Transcript: ESPN Conference Call with 2013 ING New York City Marathon Commentators

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Transcript: ESPN Conference Call with 2013 ING New York City Marathon Commentators

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On an October 29 media conference call, 2013 ING New York City Marathon co-hosts Hannah Storm and John Anderson, ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap and event producer Steve Mayer answered questions about Sunday’s race and the ESPN2 telecast (note: in the New York market, fans can watch the race on ABC7). The audio replay and transcript:

Introductory comments:

HANNAH STORM:  Thrilled to be a part of this year’s telecast.  Was slated to host last year’s New York Marathon, and watched from afar in a hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina, as I was filming a NASCAR special as the terrible events and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy unfolded in the week that was incredibly painful for so many people.  Then many months later, on the set on SportsCenter and anchoring our coverage of the Boston Marathon and the events that occurred there. 

The opportunity to be able to bring home what we hope is a real triumph of the human spirit, of the work of a lot of people of a real testament to the tenacity of the competitors and the volunteers and the fans.  That’s what we’re looking to bring across on Sunday.  So just to be a small part of that. 

Being a part of the New York Marathon is a great honor in and of itself, but in light of the events of the last 12 months, I think it’s an even greater responsibility and certainly an added layer of meaning to be able to get back to a terrific competition, a real seminal event in the city of New York, and one in particular New Yorkers and Bostonians will be remembered. 

JOHN ANDERSON:  I would echo what Hannah said without having to go on and repeat all of the same things, because I think everybody feels that and hopes that the broadcast does a nice job of paying tribute to that and recognizing that without drowning in morose for those things.  Then beyond that, I am looking forward to what is just a fantastic race.  The event itself, which sometimes it’s sort of a great hybrid between competition at the top and camaraderie between the 40 some odd thousand people behind the leaders. 

But the race itself I think has the potential to be one of the fastest and both richest in the history of marathoning, as you have guys going for the World Marathon major title.  Though Geoffrey Mutai probably cannot win that, I think he is set to run perhaps even faster than he was last time. 

So the actual competition, I think will be spectacular.  People may come to the television to sort of see how the race is handled because of last year and the events of the last 12 months in the sport of marathoning.  But I think once they get there and watch the running, I think it will be compelling itself to hold folks for those two hours and five minutes, two hours and ten minutes or whatever it is until somebody crosses the line. 

JEREMY SCHAAP:  I’m really looking forward, in particular, to seeing all those weekend warriors sweating and hitting the wall in high def for the first time.  I’m sure that’s exactly what they were hoping for looking their best on national television. 

You know, it’s a great event, obviously.  I grew up in New York.  I’ve lived probably all but a few years of my life within about a two minute walk of Central Park and the finish line.  So to be part of the broadcast for the first time is meaningful to me in that respect.  I grew up with the event.  I have never attempted to run a Marathon like Mr. Anderson.  I don’t know about Hannah.  I did do the New York Half Marathon — the Half Marathon — once though. 

HANNAH STORM:  I did the Peachtree Road Race, that’s as far as I got. 

JEREMY SCHAAP:  That’s not the same, Hannah, I don’t think.  I did the Half four years ago and it really almost killed me.  So I have the utmost respect for everyone in the field. 

STEVE MAYER:  Well, producing marathons are extremely unique.  For us, it’s a thrill, and to have the team of announcers that are on this call for us is special.  But 26.2 miles of coverage, 43 cameras, 3 helicopters, 6 motos, it’s immense the production.  But this year to also add on the top layer of the Marathon returns, and also, with all that’s happened in the last year both with what happened last year in New York with Sandy, and then with what happened in Boston, for us to be able to have that mix within the broadcast of the stories of inspiration that we will talk about throughout the day based on what happened over the last year.  But also as John pointed out, to be able to cover a race of all the best runners in the world all coming together, both on the men and women’s side, for us, it’s quite a thrill. 

Q. I guess the question I have, and maybe a criticism that’s often been leveled is that broadcast of marathons in particular and running in general is that the first three quarters or more of the race is pretty much just a repetitive theme of guys running one foot in front of the other, albeit an extremely fast pace.  And most of the action occurred in the final six miles of the race.  So what is the strategy for holding the viewers’ interest during that first hour or hour 15 minutes of the race where it’s pretty much just a bunch of people running in a pack of sub five minute pace. 

STEVE MAYER:  Yeah, I think to answer your question, Jim, and we touched on it, I think what we may be more willing to this year, and we’ll certainly go there, are to also tell in that first hour and 15 minutes, hour and 30 minutes some of these incredible stories of the people that are behind the elites that run with the masses, but are and have been affected by both Sandy and Boston. 

Two examples quickly that we’ve put stories together on.  A woman named Jen Correa out of Staten Island who last year the week of Sandy lost everything.  Her husband stayed back to stay with the home and he nearly drowned.  That week she had made a decision to not run the Marathon.  She was scheduled to run the Marathon that Sunday, and she has literally taken the last year to up her training.  It’s gotten her mind off of all the problems.  She still doesn’t have a home.  But she has said when she crosses the finish line, that’s going to be the moment that Sandy is officially behind her and she’s ready to move on with her life. 

In Boston, there was a doctor who ran the Boston Marathon, Dr. David King.  He finished the race gets across the finish line, and runs in his gear right to the hospital to treat the victims of the Boston Marathon.  He’s running New York.  Those types of stories are stories that we’re going to integrate into that first 1 hour and 30 minutes of the broadcast to make it a bit more interesting. 

But at the same time, we have great stories on the elite runners.  We’re going to feature and profile a lot of those.  So we’re confident that we’ll hold the audience through that 1 minute and 30 seconds with those stories and more.

Q. Since you’ve done such a good job of answering my questions already regarding coverage.  I’m curious how — obviously, this thing has not been on national TV in 20 years.  People in New York have seen a local production in the last 20 years.  How do you think if someone who is in Boise and has not seen the New York City Marathon for the last 20 years, how is televising a Marathon changed in recent years with presumably better technology, better equipment?  What kinds of things — how has coverage of marathons evolved since 1993? 

STEVE MAYER:  How has it changed?  Well, first of all, we mentioned HD.  Just the picture quality will make this stand out.  If you’ve been in New York, you’ve seen our coverage.  I think you’ll see an immense difference in the quality of cameras.  And those cameras where we used to have someone on a handheld device riding on the motos, now they’re on steady cam devices.  So the shakiness and all of that is out.  The technology of getting the signals from here to there, where there used to be quite a bit of interference, that’s taken out of the mix just because of the incredible quality of technical support to get signals from here to there. 

We have a set up at the start line and the finish line, those two areas can talk to each other, even though they’re 26.2 miles away.  Graphically some of the technology that we’ll be using on Sunday is just state of the art.  Everything from the interface of scoring.  Every single runner has a chip on them.  Those chips come to our graphic location.  We can track any single runner on the course and give you their time. 

GPS, where in the past we’d have to gather sort of information based on folks riding on bicycles.  Now we can through the chip technology be able to put GPS right on to the screen so we know where all the runners are; and therefore we can also track, which we’re going to do in the broadcast as runners finish after the elites come in, you’ll see a scroll of all of the runners who finished as they scroll through the top of our screen in what we’re calling our ticker.  We’ll also be able to point like in a horse race and track individual runners who are in a pack. 

So those subtle, but for us, we think big differences in what you would normally have seen in a broadcast and how it’s changed in the last five to ten years.  We’re integrating all of that into the broadcast on Sunday. 

JEREMY SCHAAP:  But, the biggest change obviously is there is no Goldstein now.  After the Marathon, 20 years later, how will it be the same without Goldstein?

Q. In his opening comments John made mention about looking forward to the excitement surrounding the front end of the race.  So I have two questions for John and Hannah of one about the men’s race and one about the women’s race.  With the race not having been run last year, Geoffrey Mutai who capped off an incredible 2011 with a course record win, essentially defending his title, are you aware of others prepared to run with him?  You’ve indicated he’s in great shape and ready to run faster.  Are there any plans in the making for some sort of early pacing going on in the race?  Then flipping to the women’s side, Edna Kiplagat successfully defended her world championship about 11 weeks ago in the steam bath that was in Moscow.  She has the fastest PR in the race.  And I’m wondering who you see might be challenging her for the title on the women’s side? 

HANNAH STORM:  I think with Kiplagat, as you point out, the two time reigning world champion, you have to look to Priscah Jeptoo, at least I would put her at the very top of the list of challengers having won the silver in 2012, and then having won London this year and looking at what’s at stake for the winner there in terms of the amount of money that could be won.  It’s a life changing amount.  It just to me adds to the drama between those.

Listen, John, you can speak to the men, but certainly there are a number of men that you could put up there.  Kiprotich is the Olympic and World Champ, and Kebede after winning London, among others, I would say that would challenge Mutai. 

JOHN ANDERSON:  Yeah, I think with the women, the other one that’s sort of perhaps to watch is Buzunesh who is local and seems to win everywhere except New York.  Even though she lives in New York.  I think she could come through and make that sort of a race that could be pushed.  I don’t see her maybe pushing the pace, but being there at the end and then perhaps winning. 

I think the fun part of the men’s side will be to see how much Kiprotich and Kebede would like to run with Mutai.  I think he runs out there quick.  If he decides he really wants to push the pace, those two guys are going to sit there and stare at each other and say how fast do we want to chase down that guy and win this or how badly do I want to win $500,000?  So it will be very curious to see how those guys handle things. 

And Biwott is a guy that I don’t think everybody knows a ton about including most of the racers.  I think he is a guy that could run low.  Especially if he’s paced by the guy he trains with Lel who has won twice.  If he decides he wants to shepherd him along the way and coach him, I think he could find himself there a long, long time for this thing.  But I think Mutai is probably the favorite.  He certainly has the guy on form. 

His training is on form and his past results in terms of time are better than the rest of those guys.  And Kiprotich and Kebede who could probably run with him for a long time if suddenly one of them decides that it’s a little too hot and the pace is a little too jumpy. 

Now how do we get into the second or the bigger battle for them, which is all the money?  I think that’s really curious.  I would be stunned if Mutai, who thinks he can break 2:05.  I don’t care if he wants to break 2:06 or 2:08, but I would be stunned if those guys decide to feel froggy and jump on in the 13 or 14 miles if he decides he’s really going to start surging and pushing the pace. 

HANNAH STORM:  I agree with you about Biwott.  I had him written down.  He’s kind of an X factor, you know and he’s making his debut here.  So I think he’s going to be an interesting person to keep an eye on.

Q. John, what is more difficult, the high jump or running the Marathon? 

JOHN ANDERSON:  The reason I really like the Marathon is because Haile dropped out, so I can always say I beat him in a race, and I can’t say that about anybody else in the high jump. 

Guys that I went out — like Hollis Conway was great, but he beat me like a drum, and a bunch of those guys.  So at least in the Marathon I feel like I’ve beaten someone of note, whereas the rest of it was very long and dismal.  So I am proud to have participated in both, quite frankly. 

And I find that both have suited me well for my current job, which is I have picked the right one.  There is no money in high jumping at heights that would do really well if I was allowed to be in a sawdust pit or compete against the girls. 

HANNAH STORM:  Hey, I was a high jumper.  Watch it. 

JOHN ANDERSON:  Right, but I jumped high enough like I could have probably won Worlds this year for the female side; whereas, the men I would have had to stand on a box to put the bar up. 

The New York Marathon is great just to sort of say — not just say you’ve done it once, but to actually participate.  I didn’t go in to say I’ll put a bucket list and run a Marathon and have it on my list.  I had absolutely no idea that I wanted to do that.  Now that I have, I’m really glad I did because it really is spectacular, both in the physical accomplishment and actually just as a sort of letting the whole atmosphere, for lack of a better term, sort of wash over you and have that experience. 

So they’re both great.  I guess in the end — I would much rather just run 12 steps and land in a very soft pit than run for four and a half hours.

Q. Steve, John talked about it earlier, he appreciates the elite competition here.  One thing a lot of people who are watching this sort of understand is there are three different events going on.  There is a professional women’s race, a professional men’s race, and then there is sort of the mass race.  One thing that sort of drives people is the women’s racers will immediately go to interviews and not show the rest of the race, and that is when the men’s race is being decided.  You would never see that in any other sport.  If they were going to interview Tony Romo, they’ll take you to the end of the game and go to interviews later.  Are we going to do a split screen if they’re going to do interviews as the race is being decided or something like that?  I know you worry about that fact that there is always sort of another event going on behind it.  Why isn’t the split screen used more often? 

STEVE MAYER:  First of all, you’ll see a lot of the split screen technology, and you’ll see so much of it that you forget we can go full screen.  Not only, you forgot one, there is the wheelchair race we also cover on top of everything.  So I do think — and I’m not just responding to what you’re suggesting — I do think that we’ve talked about it a lot, how that split screen technology will come into play quite often whether it’s during the race when both are out there in the 15th mile and the women are 15 and the men are 12, or at the end.  So that we can see what’s going on at the finish line, because we don’t want to ignore the fact that the woman is going to take her victory lap, and there will be potential interviews. 

It also will very much depend on where the men’s race is, and how competitive it is.  But, yes, I think you’re going to see split screen technology throughout the broadcast, quite often.

Q. John, you kind of mentioned the excitement surrounding the elite race and it’s something that we’ve noticed over the past years is distance running has waned in popularity.  We’re wondering how bringing in experienced announcers like yourself, putting it on a major cable news network, putting it in HD will help revitalize the Marathon?  And how do you keep an American based audience engaged when the end of the race might not have many Americans in it or they’re a couple minutes back like we saw in Chicago? 

JOHN ANDERSON:  I think it helps to begin with, and I don’t know this for sure, I’m just sort of hoping, but sort of like watching NBC’s golf or the golf coverage.  I think when you have somebody like Johnny Miller or guys that have played and have the passion for it, it’s different than folks who just find it as one more assignment on their calendar.  It is great. 

I cover the US Open at times and I love it.  And I like golf when I play it recreationally, but that is not something that I watch it on Sundays.  But on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’m not like going in and just perusing my golf weekly. 

Whereas, I’ve gotten Track and Field News now for 30 some odd years.  It’s something I really enjoy.  Something I’ve followed and something I really like.  And hopefully, if nothing else, that comes through, and that can show the viewer that there is excitement there.  So if someone is passionate about it, hopefully that comes through the other side of the TV box and compels people to go, okay, at least this guy is invested in it.  Maybe I can be as well. 

Beyond that, there are stories there.  I think we like great stories.  I know what you’re saying about the American part.  I’ve often compared distance running sometimes to the same problem the LPGA has.  Like how do you make a tour that has 30 top Korean ladies in there all time and make that compelling for other folks when it seems like there is nothing else there? 

The guys that are involved here in the elite runners all have great stories.  Whether it’s just that they can run fast, whether it’s upbringings, whether it’s their ties to America.  Wesley Korir, a man who lived in Kentucky until he got elected to Parliament.  So those guys, they all have at some point some touch to the United States. 

So I think you can make them compelling.  I think there is also very much the old sports open, which is the compelling drama of human competition that is there to be had.  I don’t think there is anything more compelling than watching people exhaust themselves to this extent over this kind of distance.  I mean, there’s nothing else like it. 

Then when you get to the Americans, those guys are great and they have a chance.  And perhaps they’re not at the top, but guys like Ryan Vail are fantastic runners.  And if not on the podium immediately for New York, I mean, these are guys that have long Track and Field histories, that have been on Olympic teams that Americans can see and identify, if not exactly today, you might see them down the road in Brazil and some other places. 

So I think if you can tell those stories, you can make them warm, fuzzy and loveable, and people will root for them as much as they would anybody else. 

I watched the men’s tennis tour with great interest at the majors.  And, Hannah, we haven’t had an American in the top 20 in quite some time.  Where at least we had the guy that dropped out for the first time we went   

HANNAH STORM:  Well, we had one in the top 20.  Well, we had somebody. 

JOHN ANDERSON:  Right.  Then I think you can appreciate Federer and Nadal and Djokovic regardless of their nationality, and I think the same thing can be done here with the race. 

HANNAH STORM:  Yeah, and it’s our job to make it a great sporting competition.  Sports fans will watch a live event no matter what it is.  Your Olympic example is great, John, because that completely plays out in the Olympics.  When you might have great events that you only see once every four years, even, that there is so much at stake and are with a lot of unfamiliar names, and yet, if we do our job as best we can at bringing home a good sports competition and hopefully get a solid race behind it, then people will watch.

Q. I’ll throw this open to two questions.  One, if you could touch a little bit more on the Americans in this year’s race and any inroads that you think have been made in terms of American marathoning?  I know we’ve had some runners come along, and Alberto Salazar is trying to bring some younger runners along, but who is in the race?  Who may have a shot as a dark horse from the United States, and what does our country have to do to sort of become a real contender at the Marathon?  The second part of my question is how low can these guys go?  I mean we’re talking about sub two hours.  It’s amazing what they do.

JOHN ANDERSON:  Well, how low you think they could go perhaps on this course on this day, or are we talking the limits of human performance? 

Q. I’m talking down the road a ways in the future.  We keep talking about these amazing times.  I know it varies with the course and the conditions, but maybe looking ahead. 

JOHN ANDERSON:  I just got in a heated discussion with my producer for the 6:00 o’clock SportsCenter    not heated, but vigorous, intense, on which will — by the time I die — which will be lower?  Will Bolt’s 100 meter record be the same or will we have run under 2 hours for the Marathon?  I just think as much as we keep dropping things off, I think the sub two hour Marathon is a long, long, long way off.  What are we at?  2:03:23 now?  I think those last 3:23 are going to take at least the rest of my life and perhaps a generation after that. 

It’s just, if you look at the track performances and try to equate them out over 26 miles, we’re a long, long way from that.  So I think there might be some guy who can maybe take down Bolt.

So I think that, I think is the next big standard, I guess.  We could go under 2:03 or 2:02.  But I think most people go 2 hours for a Marathon, is that possible?  Especially with guys running under an hour for the Half Marathon.  But I think that’s well, well, well in the future. 

As for the Americans, it hurt when Ryan Hall pulled out again.  Gosh, what’s it been, a couple years since he’s now been able to race a Marathon, so that hurt. 

Hartman, I don’t know if he can win, but gosh, he’s been on the podium twice and in fourth place at Boston, once in oppressive heat and then followed that up with a fairly nice day.  So I think he can race far enough. 

Vail, I think he’s good, but I don’t know if it’s his year to win.  I think it’s nice if we can get those names out and there are guys that can follow.

In the future, if Americans have — I’m not sure hope is the right word, but to regain the dominance that they had in the ’70s and early ’80s in the event, how long does Galen Rupp run on the track, and is it more lucrative for him to continue to run on the track until he’s 30 and then try to run marathons late where more and more guys from East African counties are deciding to run the distance at 23 and 24 like Biwott and some of these other guys. 

It’s a dicey proposition.  I don’t think there is an American that can win in the field right now. 

I think Meb at 38, bless his heart, I just think it’s too far for him to hang with those guys.  But they’re names that people should know, and I think they’re guys that will be in there for the first half of the race and could be up there maybe as far as 20 miles and will be interesting to watch and get people to know who these people are.  You’ll see and hear a lot from them. 

It’s just the dynamics of how you pay for this in terms of prize money and how they treat prize money in Track and Field sometimes is not conducive all the time for American dominance on the roads anymore.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports (please excuse any typos).

*Please note this is only a partial transcript. The audio replay provides a complete record of the call.

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Allie Stoneberg

I advance ESPN’s communications and publicity efforts for NFL studio programming, Monday Night Football, the NFL Draft and our coverage of the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. I enjoy meeting journalists in person at games and events and delight in showing them around our Bristol, Conn., campus.
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