IAAF president Sebastian Coe is said to be seriously considering a proposal outlined at a recent European Athletics Council meeting which would erase all track & field records pre-2005, reasoning that’s when officials began saving blood samples for future testing.
“What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced, but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board,” European athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said.
Arbitrary? Sure. Necessary? Lay out some alternatives. Unless, of course, you believe the current situation is acceptable and maintainable. And I would love to hear that argument.
Yes, any one-size program will not fit all. Not every pre-2005 record is tainted, and athletes whose records may be in jeopardy are not happy. So maybe the sport just lists them as the pre-2005 records, while attaching no further moral judgements one way or the other. Don’t deny them, simply differentiate them from the records where blood samples are available to be retested. There isn’t going to be a way that perfectly threads this needle.
But the way it stands now, you’re damned if you don’t run fast, jump high, or throw far enough, but you’re doubted if you do. Plus, things are awkward out there, elite athletes can’t even say hi to their local pharmacist anymore, much less visit a doctor, without arousing suspicion.
At the same time, the sport can’t survive if every time they hand out awards like Olympic medals, prize purses, or World Marathon Majors titles, they just have to keep taking them back later because the supposed winners were dirty. And let’s not even begin about what constitutes females or males.
Today’s system doesn’t get it done; it’s a loser. Who wants a medal upgrade ten years later? That only looks good in your obit.
So if sport has any hope of remaining relevant, it has three choices, 1) start defending against betrayals, seriously, ala the post-2005 consideration, 2) just say, “eff it”, and allow drug use, laissez-faire, and make today’s top runners guinea pigs for the next generation’s better aging seminars, because they’ll know where the outer markers are on these wonder drugs, or 3) just de-emphasize elite competitions altogether, and go back to handing out trophies only.
Is it happenstance that the Abbott World Marathon Majors have signed a strategic partnership with the Dalian Wanda Group in China, which has plans to increase the number of marathons in the series, considering how athletes already can’t compete enough times to actually develop meaningful rivalries? The series is already composed of six annual marathons plus the Olympics and World Championships. From what I’ve heard and read the Singapore and Cape Town Marathons maybe next to join the circuit. How are they going to come up with a champion out of 8 to 10 separate marathons when top runners only peak to race two per year? How is the public supposed to make any sense of that?
There have already been signs of a lessening interest in the top-end. Last year’s TCS New York City Marathon only invited a handful of A-level international runners, while stacking the field with American talent. But the second the lead pack hit the halfway mark at the Pulaski Bridge in Queens the three top internationalist just got up and left, and that was that. Boston was relatively light on East African talent this spring, as well. And Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang ventured out to Tokyo this year for what turned into a two-minute solo win, rather than compete in London.
Now they want to add even more marathons to the list? Considering that the series just devalued its top prize by half, and will only award $50,000 per year in order to protect against dopers getting a big paycheck that they never give back if caught, it seems like the Marathon Majors are following the sporting trend toward quantity of runners over quality of competition.
And it probably didn’t help that 2016 Olympic and London Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge skipped his London defense to have a go at Nike’s Breaking2 Project in Italy. Not exactly a thumbs up for the series.
But if you ran the AWMM series, what would you do? The combination of sameness of result, lack of media marketability of the top runners, and the taint of drugs has led to a decrease in the sporting interest in the game, even as the participation numbers show a similar strain. Running USA stats show an 11% decrease in marathon participation since 2013, the high water year.
I have an old friend who lives in China. Here’s what he reports on the Wanda Group:
“Wanda Plaza and Wanda Hotels are ubiquitous in China. You’re not really a city until you get your own Wanda Plaza. (Wanda Group owner) Wang JianLin gets involved in a lot of stuff over here, and he’s extremely famous.
“Not surprised about this foray into running as China is now going through a MAJOR running boom. It’s a craze that’s sweeping the nation. This year they expect there will be at least 500 “marathons” (halves and full) in cities around the country, and the government is supporting a push for more to promote healthier life styles. The events can be huge with tens of thousands of participants. Africans race for prize money. Three Kenyans ran 60 minutes in Yangzhou, a medium sized city, a few weeks ago. My podunk little town had a half last September that had several thousand runners, and they even flew in a couple dozen Africans to run! It’s like there is a “C” team of Kenyans who race exclusively here, LOL.”
Governance is one thing, leadership another. One point of governing is to adjudicate the rules, but the other is to set those rules for fair and compelling competition to take place. The sport seems to be at a crossroads. As another old friend recently said, “there is no common goal. They play football to get to the Super Bowl. The playoffs are going on now in hockey and basketball, but track is just spread out all over the place. Even the Olympics are individual expressions of running, jumping, and throwing. But there is no connection.”
So whose job is it to have the vision to right the ship, then plot the course forward into more placid waters? Answer that question and you might rule the world, unless, of course, Wang JianLin gets there ahead of you .