Nike and USATF playing hard to get into fans’ ‘State of Track and Field’ documentary

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In 100 days, the greatest track and field athletes on the planet will gather in Eugene, Oregon for the 18th Outdoor World Championships in Athletics – the first time on American soil.

The best of times for the American track?

Maybe not.

A 24-year-old track coach and Ohio State graduate asks tough questions with a documentary film that takes an ambitious look at the state of athletics in the United States. He asks about the sport’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ of governing bodies, ‘their size and bureaucracy’. And what needs to change.

But Alexandru “Alex” Andrei runs into obstacles.

Andrei, a 5-year-old Romanian immigrant with degrees in biology and exercise science, interviewed 65 people, mostly Olympic-class athletes and coaches. But the sport is overseen nationally by USA Track & Field and funded primarily by Nike.

Ohio’s Alex Andrei self-finances his film project, which has taken him to 11 events. He interviewed 65 people. Photo courtesy of Andrei

And Andrei — who has been to Nike’s world headquarters near Beaverton, Ore., and was featured last year by the USATF — has hit a wall with the corporate giant and the Indianapolis-based USATF.

“I was just smothered and not given the time I was trying to create these conversations,” he told The San Diego Times.

A month ago, he released a 9-minute “great trailer” for his film (after a 2-minute teaser) in hopes of building excitement for the project’s summer release and opening up ” some of those conversations with where the money is.”

USATF critics have a central voice.

“The most disorganized major sport I’ve ever seen,” Brooks Beasts head coach Danny Mackey says in the trailer.

Isaiah Harris, a middle-distance star, calls for restructuring the sport “from top to bottom…. Some people at the top make a lot of money, which doesn’t trickle down to the athletes very well.

Alex Andrei says he’s frozen by USATF and Nike officials. Photo courtesy of Andrei

And Sinclaire Johnson, NCAA 1,500-meter champion, notes a ban on wearing more than one sponsor logo.

“That rule needs to change,” she says, citing NASCAR drivers as a role model.

The USATF and Nike did not respond to requests for comment from The Times of San Diego. But Andrei still reaches out, hoping to land interviews on camera.

One concern could be a federal criminal investigation into financial ties between the USATF and Nike, which in 2014 announced a sponsorship from 2017 to 2040 worth $475 million over time.

Andrei doesn’t mention the District of Columbia investigation in his trailer, concluding with the theme, “I’m showing up for sports.”

(Athletes appearing in the trailer include Olympic medalists Galen Rupp, Shalane Flanagan, Clayton Murphy and Ryan Crouser as well as current stars Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Devon Allen, Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare.)

Andrei says the documentary, which “came into focus” in January 2021 amid the pandemic, is a bigger undertaking than he expected.

“I was really keeping a journal of where I see the sport and all the amazing things that were going to happen in…2021,” he said in a phone interview. “I realized that while they were [good-intentioned] individuals sharing stories, I haven’t really seen any collective stories being told about sports here in America.

He envisioned a short film that would debut before the Tokyo Olympics.

Alex Andrei facilitated a mini-workshop in Columbus, Ohio. Photo via Andrei

“But I like to say it got out of control in the best way possible,” he says. “The more and more people I talked to and the more I started to have these conversations with athletes and coaches, I realized it wouldn’t do the sport justice to end where I planned.”

So, on his own, he started flying out for meetings, “advocating for media credentials left and right.”

The goal is a “historical documentary in the making about the current state of sports here in America – what are the issues facing us as a community, as a sport.”

He hopes to reveal why the track is run as it is.

“Even the average fan, who will watch more than the Olympics, doesn’t understand how it works on an industry level,” he said. “My goal is to try to level the playing field in terms of information about how the sport works, about the nuances that make it difficult for athletes to succeed. Or for fans to watch the sport, even.

His fantasy: “Bring all these people you would never see in the same room…to sit at the same table and give their 2 cents”.

Who is this young filmmaker with great visions?

Alex Andrei hopes to reach track fans and non-fans alike. Photo via Andrei

Andrei describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades – with “a bit on the back burner” coaching.

He worked with middle and distance runners at Worthington Kilbourne High School in Columbus, Ohio, and a few athletes starting to “get to that national level in distance running.” And he has “freelance contracts” with different companies.

He works as a mental health specialist at a children’s hospital in Columbus.

Andrei came to the track after being banned from spring lacrosse following two concussions.

“I joined the track and field team my second year after having already raced cross country for four years. It came quite naturally to me,” he said. As a senior in 2016, four of his Dublin Coffman High School teammates won the 4×800 relay at the New Balance Indoor Track National Championship in New York.

Andrei, a junior college “Captain of the Year,” ran a 6:45 p.m. 5K in high school and got his mile “at 5:20 a.m.”

“I’ve never been under-5,” he says. “It still haunts me.”

At Ohio State, he joined a running club that rivaled the big Big Ten clubs and the DII and DIII schools.

“I had a breakout season, getting PR in the 800 and the mile. Then the coronavirus hit,” he said. “Everything kind of fell apart after that.”

Always trying to stay fit, he was closing in on his 5K PR last season when a series of knee injuries hampered him – “bursitis in his left knee and a cortisone shot at 23”.

For his documentary, he attended 11 meetups and even visited Olympian Wheating in his Portland backyard.

“I know exactly where I want to go” with the film, he says. “I’ve been sitting on some of this content for over a year. .. I slowly start pulling it out. And now that it’s out, I’m really excited for people to talk about it. And talk about it. »

He didn’t see his self-financed film – whose musical score is performed by a “high school phenom” – as a “money grab by any stretch of the imagination”.

He imagines two audiences: track fans and the layman who says “Oh, I did track in college” but can’t name a track star besides Usain Bolt.

“My goal is also to make it digestible for someone who doesn’t know the inner workings of athletics at all,” says Andrei. “The thing is, an athletics fan… they’ll probably see it, and they’ll probably watch it. Whether they like it, love it, or hate it is a whole other conversation.

If his runway project isn’t dramatic enough, he can always turn to his family history.

Before the 1989 revolution, Andrei’s father was a Romanian freedom fighter.

He eventually tried to flee – hiding with his brother on a ship. But he was arrested and spent a year and a half in a communist prison.

“My father… escaped and went to Greece, and after six months a church in Pennsylvania sponsored him to… start a new life in America. (He now lives in Columbus.) He got off the plane with a bag of clothes and a pocket of change. I respect him enormously.

“He is the embodiment of the American dream.”

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