Monday, November 21, 2011

Is There a Benefit to the U.S. being in the Diamond League?

imageI ask this question because last week the Diamond League schedule was released and once again it looks like the New York and Eugene meets received less than preferential treatment.

First let’s look at the scheduling aspect. The Prefontaine Classic (Eugene) is scheduled for June 2nd – two days after the Rome meet on May 31st. Similarly the Adidas/New York is scheduled for Jun 9th – two days after Oslo’s Bislett Games! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out a couple of things real quickly.

The first is that the athletes will have a very clear choice to make – to compete in Europe, or to cross the ocean and compete in the U.S. for two meets, or actually in one meet depending on your event. There is no opportunity to compete twice in Europe then come to the states, or vice versa to compete in two meets in the states then go back to Europe. One will either be in one place or the other, as the prospect of traveling back and forth across the ocean is impractical from both a financial and logistical point of view – logistics meaning the physical toll it would exact on the athletes with time changes, jet lag, etc.

So that aspect alone will restrict attendance at both meets, because with 2012 being an Olympic year and June the month of most Olympic Trials meets, the odds are that most people will want to stay as close to home as possible in order to be as fresh as possible for Trials meets. Of course, there is another decision that is completely taken off the table for the athletes – what events they can compete in in each meet. Because as I’ve lamented ad nausea, the Diamond League meets are only half meets – and the U.S. meets get the short end of the stick here as well!

First off here are the events that will be contested in each U.S. meet:

Men 200 400 800 1500 110H TJ DT JT
Women 200 400 ST HJ PV LJ DT  


Men 200 400 800 ST 110H HJ LJ DT
Women 100 800 5000 400H PV TJ SP JT

The first thing you notice is that the star potential is taken off the table as there is no men’s 100 in either meet. Given that a) the 200 is the lesser contested of the two sprints (100/200) in any season, let alone an Olympic one, and b) with Trials meets coming up it will be less likely to see a sprinter here than in the 100, it’s a fairly safe bet that seeing Bolt, Gay, Dix, Blake, et al is nearly slim to none in the U.S. No offense to any of the other star level athletes out there, but there goes a large chunk of the star quality and drawing power in this sport – no offense just fact at this point – because right now the 100 is The marquee event in the sport.

The next thing I noticed is no men’s 5000 or 10,000 in either meet – a huge negative for the Pre Classic in my opinion which has always been the country’s premier distance meet. This is a meet that is named after a distance running icon, yet will not have EITHER event on the schedule – almost un-American. The historical significance aside, it also means that seeing any of the major African distance runners is virtually out of the question in the U.S. meets – a tragedy that is really on par with missing out on the world’s top sprinters!

Some might say that Pre will have the men’s 1500, and I would say that you’re right there – so perhaps we may get a few milers to town in Eugene. But the next noticeable slight is that neither meet will have the women’s 800 or 1500 meters – two middle distance events where the U.S. has really begun to shine in the past few seasons! So not only will distance mecca Eugene be without the African distance runners – and our own Ritzenhein, Rupp, Solinsky et al, - but they will also be without ” home” favorites Uceny, Rowbury, Wurth Thomas, Simpson, Wright, Gall, Montano and Vessey to name a few.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of top level athletes out there to put in these meets. We do get the 110 hurdles which has star potential with the likes of David Oliver, Jason Richardson, Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles. We do get both the men’s and women’s 400 which could have LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, Allyson Felix, and/or Sanya Richards. But the reality is that we lose out on some serous BIG name potential off the top just from the schedule. So I have to ask: Is there any benefit to being part of the Diamond League, or were we better off when we had a strong Pre, New York and Home Depot on our schedule? For my money the answer is – yes.

New York went from the exciting Tyson Gay v Usain Bolt meet of 2008 to the sleep fests we’ve seen the past couple of years – as logistics and event scheduling as virtually killed this meet in my humble opinion. Just two years ago (year before DL) the Pre meet boasted Gelete Burka (3:59.89) barely over Jenny Simpson (3:59.90); Asbel Kiprop (3:48.50) over Haron Keitany (3:48.78) in the mile; Vivian Cheruiyot (5:31.53) over Maryam Jamal (5:31.88) in a 2000: and Bernard Lagat (7:35.92) over Saif Shaheen (7:36.87) in a 3000; in an awesome display of distance running fitting the man the meet is named after – there will be none of that this year!

The Diamond League is proving to be an abject failure on several levels, including what it is doing to what few meets we have left here in the United States. It seems like there is little real thought going into the scheduling process – especially when it comes to creating meets in the U.S. that a) have any real appeal, and b) that make any kind of logistical sense.

New York is but a shell of what it was becoming a few scant years ago, and if it weren’t for its Nike affiliation Pre would be in the same boat. USATF needs to take a hard look at the competition schedule here in the United States, and look for ways to provide more and better opportunities for OUR athletes to be able to compete HERE at home. Because at the current rate youngsters growing up today will have no idea what a real world class meet looks like live, up close, and personal.

The Home Depot and California Relays meets need to be resurrected and put back on the schedule. New York and Eugene need to become FULL meets again that are worthy of attracting the world’s best without having to be bent and twisted to fit the Diamond League format. Because if we have any hope of regaining a place of prominence within the track and field community with respect to competitions here in the U.S. this is certainly not the way to do so. We’re not just losing ground to traditional track countries like Great Britain – which now has London, Gateshead AND Birmingham on the schedule – but to upstarts like Doha, Kingston, and Daegu. Granted Jamaica is a trackc happy place and has been working towards getting a major meet on the map for a while, but Doha and Daegu? When Wallace Spearmon ran 19.65 there in ’06 I had to Google it to see just where it was!

I won’t even begin to reel off the names of world class meets I used to frequent in this country; just suffice it to say that we are a LONG way from there. Many were excited that we got Diamond League status for New York and Eugene, but it’s starting to look like another form of slow death for U.S. meets if we don’t step up and do something about it. At least that’s how it’s starting to look to me.

1 comment:

  1. Remember that a lot of times at the diamond league meets, there are events run that aren't part of the diamond league scoring. And Pre is almost always a go for some of the best competition in the world. I think the athletes know that Pre is a good opportunity to run fast.
    Look back at Pre from this year. There were so many events that weren't part of the diamond league but still had amazing performances.(M 100m, W 400m, M 10k etc.)