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Running On The Web

Running Laps Around The Web

Published April 28, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Over the past two years, there has been a proliferation of World-Wide Web pages on running. This growth of running on the web has coincided with a decline in television coverage, making the Internet the preferred medium for promoting running, and publishing timely race results.

The Internet is a complex interconnection of thousands of national and international computer networks. These smaller networks serve over 100 million users in 150 countries. The World-Wide Web (WWW) is simply a virtual implementation of the HyperText Transmission Protocol HTTP over the Internet. HTTP permits a WWW browser to request and display information stored on a WWW server, using the Internet as the transmission medium. Information is stored on WWW servers in a HyperText Markup Language HTML. With millions of WWW browsers and thousands of WWW servers, the Internet offers a larger selection of topics, a wider network of reporters, a lower cost of transmission, and a faster access to information, than any of the traditional media.

Running on the Internet had its modest beginnings several years ago with the creation of electronic mailing lists for the exchange of email between the members of a list. These lists include coach-net, Dead Runners' Society, and Track-and-Field. At about the same time, USENET newsgroups such as rec.running were created, allowing articles to be posted to an anonymous user population. However, the most significant impact of the Internet on running can be credited to the growth of the WWW over the past three years. Unlike mailing lists and newsgroups, the WWW is a totally passive, distributed, publication medium. An information provider creates a WWW page and stores it on a WWW server, in the expectation that someone with a WWW browser will look at it.

Today, the WWW offers a wealth of information on running. National and local governing organizations, like the USATF and the RRCA, provide rules and regulations, calendars, and useful contacts. Running publications and news networks, like Runner's World, ESPN and CNN, use the WWW to supplement their offerings with timely coverage and frequent updates. Equipment manufacturers, like Nike and Saucony, promote the latest in running shoes and waterproof outerwear. Clubs and schools provide membership information, athlete profiles, race calendars, entry forms, and race results. Coaches and physicians offer advice on training and injuries. Runners maintain home pages listing their PR's, favorite races, and running philosophy. Finally, all pages provide hyper links to other running pages, creating a world-wide web of information.

The impact of the WWW on running is most noticeable in two areas: access to information and timely race coverage. The WWW contains a vast data base of information, measured in the trillions of documents. From a WWW browser in Syracuse, a runner can access a calendar of races in Central Florida, download an entry form for the New York Marathon, view the course map of the Seattle Marathon, and check the results of the Peachtree Race.

Race coverage has taken on a new meaning with the innovation of live WWW coverage. Virtually anyone with a home page on the WWW can become a reporter. Since the world's first rudimentary live WWW coverage of a track meet on January 15, 1996 in Manley Field House, we have gradually added complexity to subsequent meets, culminating in the live WWW coverage 1997 BIG EAST Indoor Track & Field Championships. On February 15 and 16, a world-wide audience of track and field fans tuned in for lap-by-lap action, near-live pictures and complete heat-by-heat results from the Carrier Dome. Throughout the meet, the WWW was the only source of information to the outside world. Over 10,000 hits were recorded during the finals on the second day of the meet. One athlete's grandmother, watching the meet from England, emailed a request for a picture of her grandson: the WWW team obliged. Other viewers sent in suggestions and comments, making it a truly interactive coverage.

Within the next three years, I foresee live multimedia WWW coverage of running events, including live audio and video. While today's technology permits creating a live multimedia stream, the transmission capacity of the Internet and the processing power of personal computers do not permit the real-time transport of that stream into our homes. I expect that technology will permit universities and research laboratories to view live multimedia over the WWW within a year. Consumers are likely to follow by the turn of the century. I predict that the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney will be carried live on the WWW, permitting a viewer to tune into any venue and event. This will permit us, for the first time in the history of the Olympics, to watch all 25 laps of the men's 10,000-meter final, and replay them in slow motion from 6 different camera angles.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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