American athletes appeared. American fans?

Cara Winger arrived at the World Athletics Championships as one of the most decorated javelin throwers in American history. A nine-time national champion, he overcame injuries, including two knee surgeries, to compete in four Olympic Games.

On Friday, however, the winger was tied for fifth before his final shot at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., home of the World Series. He has never won a medal at a global event and plans to retire at the end of the season. It was his last shot.

“I’m two hours from my hometown,” said Winger, 36, who grew up in Vancouver, Washington, “and I felt like every single person in that stadium was rooting for me.”

It was the first time the World Athletics Championships were held in the United States, and American athletes like Winger made the most of the experience. The winger kept it all going until the end, winning the silver medal with a fierce final throw. She was still celebrating when Sydney McLaughlin, one of the USA’s most talented young stars, won the women’s 400m hurdles and broke her own world record.

“The overall atmosphere of Team USA — just seeing people all over the track and inside the oval completely dominating — was incredibly fun to be a part of,” Winger said.

Athletics officials hoped that hosting the World Championships in the United States would help spark American interest in the sport. And while athletes like Winger have provided rapturous fans in Eugene, which has long been a hotbed of athletics, one meet isn’t a cure-all. As Winger can attest, progress takes commitment.

“We need to be in that market,” said Sebastian Coe, president of the World Athletics Association, athletics’ global governing body. “It’s important. It doesn’t pull its weight.”

The World Cup was a great success for American athletes. Entering Sunday, the final day of the 10-day competition, the United States had won 28 medals, 10 of them gold, well ahead of all other nations. Ethiopia was next with 10 medals, four of them gold. Athing Mu won the women’s 800m on Sunday night to add to her tally.

American men took the podium in the 100 meters and shot put. Noah Lyles won the men’s 200m. The women’s 4x100m relay team edged out Jamaica for a surprise world title, while the men’s 4x100m relay team, notoriously clumsy in years past, held on to the baton long enough to claim silver.

And even as Allison Felix, one of the most decorated athletes in US history, made her last appearance for the national team, a new crop of stars has already stepped up to fill the void.

“It was really big for the meet in the United States to have all my family there and it made it more enjoyable, of course,” McLaughlin said after the race. Knowing that I’m in the same time zone that I’m training in and all the home advantage it has, it’s definitely worked in our favor.

There was plenty of energy inside the stadium, but the indoor access to the event seemed more limited.

Last weekend, just over 2 million people tuned in to NBC to watch the championships on Saturday and Sunday — a smaller audience than those who watched NBC’s same-day coverage of the British Open, which drew 3.3 million viewers on Saturday and 4.5 million. Final round on Sunday.

It hardly helped that viewers needed a spreadsheet to figure out what and how to watch. During the week, the World Cup aired on USA Network, a cable channel owned by NBC, and on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. (The shuttle landed at the Peacock when USA showed pro wrestling.)

The World Cup is not an ideal spectator event. The meeting lasts for two weeks and will test the patience of the most dedicated fans. Coy left open the possibility of recalibrating and possibly compressing the schedule in the future.

“I’m never going to give up on the philosophy and history of our sport,” he said. “But I think we have to admit that 10 days, almost mornings and evenings, is quite a challenge.”

At the same time, Coe listed several inherent advantages that would help increase the popularity of track and field in the United States, starting with its strong national team, which could pay the rent during the time its athletes spent on the medal podium. at Hayward Field. There are about 50 million people in the United States who identify as avid runners, Coe said. And at the high school level, hundreds of thousands of teenagers participate in track and field.

But the United States has a “crowded, difficult market” for the sport, Coe said.

“I’m probably not going to be Mr. Popular for saying this, but I don’t think the sport has been marketed as well as it could have been in the U.S. in years past,” Coe said. “I think for many years there was a complacency that it was enough to come home with medals from the Olympics or the World Championships. I think there’s a lot more recognition now, which is important in itself, but it’s not enough.”

Organizers in the United States are experimenting with different, more fan-oriented events. They want top American athletes to stay longer in the United States — most pros spend the summer in Europe competing on the Diamond League Tour — and fans to bring the action closer to more compact meets.

Ahead of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, World Athletics and USA Track & Field have partnered to create an initiative called Project USA as a way to invest in sports. World Athletics is sponsoring a documentary series in the style of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’, which has boosted the mainstream appeal of Formula 1 motor racing. A road racing world championship is in the works, Coe said, with several “high-profile US cities” expressing interest in hosting events.

Coe also wants to continue to develop the Continental Tour, which acts in part as a kind of feeder system for the freshman and field events of the upper crust.

“When we created the Continental Tour, there wasn’t a single American city that put their hand up and wanted to do it,” he said. “Now we have two or three and we need to increase that.”

Winger will compete in a few more events in Europe and one in the Bahamas before calling it a career. She also works full-time for a company called Parity, which directs revenue to female athletes.

“I am a passionate member of the community I serve,” he said.

In Eugene, he was impressed by the activity — and the attention — that several lesser-known field events had generated. He contacted young athletes who told him that they had started throwing the javelin in recent years and were watching him on Instagram.

“That doesn’t happen for javelin throwers,” Winger said. “So the fact that it happened here is incredible.”

Kevin Draper and Chris Rim Contributed to the report.

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