June 17, 2023 2 min read 8 Comments
Robert Thomas (left) and Jerry Bookin-Weiner had the same vision. Bring the WMA Indoors to U.S. soil for the first time. Photo by Rob Jerome.
By Ray Glier
The two men at the top of USA Track & Field Masters had the same big idea when they got together for a phone call in summer, 2022.
Jerry Bookin-Weiner, the Chair of the USATF Masters Track & Field Committee, and Robert Thomas, the Vice Chair, almost simultaneously said to each other, “We need to get the World Masters Athletics Indoor Championships to the U.S.”
It could happen. I think it will happen.
The Bookin-Weiner/Thomas vision could help Masters track & field in the U.S. take a dramatic leap forward, especially in women’s participation, if the bid to host the 2025 games by the Alachua County Sports and Events Center in Gainesville, Fla., is approved by the WMA Council.
The council met last week in Paris to discuss the bid and there does not seem to be another viable 2025 bid on the table.
This is a big deal. The U.S. took 219 athletes to Torun, Poland in March. The cost is prohibitive because Masters athletes pay their own way, or receive a subsidy from USATF, which does not cover all the costs.
But without an ocean to cross the interest here in a world championship event could soar.
Bookin-Weiner thinks more than a 1,000 U.S. masters athletes will enter the WMA Championships in the U.S. in 2025. Just the chance to compete on a world stage, medal or no medal, will be a draw to events around the U.S. leading up to the WMA.
Women’s participation in masters track & field in the U.S. is less than half that of the men and Bookin-Weiner said hosting the WMA indoor event for the first time on U.S. soil should boost female participation. There are empty lanes at women’s events here. Having a shot at a world medal will fill those lanes with American women and likely keep the women enthused for years to
“Increasing women’s participation is one of our focuses,” Bookin-Weiner said.
One of the women’s track stars, Andrea Collier, posted the video of the Alachua County pitch to the WMA. Watch it here.
Robert Thomas toured the $38 million public/private Alachua County facility, which has a state-of- the-art 200 meter surface with a MONDO track. It’s brand new, a jewel in what is known as Celebration Pointe in Gainesville, home to the University of Florida.
The WMA Council is setting up a site visit, but odds are they will be similarly impressed. The weather in March is glorious and athletes from around the world will be thrilled to see the closest beach less than two hours away.
Alachua County wrapped its arms around the idea and has committed the funds it will take to host the event. The non-stadia events, like the throws, are no problem, either, with the University of Florida’s world-class facilities close by.
USA Track & Field, the governing body, was presented with the idea and did not say, “We’ll think about supporting it,” Bookin-Weiner said. “They said ‘Absolutely we’ll support it’.”
The WMA championships in Gainesville could draw 4,500 athletes, Bookin-Weiner said. More important, it could draw in more of America’s older athletes to an experience they thought they left behind in high school and college.
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