Joyful at the track

SINGAPORE -- Before the gun went off in the boys' 100-meter dash, Odane Skeen of Jamaica, standing at the blocks in Lane 5, made a motion with his hand like an airplane taking off. Then he flew down the track, and won. In the girls' 400, American Robin Reynolds turned it on down the homestretch for victory. She knew with 50 meters to go the race was hers: "I was just smiling and jumping for joy inside because I knew I would win gold."

In the high jump, an Israeli, Dmitry Kroytor -- an Israeli! -- won gold at these first-ever Youth Olympic Games. "It's a big deal," his coach, Anatoly Shafran, said. "We have so much problems in our country. We need something to be happy."

There are nights like Saturday when track and field is joyful.

And that's precisely the right word: joyful.

After she had taken fourth-place in the girls' 100 -- and fourth is the hardest place to finish, just out of the medals -- Annie Tagoe of Great Britain was the farthest thing from unhappy. She climbed into the stands and sat down, flashing a big smile while everyone around her applauded.

Australia's Brandon Starc took silver to Dmitry Kroytor's gold. Brandon said afterward, "I"m over the moon."

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, why it can't always be like this?

The talk before these Youth Games was all about how there were lessons for the young athletes here, 14- to 18-year-olds, to learn about cultures from around the world. Maybe the real lesson is for the senior officials of international sport, and in particular track and field's governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations.

Here's the lesson:

This is all supposed to be fun.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, speaking in a different context here the other day, said, "I think the Olympic Games are maybe a little bit too serious, there is too much gravitas. To introduce a little bit more of an element of fun would be good."

I second the motion, and when it comes to track and field in particular.

These have not been easy months for the sport.

Last summer brought the controversy at Berlin involving South African Caster Semenya.

This summer's inaugural Diamond League circuit was marked by injuries that limited Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sanya Richards-Ross and others. Injuries happen. But track in particular is dependent on star power. Everyone everywhere is clamoring to see Bolt. They didn't get to see nearly enough of him this summer.

The sport's status in the United States is still second-rate. And just in the past few days, Scott Davis, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, a man who embodied all that was right in track and field in the United States, passed away.

USA Track & Field is consistently riven by factions and political infighting.

Worldwide, meanwhile, the IAAF's financial situation is a matter of some delicacy.

It is not, as was widely and erroneously believed in track and field circles a few weeks back, on the verge of collapse. The organization has reserves. It has guaranteed money from TV and sponsors which it can predict for the next four years. It expects a significant boost in the dollars it gets in connection  from the International Olympic Committee in connection with the London 2012 Games when compared with what Beijing 2008 brought.

The dollar's drop against the euro has helped the IAAF, too.

Even so, it has instituted some significant budget cuts, staff reductions (mostly due to attrition) are in the offing and, because of the way revenues come in during the four-year Olympic cycle, the IAAF expects to post an operating loss for 2010.

But -- it expects to break even, more or less, over the four-year 2008-2012 cycle.

Then there's what's going on at the top. Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, is 77. He has been president for some 10 years. He confirmed in an interview in his hotel room here that he's definitely running for election again next summer, at the IAAF's next regularly scheduled balloting.

Diack would seem likely to be elected again. The challenge for the organization is where that leaves Sergei Bubka, Seb Coe and others who might rightly be looking at the job.

It gets even more complicated, actually. Diack said the situation in his country, Senegal, is such that he may well be drafted to be a candidate for his nation's presidency. That would be in 2012. Diack would doubtlessly only agree to be drafted if he knew he was going to win; he certainly has the right, perhaps even the obligation, to respond to a call to serve his nation.

But if that scenario plays out -- where would that leave the IAAF?

It makes your head hurt to think of the various possibilities, and the ferocity of the political jockeying, that would seem all but likely to unfold if Diack becomes president of Senegal.

It would be a lot more fun all around if it there were a lot more nights like the scene Saturday before a packed house at Bishan Stadium.

Odane Skeen, for example, ran a personal-best 10.42 to win the boys' 100. He  posed afterward for pictures with elementary school kids, answered questions from the grown-ups patiently, said and did all the right things.

Undoubtedly, the "next Usain Bolt" stories are already being written.

Odane is just 15. There's a long, long way between 10.42 and 9.58. How about we hold off on Odane being the next Usain and just savor the moment? It was lovely. Joyful, really.