Jan. 24, 2014
By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com
NEW YORK – The Armory.
It’s a special name and place for track and field athletes and enthusiasts everywhere.
A hundred years of track and field history live within its four walls. Great names have raced here and celebrated moments in the sport’s history have taken place on its track ever since the first meet – the Xavier Games – was held on Jan. 10, 1914.
Coming to Upper Manhattan and the corner of 168th Street and Fort Washington Avenue to walk through the Armory doors into the 96,000-square foot arena is a step back in time. It’s a hallowed pilgrimage for every track fan and athlete.
“The Armory is the place for indoor track and field in the United States and it is not even close,” said Norbert Sander, the President and CEO of the Armory Foundation.
BIG EAST student-athletes and fans will get to experience and soak in this unique environment when the Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships return to the Armory again on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22. It will be the fifth time the Armory has hosted the championships since 2008.
“We are very excited to provide our student-athletes with the experience of competing in the Armory, which is one of track and field's most iconic indoor venues,” said Val Ackerman, BIG EAST Commissioner. “Not only is so much history associated with the building, but this facility will allow our indoor track and field championships to be conducted in a first-class manner and in accordance with high standards, offering the best possible environment for our competition.”
Said Sander, “To have your championship here, you are having it in the best place you can indoors, no doubt about it.”
Living the History
The sport’s history is honored throughout the Armory, beginning with the National Track and Field Museum, which is three floors of interactive exhibits and films. Center stage, however, is the track where the sport’s luminaries have always competed. Olympians Abel Kiviat and Mel Sheppard raced here in the first meet in 1914, the first of more than 1,000 Olympians to compete at the Armory, according to Sander.
It was here that Alan Webb, Paavo Nurmi and DeHart Hubbard set world and national records. Others like Lolo Jones, Sanya Richards, Shalane Flanagan, John Carlos, Marty Liquori and Reggie Witherspoon gave notice early in their careers of future greatness and Olympic glory.
This history is fostered for every meet today, says Sander, to make for an inspiring atmosphere for athletes as they soak in the tradition and race in the footsteps of legends.
“When athletes come here, they hear about this and the tradition, but they don’t realize what it is until they get out on the track and they say it is like the World Series,” said Sander.
The Armory is not a tomb of history. There is music, a video screen and an enthusiastic public address announcer to keep the place rocking and rollicking for the athletes and for every single race. The goal is simple, according to Sander.
“We try to live that so that every single race that goes out on that track is special and the athletes feel special. We think that makes the athletes really go,” he said.
“And there is nothing faster than our 200-meter banked, six-laned track.”