Eugene, United States: Track and field stars are hoping a maiden world championships on US soil will shine the light on athletes in a country where athletics is dwarfed by the big money sports of American football, basketball and baseball.
The irony for many American athletes is that they are generally far better known in Europe, where many spend large chunks of their season travelling on a circuit that takes in some of the most iconic track stadiums in front of some of the sport’s most avid fans.
But hope burns that the July 15-23 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, the birthplace of US sporting goods giant Nike, will shift the spotlight.
“Most of the time walking around (in the US) nobody knows who track athletes are,” lamented Sandi Morris, an American pole vaulter who has won multiple medals on the global stage.
“You can walk up to a random stranger in the street and ask them who Allyson Felix is and no, they would have no idea.”
Morris, speaking to reporters in Eugene on Wednesday, was referring to her US teammate who has a record world haul of 18 career medals and 11 Olympic podium finishes, including seven gold.
Armand “Mondo” Duplantis might compete for Sweden, but the world pole vault record holder was born and raised in the United States.
“The whole of the United States probably I can be a little bit more annonymous,” he said from his US base in Indianapolis where he admitted to being well known.
“Being in Sweden and in the United States and seeing the difference in the the way I live in both is quite different.”
Wider anonymity, Duplantis added, was “just the reality of the situation”.
“They have so many big sports here in baseball, football and basketball and that doesn’t leave so much room for that many more and I guess track and field is more perceived as an Olympic sport.
“The Olympics are very huge in the United States and if you’re able to win the Olympics or even go to the Olympics, it’s a very big deal, the biggest thing you can do as a track and field athlete in the United States.”
Morris admitted that athletics “for some reason had taken a backseat”, but was in her opinion slowly changing.
“Part because of social media and our own ability to broadcast our experience and educate Americans about the fact there’s a professional track circuit, you can make a living doing this,” the two-time world indoor champion said.
“I mean you’d just laugh at the questions, ‘You make a living pole-vaulting? No! What do you do for a living?!’”
Duplantis argued that “having the world championships in the United States this year to try and bring them and not just Olympics into the mainstream can be a really good thing for track and field”.
Morris echoed his sentiments, saying it was a “huge opportunity”.
“We just have to keep the positivity and keep sharing our sport to as many Americans as possible.
“Most Americans only know one thing about track and field and it’s the Olympics.
“It’s about educating them and bringing the world championships into the forefront and putting it on television and just getting it in front of the American crowd in general... we’re introducing new fans to the sport.”