Tag: 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships

BARSHIM FINALLY FILLS THE HOUSE

Flag-waving fans come to cheer the hometown hero

The IAAF World Championships finally soared last night, looking and feeling more like a world championships of old. It took till day eight of ten, but with a world record push in the women’s 400 hurdles, an epic drive in the men’s 3000 meter steeplechase, and an arcing, come from behind win by the home country hero in the men’s high jump, all performed before a rollicking flag-waving crowd, this Doha version of the IAAF World Athletics Championships truly became a member of the World Champs family of venues.

Throughout the first week, though, a major story line had been the  embarrassingly empty Khalifa Stadium.  Leading up, the IAAF had been defensive about the lack of ticket sales -reportedly only 50,000 were sold for the full  10 days – as critics pointed to past IAAF President Lamine Diack as having sold the meet to Qatar for personal rather than sporting purposes.

But it will be interesting to see if the wonderful atmosphere of day 8 can be reproduced on the last two days of competition. Because it wasn’t hard to figure why Day 8 stood out. Undoubtedly, it was the result of one man, Qatar’s own Mutaz Essa Barshim, the high jump superstar and 2017 world champion.

The Man – Mutaz Essa Barshim

In the previous seven days, the only time the crowds really came in numbers was when Kenyan and Ethiopian runners were performing in the distance events. And even then, officials had to paper the stadium (free tickets) to attract them.

As athletics attempts to get beyond the corruption and PED issues that have haunted the sport for so long and address the multiple challenges ahead, one thing to consider is that we don’t have track and field fans, we have track and/or field event fans. Only the most die-hard amongst us enjoy the entire panoply of events.

We saw this most strikingly just a few years ago in Sacramento at the USATF nationals where the penultimate event of the meet was the men’s 100-meter final followed by the 5000 meters. The second the 100 was finished, 98% of the stadium got up and left, leaving only the 5000-meter fans to muster along the rail for the last event of the evening.

So what we had were sprint fans and distance fans commingling. But as if in a centrifuge, they were quickly separated once the sprint fans had their measure and left.

Appealing to the next generation

When US national championships and the World Championships, two of the greatest athletics meetings ever, can’t draw casual fans, that’s a sign of a major problem.

The sport is littered with great athletes. Hopefully, the marketing folks at IAAF will come up with some novel solutions and not have to wait for another Barshim in Qatar or Usain Bolt everywhere else to come along to hold the game together between controversies.

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A SAD STORY HOWEVER IT’S TOLD

Let’s begin with Emma Coburn’s response to the Kenyan team saying before the World Championships that they would bring the women’s steeplechase medals in Doha back to Kenya where they belong after Emma and teammate Courtney Frerichs won gold and silver in London 2017 for Team USA.

“I don’t listen to what other people say,” Coburn told NBC. “I’m focused on what I have to do and will bring my fight to the arena.”

Silver medalist Emma Coburn in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase final at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Last night in Doha, Coburn’s fight brought her to a 9:02.35 PR to take the silver medal behind Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech as the Kenyan star literally ran away with the gold medal in a championship record 8:57.94.

It was the third straight PR by Coburn in global event finals. She went from a 9:07.63 bronze medal at the Rio Olympics 2016 to a 9:02.58 gold in the London World Championships 2017, and now a 9:02.35 silver in Doha.

Odds are Colburn will never run the times Chepkoech has. So what are you to do about that?  Accept it graciously and thank your competitors for bringing out the best in you?  Or do you look for another way to get closer?

How does this play into the four-year ban announced yesterday by USADA against Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar and Houston-based endocrinologist Dr. Jeffrey Brown?  Well, Alberto was never like Emma Coburn, he did pay close attention to what others said and did. And he did look for another way.

Nike Oregon Project Coach Alberto Salazar

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WHEN NECESSARY ISN’T NECESSARILY RIGHT

Sometimes something might not necessarily be right in one sense, and yet be necessary just the same in another. That seems to be the grounding principle being applied in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

As the championships began yesterday, the extreme heat and humidity that defines that part of the world completely overwhelmed the women’s marathon to a degree that 41% of the field dropped out. The medals probably wouldn’t have changed much in another more traditional venue, as the very best runners did emerge. But contesting a marathon in ultra high heat and humidity in the middle of the night isn’t anyone’s idea of a proper test to determine the world’s best. But such are the trade offs in staging the games in a new part of the world.

We saw the same ‘not necessarily right, but necessary’ ethic being applied before the games as well when qualified athletes like two-time Olympic 1500 meter medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand were substituted out for unqualified athletes from countries without representation.

In both cases, staging and participation, something was given up on the high-end in order to spread the base at the low end. It’s not necessarily right in the sense that athletics is supposedly pure in its goal – citius, altius, fortius irrespective of skin color, religious affiliation or national origin. This is especially so at the pinnacle event in the sport.

Yet if that purity-alone metric had been applied consistently over time, women would never have been allowed to enter the arena in the first place because they would never have reached existing male-based standards.

So in order to grow the sport, trade offs in staging and participation become necessary though they aren’t necessarily right in their particular moment. Such are the hard determinations of leadership.

Or, in this case, did the IAAF (under now disgraced former prez Lamine Diack) just chase all that Qatari moolah and see all the athletes as just collateral damage? Because what really are the chances Qatar ever becomes anything other than a hotbed as opposed to a hotbed of track and field?  Empty seats tell their own tale. (more…)