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US College Track and Field Programs Helping to Train International Competitors

Runners compete in a preliminaries of the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase during the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Austin, Texas, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
US College Track and Field Programs Helping to Train International Competitors
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American colleges and universities are fast becoming training grounds not only for members of the U.S. Olympic team, but Olympians from other countries.

A recent example of this was at the National Collegiate Athletic Association track and field championships in Austin, Texas. Among the many top athletes competing there, 230 came from countries other than the United States.

Many of these athletes will face each other, starting on Friday, in events at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Clyde Hart directs the track and field program at Baylor University in Texas. Hart has worked with many Olympic champions at Baylor. “We are the minor leagues for our track and field in this country to get to the next level,” he said.

College athletes are a big part of American success in winning medals at the Olympic Games. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 176 medal winners came from U.S. college programs, the Associated Press reports.

Most of these men and women came from big universities that belong to conferences: groups of schools that compete against each other. These conferences negotiate deals for television (TV) broadcasts of college football and basketball games. The TV deals provide them with hundreds of millions of dollars. That money is used, in part, to pay for other sports which do not earn a lot of money or actually lose money.

Colleges outside of the major conferences often struggle to make money from their sports programs. Others are cutting sports. The number of men’s gymnastics and wrestling teams, for example, has been decreasing for more than 20 years.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee recognizes the importance of its ties to the NCAA and college athletics programs. It is pushing for rule changes that will make it easier for track and field athletes to compete in college sports.

Track and field is doing better at many colleges than most other sports. Numbers from the NCAA show that there were 286 men’s teams and 338 women’s teams in the top division of colleges in 2018. That is a slight increase over the last 10 years.

Part of the reason, the AP reports, is that a U.S. law, known as Title IX, requires colleges to offer the same opportunities for women to play sports as for men.

Good for U.S. and international athletes

At the 2016 Summer Olympics, all but four of America’s 129 track and field athletes were from NCAA programs. But U.S. colleges have also developed champions for other countries.

Teams from around the world will compete in the track and field IAAF World Championships in Doha. Five of Jamaica’s 42 athletes competed in the NCAA Championships in June.

Germany, Canada, Nigeria and Grenada are among the countries that have athletes competing in both the NCAA and world championships.

Anderson Peters is an international track and field athlete. He holds Grenada’s national record in the javelin throw. He also is the NCAA champion who competes for Mississippi State University.

“I think it’s done a lot for me,” Peters said of attending an American college, “The facility is for sure 100% better than the facilities I had at home.”

Max Siegal is the chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, a group that seeks to improve sports in the United States and other countries.

“We all benefit by collaborating,” Siegel said, “We take pride in that.”

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

minor league – n. used to describe a level of competition just below the top level in a sport

opportunity – n. a chance or a period of time in which something can be done

facility – n. a place, piece of equipment or service

collaborating – n. to work with others in order to reach a goal

priden. a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction

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