This is Elliott Denman’s column 10 from Budapest on Marton Gyulai and his new position at World Athletics.
THE NOTRE DAME MAN
NOW GUIDING TRACK’S FUTURE
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Thomas Chamney’s name doesn’t ring too many bells on the University of Notre Dame campus in Indiana.
But it should. He’s the only Fighting Irish track and field athlete ever to actually represent Ireland in the Olympic Games. He was a 1:45 800 man and ran at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Moving right along, the roll call of Notre Dame track and field Olympians is lengthy and lustrous.
It begins with such early Games-goers as James Watson (USA) 1912; George Philbrook (USA) 1912; Forest Fletcher (USA) 1912; Gus Desch (USA) 1920; John Murphy (USA) 1920; and Alex Wilson (Canada) 1928-32 (and for many years thereafter an illustrious Notre Dame coach.)
It moves straight ahead to Jim Delany (USA) 1948; Rick Wohlhuter (USA) 1972-76; Molly Huddle (USA) 2012-16; Selim Nurudeen (Nigeria) 2008-12; Margaret Bambgose (Nigeria) 2016; Molly Seidel (USA) 2021), and Yared Nuguse (USA) 2021.
But where you may ask, is the name of Marton Gyulai?
Verrrry good question.
Wasn’t he a pretty good sprinter for the Fighting Irish?
Didn’t he compete in a pair of Games?
Well, here’s a Very good answer:
He didn’t run; he slid, bobbing and steering down the chutes at the Winter Games of Salt Lake City (2002) and Torino (2006) for his homeland of Hungary.
Notwithstanding all that, track and field has always maintained its status as his number one passion,
And – in the long-shot possibility you missed all these late developments – he’s been in the track news lately. A lot of news.
Rather than the 80/90 miles an hour, hair-raising, downright scaring-the-heck-out-of-you downhill focus of bobsledding, Marton Gyulai’s trajectory in track and field has been straight upward.
He is the man – owner of a Notre Dame degree in international government, having put his sled in cold storage – who just directed the recent 19th World Championships of Track and Field into a smash nine-day success – 202 nations; brilliant action, shaking up all the sport’s top-list compilations; a packed stadium daily, over 400,000 total spectators, and a totally upbeat experience.
In many ways, it was Marton Gyulai’s own show and was surely one of the best – perhaps the best of all Worlds – in the series that commenced in Helsinki in 1983. And now, at 43, he’s the man just rewarded for that outstanding performance by a promotion to one of the biggest jobs in the sport.
His new title is World Athletics’ Director of Competition and Events.
Sounds very important, and yes, it is.
As World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon – himself a former Olympic high hurdler – put it: “Marton’s extensive experience across a wide range of areas in athletics makes him the ideal candidate for this important role as we dial up competition innovation over the next four years.
“Marton has run a federation, hosted one-day international meetings, and European junior and Masters events, together with being a key part of a talented and innovative leadership team responsible for staging a thrilling World Championship event.
“Straight off the back of our most engaging World Athletics Championships in history, we are delighted to welcome Marton to his new role .”
The Marton Gylulai dossier: Member of the European Athletics Council since 2015, member of the European Athletics Executive Board 2021-23, elected to the Hungarian Olympic Committee in 2012, leading the Hungarian Federation for 10 years.
One more of his assignments has been a pure labor of love:
And that is directing the big-and-getting bigger annual Istvan Gyulai International Meet, named for his illustrious father. Set in Debrecen, Hungary, it’s been a major Continental Tour stop for over a decade.
His Dad, Istvan Gyulai (who passed away in 2006), had won 28 Hungarian sprint titles and was a 1964 Olympic dashman as a younger man. He then veered into athletic administration – rising to the general secretary of the IAAF (predecessor of World Athletics) while pursuing a parallel career as a broadcaster…
Another Istvan Gyulai son, Miklos, was both an Olympic sprinter and bobsledder.
Everything on this path for Marton has been a learning experience.
His first bobsledding ventures were pure fright: “You are shoved into a very tiny spot, with carbon fiber walls on either side, no seats but a metal sheet that you sit on, nothing to really hold on to.” He once said. “You wear a helmet, a speed suit, and a pair of spikes, and you are flying down an ice tunnel over 80 to 90 mph.”
But Marton Gyulai soon put his fears away: “I am no longer scared by the speed at which this thing flies, but enjoy the extreme situation and thrive on it.”
Riding the results of Budapest’s 2023 Worlds, Marton Gyulai now hopes to thrive on track and field’s overall success, too.
The sport is getting far more global than it ever has. Participation numbers are up. The junior ranks everywhere are filled with talented young folks.
But not everything and everywhere is rosy.
Great as Team USA performed at the 2023 Worlds, it endured an intense media snub. Newspapers weren’t carrying the results stories. Even NBC New York, a principal outlet in a principal American city – and yes, the network’s flagship station that gave us such great viewing hours from Budapest – didn’t think the Worlds even merited a mention or two on the nighttime news. Little League baseball, yes; track’s Worlds, no.
No wonder the sport in the USA is increasingly being called “a just once in every four years thing.”
USA participation numbers and brilliant results are one thing. But, on another level, fewer Americans are paying attention.
Maybe a bright younger guy out of Budapest with a Notre Dame degree and a great new title can stir things up – USA-wise – to match the track’s global standing. Bobsledding was a fright-filled downward rush; USA track and field could use some very hefty upward shoves these trying days.