Friday, May 6, 2011

Diack Says Head to Heads Diminish Value of World Championships


Yes, you read the headline correctly. The head of the IAAF, the global governing body for track and field provided the following quote during an interview which can be read here. The quote made while discussing head to head meetings:

“"It will be more difficult this year," Diack said, adding that it would not be realistic, for instance, to foresee to see three or four meetings between Gay and Bolt. "Don't expect that," he added. "That could diminish the value of the World Championships. Maybe they will meet just once before then. We will see."”

I’m sorry, but I’m not following the logic here.The World Championships is the biggest meet of the year – regardless of what happens in any other meet during the season. The fields contain the crem de la crem of the sport – the ONLY time you will get them all together in one venue – plus the tension of competitors trying to work their way through the rounds. It’s THE meet that everyone strives to peak for. After all it is the meet where if you win you are crowned the CHAMPION of your event – because you’ve met and defeated the best there is.

There is absolutely NOTHING that can take place during the rest of the season that would diminish the value of the World Championships! That’s like saying the Super Bowl has no meaning if two undefeated teams meet during the season. Or the NBA finals is meaningless because the Lakers and Heat play four games prior. I find it almost insulting that the head of the sport would make such a comment – it’s not what you want to hear coming from leadership.

It’s either like the Fox and the Grapes – I can’t get them to run head to head so I don’t care about head to heads and didn’t want them to anyway. Or, he really believes that somehow great competition during the season diminishes the World Championships. Either way, both positions are ridiculous.

For starters, as I’ve said so many times now I’m nearly blue in the face, great match ups DRAW people to the meets and to the sport! That’s what people WANT to see. And in the words of the O’Jays, you’ve got to give the people what they want!

Besides, we got lots of head to heads in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, even the 90’s and guess what? The sport was infinitely MORE popular than it is NOW! We had more meets, and filled stands – and the Olympics and World Championships were as anticipated if not more so than today! Why? Because head to head competition during the season only increases the anticipation of what is going to happen once they face off again in the Major!

For example, adding an even number of head to heads during the season would provide the potential for Worlds to be the ultimate tiebreaker. Not just a tiebreaker, but a tiebreaker with at title on the line! That would diminish Worlds? Even in the event that the season series was uneven (say 3 to 1) Worlds now becomes the ultimate “redemption” race. The race of the year, with the season’s strongest field, with a title on the line, and the chance for “winner take all” glory! There are so many ways you can play the scenarios from a marketing standpoint – marketing opportunities that we are now lacking!

Not in the history of the sport has a Major championship race NOT held the throne as the ultimate race of the year. From Jesse Owens v Ralph Metcalf, to Jim Hines v Charlie Greene, to Carl Lewis v  Ben Johnson, to Mo Greene v Tim Montgomery, time and time again great sprinters have met during the season only to meet in the Major with the question looming – ok, can you do it with the lights on! And when an underdog comes back and wins, oooo “How ya like me now”!

After all, there is nothing like settling a good rivalry on the ultimate battle field with all the world watching with anticipation. Rivalries enhance a championship. And in order to have a rivalry, well you have to compete against each other. Individual time trials during the season by the sport’s best – each dominating the competition – with a one race season finale between the best, only leaves everyone wanting MORE.

This is why the sport is dying a slow agonizing death – and apparently it starts at the top! Perhaps next we’ll be advocating for no meets during the season at all – just a World Championships. After all, if we see them compete before Worlds it just may diminish the World Championships!


  1. What's that saying, the fish rots from the head? I mean this is dumbfounding. Some will nod and agree but they would be wrong too! This is track and field, the entire premise is based on competition! Does Diack feel the same about other events, such as, uhm, ALL the other events where we do see numerous head to heads?
    Such a cop out.

  2. In fact, I think if Bolt and Gay meet more during the year, then there is even more on the line at the World Championships. Let's say they have a 3-2 head-to-head record. Then the World Championship would decide the clear best of the two. Even if one sweeps all the preliminary meets, then the WC would give the underdog a chance to play cinderella a la March Madness.

  3. When I first read Diack's statement, I too nearly blew a gasket. Still fuming!

    This guy is not good for our sport.

    One can see where his influence has permeated the thinking of athlete's agents and handlers, not wanting to risk injury or defeat, saving all for the "big" meet. Shameful!

  4. I'm speechless. I saw the headline of your post and thought it was a clever way to get me to read the post. Diack lost a lot of credibility with me making those comments. He needs to be making those guys race more!

  5. I saw the comment last night and I was horrified !! There is no business out there that feels that showcasing it's talent/best product is somehow bad for business !! Yet that is the mentality that we have "leading" the sport ...

  6. And Martin you're absolutely correct in my opinion ... There are so many ways to market a season when you have your top level athletes competing .. And no matter what happens, Worlds will always be the meet with the last word !!