When the old circus parades came to town, the trip down main street generated an excitement and buzz – enticing everyone to come to the Big Top. There were lots of pretty girls swinging from trapeze, clowns mixing with the citizenry lining the streets and caged lions and tigers.
Yet, nothing could match the wonderment mighty elephants generated as they lumbered along the streets. Grown men and women would gauk and point. Children would scream with delight. These monsters of the Midway not only created the buzz of the circus, they actually helped construct the circus by using their strength and power to help rig the big tent in a field just outside of town.
Wednesday night in downtown Lawrence, that same sense of spectacle was re-created by officials with the Kansas Relays. They brought out the elephants of the sport of track and field for a first-time in the United States shot put competition on city streets. Just like the circus parade drew everyone to the Big Top, officials felt the throwing event would draw spectators to Memorial Stadium for the Kansas Relays weekend. The hope was that these giants of the Relays’ Midway would build new interest in the sport of track & field.
After an estimated 2,500 spectators watched eight of the world’s best shot putters in competition, there is good reason to believe many might just take in the rest of Relays and become fans. While most that watched are not as knowledgable as the devoted European fans that have packed locations other street events, the Lawrence crowd clearly appreciated the spectacle. They cheered and clapped loudly and the shot putters responded.
Before each throw, Adam Nelson, who finished third and is a two-time Olympic medalist, clapped his chalk-covered hands to the beat of the pulsing sound system. The amphitheatre created by the buildings along 8th street heightened the drama as Nelson would tear off his shirt and stomp into the ring to unleash a throw.
The shot put is the perfect event for such a setting. Six throws from each competitor came in rapid succession. Esteemed track and field commentator Larry Rawson was on hand to keep everyone well versed in the lore of an event that seems so simple yet contains many hidden nuances.
To the casual observer, the shot is all about strength. Grunt, groan and heave a heavy ball, leaving an enormous crater in the compacted sand some 70 feet away. In fact, speed and coordination play a role as huge as the giant men weighing over 300 pounds who spin with amazing quickness and grace through a ring only seven feet in diameter.
To pull this off, city workers began early in the morning moving ton after ton of sand to level a street that fell off three feet from the ring to the landing area. The day-long effort resulted in a stunning setting applauded by athletes and fans alike. After the event, fans lingered at the bars and coffee shops that surrounded the throwing area. There was a buzz and a good feeling. Happily, the circus had come to town.
Of course, like any circus parade, there are always workers trailing behind the powerful elephants scooping up their…well you know that four-letter word…sand!