Willie Banks sees doubling or tripling in masters track budget

Willie put on a show at Striders dinner. Click for photo gallery.

Look for the USATF Masters T&F Committee budget to double or triple in the next two or three years. That’s the prediction of Olympian and former world record holder Willie Banks, a member of the USATF Board of Directors since 2009. He made the forecast Saturday night as the featured speaker at the annual awards banquet of the Southern California Striders. The club met at the Park Ave restaurant in the Orange County town of Stanton. Since our 2014 budget is $132,000, we might be around $300,000 in 2016-2017. Where does the moolah come from? Willie’s theory is the Nike’s longterm $500 million deal with USATF will lead to more exposure of the elites (via expanded televised meets) and there greater awareness of our sport, which somehow will trickle down to masters. He says such efforts could make track “again the premiere sport in the United States.”

That’s a stretch, of course. Football, basketball and baseball fans would howl at the notion of track returning to sports dominance a la Jim Ryun and USA-USSR dual meet years. But Willie’s never been afraid of setting a high bar.

With his little sister Roxanne Banks, a former UCLA sprinter, lobbing the question: “How did the clap start?” Willie told of how rhythmic clapping, his head-of-runway trademark, was ignited at a Stockholm meet in the 1980s.

A group of inebriated fans were applauding him on the triple jump, and Willie found himself joining along — clapping three times and shaking his fist.

Rita Hanscom collects her Watanabe Award from Brenda Matthews.

His efforts went from 54-8 to 55-8 to 56-0 and a possible world record foul, and eventually a whole side of the stadium was caught up in the moment. He ended the day at 57-7, when the world record stood at 58-2.

(He unspooled a string that showed his amazing 19-foot hop phase, eventually extending the line from one end of the room to another, which barely contained the length of his performance that day.)

The biggest result: He brought his event out of the shadows, and guaranteed himself a European season at a time his agent had arranged for only one meet.

“A lot of people say I gave the clap to track and field,” he told the 50 people chowing on steak, salmon or chicken.

Willie also told the story of his returning to track (he was raking a pit when he witnessed an M50 triple jumper go crazy about setting an American record, and figured he could do better —— which he did).

He also explained why many former elites fear entering masters meets: They tell Willie: “What if I get beat?”

Said Willie: “I want to be 80, looking 40. … There’s nothing sexier than a 91-year-old sprinter.”

Club President Robert Richardson, commuting from his new home in North Carolina, helped hand out club awards — Female Masters Athlete of the Year Linda Cohn (the W60 javeline record-setter with many other event medals at nationals), Male Athlete of the Year Damien Leake (ranked among the best in the world in M60 sprints) and the club’s tiptop award, the Watanabe trophy to W60 multi-eventer Rita Hanscom (her second Watanabe).

Robert, a national-class triple jumper and sprinter, says the Striders grew by a dozen members this year and looks forward to next year — its 60th.

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November 17, 2014

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