Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Happened to the Double ?

Norwich Union GP

The schedule of events for the Diamond League meets is out and the first thing that popped into my head was: what's happened to the double? Do you even remember the double? Odds are if you started watching professional track and field at the turn of the century (this century) you may not.

The double, that's when an athlete competed in two different individual events in the same meet. Like the 100/200, 800/1500, LJ/TJ, and SP/Disc. Happens all the time at the high school and collegiate level. Has become a rare commodity on the professional level.

At the high school and collegiate level we see athletes double all the time. In large part to score whatever points they can for their teams. While that may be the primary goal, it does make for great theater. Especially when there are multiple talented athletes involved. Then you get the opportunity to see talented athletes compete not once, but twice in the same meet - with revenge in mind for someone the second time around!

Athletes like Steve Williams and Don Quarrie used to go after each other regularly in both the 100 & 200. As soon as the 100 was over you would look forward, not to the next meet they would both attend, but to their next head to head in about an hour and a half as they lined up in the deuce with the 100 loser looking for revenge, and the winner looking to repeat. Ironically before standing room only crowds in locations such as Zurich and Eugene that are now Diamond League meets!

Or an athlete like Mike Conley, superb at both the LJ and TJ. Watching him contest both in the same meet against the world's best in two events on the same day and cheering for him to pull it off. Flying over 27 feet in the long jump and 57 feet in the triple jump.

Makes me often feel that today's fans are being robbed of great competitions - and the sport tremendous marketing opportunities. As much as we've waited for single "showdowns" in the sprints can you even fathom a meet with Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay going head to head TWICE! Or how about Tatyana Lebedeva v Yargeris Savigne in the long and triple jumps in the same meet?

Or the potential of having Gay and Bolt run the 100. Then watch Wariner and Merritt run the 400. Then perhaps watch the four of them go toe to toe over 200 before meets end? Yes I know that there are considerations here. Contracts that need to be worked out. Payments that need to be made. But in a sport dying for great theater, if we can negotiate for athletes to run on fabricated tracks down the middle of boulevards, surely we can negotiate REAL competitions at our sports best meets!

While I'm glad that the Diamond League is bringing athletes to the track to compete against each other, let's take the sport to the level it was at when Williams and Quarrie were going head to head with regularity and stop dumbing the sport down! Even as recently as the 90's we had athletes like Maurice Greene, Ato Boldon, Jon Drummond and Frankie Fredericks running single day doubles. So we know that it's still possible at the elite level.

Seems that everyone is SO worried about how long meets are that they forget how exciting a meet can be when the competition is there! I guarantee you that if you have Bolt and Gay in both the 100 and 200 that NO ONE leaves the stadium until BOTH races have been run!

You see, in my opinion the length of our meets is not the issue. Baseball games last for HOURS and people watch - often til well after midnight on the East Coast. Same for football and most fans will spend ALL DAY watching them. Ditto basketball where fans will watch the NCAA tournament around the clock for days on end. It's not about how short events are, or long, it's about how exciting they are!

So the issue is not about how quickly we can run our meets, it's how many of our top athletes can we get to compete in them! And if we can get our top athletes on the track (or field) multiple times then that much better. So having a plan for the best meets we have to offer that immediately eliminates half of the events each meet seems like planning to fail to me. Or at the very least not planning to provide the best complete viewing opportunity to our fans.

After all, the glory days of our sport involved meets with FULL schedules and featured some of the greatest doublers in history. And some of the best attended meets in this country are our high school state championships meets with full schedules, multiple matchups galore, and standing room only crowds! Perhaps the professional version of the sport might be better served b going back to it's youth roots. I think the world would love to see Bolt v Gay X2 in Paris, New York, or Zurich!

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