Jan. 15, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo track coach Joe Franklin has picked an unusual place to roll a snowball down a mountain: indoors.
But, like most pies Franklin sticks his fingers into, things seem to be working out. The snowball is getting bigger and bigger. "I'm beginning to think it's gotten too big," said Franklin, through a wide grin.
OK, before we mix in too many metaphors, let's explain that indoor snowball thing. That's Franklin's attempt to rebuild Albuquerque as a city passionate about track, whether it's running, jumping and throwing under a New Mexico sky, or inside the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Franklin got the indoor snowball rolling a few seasons back with a gentle push and, frankly, the snowball is about as big as it can get. There will be 13 indoor events in the Convention Center including several huge ones.
In fact, Franklin says: "The best track meet in the world, other than the World Championships, is going to be in Albuquerque this year."
That meet is the 2010 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships (Feb. 27-28). It's a qualifier for the 2010 Indoor World Championships and already some of the top athletes in the world are in Albuquerque training for the event.
"That meet decides who goes to the World Championships," said Franklin. "That's huge. It's a live, televised event."
The news that Albuquerque has great meets, a world-class track, and world-class training opportunities isn't a secret to all the great athletes out there. But Franklin isn't so sure the fans in New Mexico are aware of the opportunity they have to see these great competitors run, jump and throw.
"Now, we have to get the word out to the public that these events are here," said Franklin. "A lot of people don't seem to know that these things are going on."
The snowball that Franklin got rolling by bringing in these events also needs to do some rolling in the stands. These events need to be - and deserve to be - supported. This is world-class track and also national-class track when it comes to the collegiate and high school athletes coming in for these meets.
The Lobos will be hosting the Mountain West Conference Indoor Championships. The Convention Center will be the site for the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships on March 12-13.
The Lobos get the ball rolling on their six-meet indoor season on Saturday. It's one of the smaller meets on tap, but it still includes some top athletes, including Galen Rupp, the USA 10,000-meter champion.
"There is so much to do because the snowball is getting bigger and bigger," said Franklin. "We also are hosting bigger meets. The stress level is high for the staff."
The stress is big because this indoor track stuff is big work. The indoor season really begins with hauling the track out of storage and spending four or five days puzzling all the pieces together.
Franklin's ultimate goal here is to revive a city's track passion and to host the NCAA Indoor Championships.
"There is an unbelievable history of indoor track and field in Albuquerque dating back to the Tingley Coliseum," he said. "I feel we owe it to the city to continue the rich history of track here."
The Lobo coach also wants to provide a high-quality - and convenient - track experience for his Lobos. New Mexico already has a world-class outdoors experience in weather and altitude. Now, Lobos have one of the top indoor opportunities in the nation and it's in their backyard.
"Our kids don't have to travel and the best teams and athletes in the nation will be coming to them," said Franklin. "Our kids can sleep in their own beds and don't have to sit on a bus for hours in order to compete."
If you are thinking that things might be easier for Franklin since not all these events are directly linked to UNM --- think again. Hey, this is track. If there are feet moving fast, Franklin will be there, probably holding a stopwatch.
"And if anything goes wrong, they'll still call us," he said.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former sports columnist and Associate Sports Editor with The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.