husband, already had been disturbed in workouts this week by the condition of the runways for the long jump and high jump. When TAC officials complained earlier this year that the runways that were placed down in 1986 were inadequate, Sundlin had them resurfaced. But that surface did not stick, causing bubbles to appear.
"Inexcusable," said one coach, Milan Daley. "It's like running on wet sand."
Sundlin tried to have them re-resurfaced Tuesday night, but rain made it impossible.
"You know Murphy's Law," he said. "Murphy has been camping out here for the last week."
When TAC President Frank Greenberg arrived Wednesday morning, he said he had not seen the track.
Later, surveying the area, he shook his head.
"I'm disappointed," he said.
No one had the heart to tell him about the rats spotted in the 55-year-old stadium. The fumes will probably kill them, anyway.