Inside the Arcade: "Track and Field" (1983)
We were going for the Gold with Silver quarters
There ended up being a host of games that centered around the Olympics, but Track and Field was the OG. I was a frequent competitor. And when Carl Lewis won 4 gold medals in the 1984 Olympics the following year, I remember telling a friend, “Yeah that’s cool. I won one too”.
Track and Field was unique in that it had no joystick. Once you dropped your quarter in the slot and started up you were in control of 3 buttons. You’d use two of them to generate speed and the third to jump and throw.
You could spot this game from anywhere inside the arcade, even if you couldn’t directly see it. Because anyone who was playing Track and Fieldwould be hitting the two speed buttons so hard and so fast that it sounded like a woodpecker trying to take down a whole tree. That insane blitz of button noise was a sure sign that someone nearby was going for the gold.
Once you got to play the game, you understood why those previous players would work the speed buttons so intently. In order to succeed at any of the six Olympic events the game had to offer, you had to do two things: you had to generate enough speed and maintain it all the way up until you hit the Jump/Throw button above, and you had to hit that top button at the right time. If you were too early you weren’t gonna make it.
If you were too late, you’d foul and be disqualified. And to top it all off, for certain events you also had to hold the top button down long enough or short enough to set the right angle for a throw or jump.
You had to get both the beginning and the end right, and you couldn’t have one without the other. It was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. If you managed to get the speed and launch right for one event you’d move on to the next.
I could make it through the first 4 events most days, but then I’d get to the Hammer Throw. It was somewhat ironic that this event was usually my last because you didn’t have to do much except throw the hammer. But there was really no way to time the throw. The guy would start out holding the hammer and start spinning slowly. He would then spin faster and then so fast you could barely see him.
Most of the time I’d just guess. I’d hit the throw button randomly and hope for the best.
My hammer throws ended up going everywhere. Most of the time it was nowhere near the field of play. I probably threw it into the crowd of spectators about a thousand times. If it had been real life, there would have been causalities.
Every now and then, I could pass the Hammer Throw. It was rare, but it happened. And then it was on to the final event: The High Jump. And here’s where the story gets a little sad. I must have had about 80 chances at The High Jump, but I only passed it once. I think this was largely due to the fact that not only was the High Jump hard, but immediately after getting past the Hammer Throw (after failing at it more than anything I’d ever tried in my life up to that point), I was tight and in shock. I’d just choke more often than not. And it was so disheartening.
But one day, at Arnie’s Arcade in southern NY, I cleared the High Jump bar. I was then whisked away to a medal ceremony and awarded the Gold.
I didn’t have a phone to take a picture of it. But I remember it like yesterday. Standing atop that podium I knew I would be a Gold Medalist for the rest of my life. And just like Carl Lewis, that’s not something anyone can ever take away from me.
Addendum: I couldn’t quite fit it into the text above but it should be noted that Track and Field also offered me my very first look at an Easter Egg. And it was a good one.
One day a friend at school told me that if you held the button down without releasing it while throwing the javelin it would go straight up into the air. And if you had generated enough speed the javelin would disappear above the top of the screen, kill an octopus and then fall straight back down to the ground as a skewered octopus.
It sounded ridiculous, I thought he was pulling my leg. But next time at the arcade I tried it, and he was right.
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