Steve Scott and Larry Young enter the National Track and Field Hall of Fame on Dec. 6 as representatives of events in serious trouble - one in the United States, the other in the Olympics.
The 46-year-old Scott still holds the American outdoor and indoor records in the mile, evidence of how U.S. middle distance runners have faded on the international scene.
"We used to be right there competitive with the top people in the world," Scott said. "Now we're lagging way behind."
Young was the last American walker to win an Olympic medal, taking the bronze in the 50-kilometer event in 1968 and 1972. Olympic officials are considering removing walking from the Olympics.
"We have to try to legitimize our sport to the public and to the track and field community at large," the 59-year-old Young said. "We're in kind of a transition now. We have to take a hard look at what we're doing."
Earl Bell, the last U.S. pole vaulter to hold the world record, and sprinter Gwen Torrence also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Jesse Owens Awards ceremony in Kansas City, Mo., in conjunction with the USA Track and Field annual meeting.
In a conference call with the inductees Tuesday, Scott blamed youth soccer for the demise of middle-distance running in the United States.
"A lot of our best middle-distance runners never get involved in track. They start in soccer at age 6 and never leave it," he said. "The demise in middle-distance running in this country pretty much parallels the rise of youth soccer."
Scott is the track and cross-country coach at Cal State-San Marcos.
"The numbers of kids running in high school are the same or up," he said, "but I don't think we're getting the same quality."
Young said there are legitimate concerns about the fairness of race walking, whether the walkers need to keep a part of one foot on the ground at all times. He suggested the use of video cameras to review the competitors. There is no doubt, he said, the walkers are great athletes.
"These guys are some of the most fit guys in the Olympics, no question about it," Young said.
Bell, 47, won the bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics and set the world outdoor record of 18 feet, 7¨ inches at the 1976 U.S. championships. He coaches pole vaulters, including American record holder Jeff Hartwig, in Jonesboro, Ark.
Bell said the popularity of pole vaulting is booming in the United States, largely because of the addition of a women's vault.
"There's just been a flood of interest with the girls," said Bell, who coaches high school-age vaulters in summer camps. "The reality of it is the girls get involved and the guys get even more involved."
Internationally, U.S. vaulters rank with the best in the world. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Nick Hysong became the first American to win the pole vault gold since Bob Seagren in 1968.
The 37-year-old Torrence, a gold-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1992 Olympics and 100-meter champion at the 1995 world championships, was unable to participate in the conference call because of commitments in her work as a hairdresser, U.S. track officials said.
The additions bring the number of people in the Hall of Fame to 192. The Hall of Fame is under construction at the Armory Track & Field Center in New York City.