Or more to the point, how important are the World Championships? Where do they stand in the grand scheme of the sport?
I ask because with just under a month until our “Big Meet” the season has seemed a bit, lackluster. Tyson Gay out. Usain Bolt subpar. Yelena Isinbayeva working her way into it. Eliud Kipchoge good but not great. Caster Semenya way off. I could do a post just listing the athletes that aren’t close to where they should be this time of year but I think you get the point.
My question is, is everyone really working to peak for Daegu, or are they working on peaking for something else? Because many of the athlete interviews I’ve read this year have had at least one of the following three words in them – London, Olympics, or Games. As in, “I’ll be ready for London”, or “Daegu will tell me where I am for the Games”, or “the Olympics are what really matters” among others phrases.
So, after a quarter century of existence, are the World Championships still playing second fiddle to the Olympics? Is the pre-Games version of Worlds just a dry run for the Games themselves? If so, what does that make the post-Games Championships – a chance to use the peak built for the Olympics to gain some additional hardware? And if the answer to either of these is “yes”, are we doing ourselves an injustice by holding championships right before and after the Olympics?
I pose these questions as someone who is always looking for ways to improve the sport. And with last year being an “off season” without any type of championship, World or Olympics, I had hoped that this year would be a lot more entertaining than it has been to date. But so far we’ve seen less of most top level athletes than we did during the “off season”. And for a sport that already has trouble getting it’s top talent on the track/field regularly that’s NOT a good thing!
I’ve often thought that what the sport needs is a World Championships every year there is not an Olympics – to give the athletes something to shoot for every year. But now I’m wondering if perhaps we need just one Worlds every four years as was the original schedule. Except, not the year before or after the Olympics – but in the two year gap in between, like the Winter Olympics. This would create separation between the two events. Our athletes would have an off year before both the Games and Worlds – hopefully giving them needed time to recharge, rehab, and retool for both and to show up to the World Championships ready to give the same effort and performances that they strive for during the Games. It would also give those marketing our sport needed separation from the Olympics to focus on our World Championships as a stand alone event and not the “pre-meet” to the "real event”.
If we were more closely structured to professional sports like the NBA or NFL, then annual championships would make sense. Especially if that structure incorporated some type of “team” concept. Unfortunately, while the sport has incorporated the payment of money to athletes (making it “professional”) it has yet to create a corresponding structure for the sport – it’s still basically a very loose association of athletes, federations, and meets. With that being the case, and the sport not really having a coordinated marketing effort, perhaps a quadrennial “blow out” that everyone can rally around might be more in line with what the sport needs.
It’s clear that that is a big reason why the Olympic Games is the the grand event that it is – the anticipation that is built up over four years of waiting. That and the fact that with the athletes building up to that event, the performances across the board tend to be spectacular. Contrast that with our World Championships where typically they tend to be remembered more so for one or two individuals per meet as opposed to truly outstanding competition all around. And since the beginning of the new Millennium, it seems that more and more World Championships fall under the category of “less memorable” than “memorable” – not a good thing for the sport.
Perhaps I’ll be wrong and Daegu will be a meet with outstanding results from top to bottom. But as I start to gather my thoughts to put together final predictions before the meet, I’m already prepared to reduce some of my “what it will take to win gold” marks – because up to this point, the athletes really don’t seem up to the task this year. I don’t think I’ll be making that same comment heading into London – because EVERYONE considers London to be very important!
So I think we need to look at making the World Championships more important. Not just the biggest track meet in any given year, but a MAJOR event. A goal. A destination. Something special. It was special in ‘83 and ‘87. It seems to gradually have lost that over time – rather than build to something even greater. Maybe just one every four years is what it needs to be.