International Track Association
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The International Track Association (ITA) was a professional track and field organization that existed in the United States from 1972 to 1976.
The ITA initially attracted many of the big track and field stars of the day to run in its meets and initially garnered much attention for its meets. However, a lack of television money and the inability to attact new stars after the 1976 Olympics led to its downfall.
The International Track Association (ITA) was formed in 1972 after the Munich Olympics. The ITA brought professionalism, defined as athletes making an income from their athletic performance, to the sport of track and field. The aim of the ITA was to have a series of meets involving about 50 top athletes forming a track and field tour similar to those existing in golf and tennis. The meets were initially scheduled only in the USA and Canada but future expansion was envisaged to include meets in Europe and the Far East.
Prior to the formation of the ITA, track and field athletes were amateur athletes, so required by the Olympic creed of the day. The only income they received from their sport was "under the table." As a result, many American athletes' careers were frequently cut short shortly after their subsidized participation at the collegiate level ended, while Eastern Bloc and other international athletes frequently had their careers extended, subsidized ostensibly by participation in the Army or police forces. Pressure from the athletes had been mounting for years to find an answer.
The ITA was the brainchild of Michael O'Hara who had gained experience in the sports of basketball and ice hockey of creating new rival leagues in competition to existing established leagues, namely the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association respectively.
The ITA was officially launched on October 25, 1972. It received immediate hostility from the then governing body in the United States for track and field the AAU. The AAU banned all athletes and officials who took part in ITA competitions and put pressure on television companies not to televise the ITA meets. The athletes were also banned from competing in any Olympic Games. To help protect the athletes from retribution by the AAU if the venture failed, O'Hara placed them on negative covenant contracts - here they promised not to run for anyone else rather than to run for the ITA - with the contracts only going into legal effect if the venture took off.
O'Hara for his part tried to smooth relations with the AAU by avoiding scheduling conflicts and promising not to sign-up college athletes.
The ITA successfully signed many of the top track and field athletes of the day including notably:
- Jim Ryun, 1500 m/ miler runner - who also acted as a publicist;
- Bob Seagren, pole vaulter;
- Lee Evans, 400 m runner;
- Larry James, 400 m runner;
- Brian Oldfield, shot putter;
- Kip Keino, 1500 m /miler runner;
- Ben Jipcho, 1500 m/miler runner;
- Marty Liquori, long-distance runner - who acted as master of ceremonies for the meets.
- 100 m by Warren Edmonson;
- 600 m by Lee Evans;
- high jump by John Radetich.
It must be noted that these records like all those recorded by ITA athletes would never be ratified as world records by the world governing body the IAAF because they were achieved by professional athletes in competitions they did not sanction.
The attraction to the athletes of the ITA was not only the prize money but also the freedom to pursue other commercial opportunities, like advertising, that were denied to them if they stayed an amateur.
During it existence, the ITA saw much high-quality competition including 34 world bests. Of particular note were Brian Oldfield's indoor and outdoor records in the shot put. The indoor record happened on 4 April 1975 in Daly City, California. Oldfield achieved a distance of 72'6 1/2" (22.1107) m. The outdoor record happened on 10 May thay year in El Paso, Texas. Here Oldfield achieved the remarkable distance of 75'0" (22.860 m). He also had another put of 73' 1" (22.25 m). The official world record at the time was 71'8 1/2" (21.85 m) by Terry Albritton. This put was voted by Track and Field News as their outstanding single performance of 1975. Other notable world bests achieved indoors included those by John Radetich in the high jump and Steve Smith in the pole vault.
Though were was undoubtedly high-quality competition, there was also much competition that was inferior to that seen in the amateur meets of the time. The meets often also had novelty events, for example having the shot putter Brian Oldfield racing against female sprinters over 30 m. In the short-term this attracted spectators but longer-term it damaged the credibility of the ITA. The lack of female athletes and female events in general was also was damaging. One famous female athlete who personally suffered from this lack of competition was Wyomia Tyus-Simburg who had been tempted out of retirement to run for the ITA and was unbeaten in their 1974 season.
The ITA spectators were promised the renewal of popular track and field rivalries of the day that would lead to new record performances. The rivalry between Bob Seagren and Steve Smith in the pole vault was added extra spice by their well-known personal animosity. Jim Ryun versus Kip Keino in the 1500 m/mile was another such rivalry, though thankfully restricted solely to the athletic competition in their case. However, injury and a lack of form for Ryan and Keino's retirement meant that Ben Jipcho would domininate the event. This, sadly, became typical of many other events where there was less and less meaningful competition.
The ITA successfully delivered 51 meets during its existence watched by 500000 spectators and 300 million televeision viewers. However, the venture struggled from organizational difficulties as well as spotty participation from its star athletes.
Ultimately, the ITA suffered because it could not attract enough television money and the money received through ticket sales was not enough to sustain it. Television companies had been reluctant to support the ITA because of their wish not to offend the AAU and not to be seen to damage American chances at the next Olympics.
The death knell came at the end of 1976 when it was unable to sign any new stars after the Montreal Olympics. A particular blow was the failure to sign the three New Zealanders and middle-distance running stars John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon.
Athletes had become more reluctant to turn professional when it became clear that they could often earn more from under-the-table payments when competing at so-called amateur meets than they could from money earned openly at the ITA meets. For example, the high jumper Dwight Stones is quoted as saying in explanation of why he wouldn't sign, "Why take a cut in salary?"
The final ITA meet occurred on August 25, 1976 in Gresham, Oregon. The final three meets of the 1976 season were cancelled.
The main legacy of the ITA was the empowerment it gave athletes to challenge the existing sham amateurism by forming a framework for the movement that eventually allowed athletes to get paid for their participation in sport.
Many of ithe ITA's promotional ideas were seen as quirky in their day but are now staples of the IAAF's Diamond League, for example, and include such innovations as prize money and a points-standing system over a season long tour.
After the ITA's demise, many of the participating athletes sued to regain their "amateur" status in order to continue to participate in the sport. After 1988, the International Olympic Committee voted to allow athletes to be paid for their efforts, ending the amateur limitation on the Olympics.
- http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1086850/index.htm "Citius, Altius, Opulentius", Joe Jares, Sports Illustrated, December 11, 1972.
- http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oBAlRrvBsu0C&pg=PA122&lpg=PA122&dq=professional+track+and+field+ita&source=bl&ots=9ltv2BYutn&sig=IplNzWu0aiY8KsG_3qBDGNeAYEc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IPc0Ua75K8Hb0QXl9YEQ&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=professional%20track%20and%20field%20ita&f=false "The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field", Joseph M Turrini, University of Illinois Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-252-03515-9.
- http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1087227/index.htm "The Pros Come Up A Little Short", Ron Reid, Sports Illustrated, April 2, 1973.
- Progression of IAAF World Records 2011 Edition, Editor Imre Matrahazi, IAAF Athletics, p 184.
- Progression of IAAF World Records 2011 Edition, Editor Imre Matrahazi, IAAF Athletics, p 183.
- http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1089582/index.htm "Three For The Money", Ron Reid, Sports Illustarted, March 3, 1975.
- http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1817&dat=19730206&id=lQ4fAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MZwEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5802,882776 "Signing Keino Lifts Pro Track", Wiliam Gildea (Washington Post), Tuscaloosa News, february 6 1973.
- http://brianoldfield.com/Articles/Rise%20and%20Fall%20of%20ITA.pdf "An Historical Study of the Rise and Fall of the International Track Association 1972-76" Paul H. Heyse, Thesis - Graduate College of Bowling Green, 1993.
- http://www.athleticscholarships.net/history-of-track-and-field.htm "Track and Field History and the Origins of the Sport", athleticscholarships.net. Retrieved 9 March 2013.