Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sparse Crowds Turning out for Olympic Trials

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sparse Crowds Turning out for Olympic Trials

Article excerpt

At Olympic Stadium, a white metal barrier blocks a stairwell. "Upper deck closed," a sign explains.

Not that there's been any need to climb to the top of the massive, 85,000-seat stadium, which is playing host to the U.S. track and field trials this week. In its final big warmup for the Olympic Games, the city of Atlanta has let out a collective yawn.

At times, there seem to be more athletes, workers and members of the media in the stadium than fans.

"Atlanta is not known as a track town," said Edwin Moses, the great 400-meter hurdler who lives in the city. "We've had a few track meets here but that doesn't make it a great track town. If we went to Los Angeles, we would probably fill up the stadium."

It was 12 years ago in Los Angeles that record crowds turned out for the trials, the only other time they were staged in the same city as the Olympics. Attendance for the eight-day meet was 143,826, averaging nearly 18,000 per session.

Attendance at this year's meet will have to increase dramatically to approach that mark. Through half of the eight sessions - Tuesday was an off day - attendance was only 54,954, an average of 13,738 even though two of the glamour events, the men's and women's 100 meters, already have been held.

"I have been disappointed as a fan that track and field seems to have lost some of its spectator appeal here in the United States," said Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. "But I'm not disappointed (in crowds for the trials) because our ability to impact it has not yet been tested as it will be during the Games."

Payne points out that the ACOG has not been responsible for selling tickets to the trials. Still, all those empty blue seats are leaving a definite impression around the country that the city hasn't caught the Olympic spirit.

That's not the case, Payne said, and the numbers back him up: track and field has been one of the hottest tickets for the Games. …

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