Track Shorts: Athletics World Cup

London Olympic Stadium, site of the 2018 Athletics World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

UK Athletics, the governing body of British track and field, is sponsoring a new event this weekend to attract some attention to the sport.  Called the Athletics World Cup, the format is elegantly simple.  Eight countries will have one male and one female athlete each in 15 events plus two relays.  With limited events and limited entries, the meet is an all-finals format conducted over two 3-hour sessions on Saturday and Sunday from 2 pm to 5 pm (EDT).  Each event will be scored on a point system that I have not been able to identify at this time.  The country with the most points wins the World Cup.

The countries include China, France, Germany, Great Britain (& Northern Ireland), Jamaica, Poland, South Africa and the United States.  The events are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 110H/100H, 400H, high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus throw, hammer throw and javelin throw; the relays are 4 x 100 and 4 x 400.  The venue is London’s Olympic Stadium.

Flags from represented countries. Photo from athleticsworldcup.org

Okay, sounds pretty cool.  Could generate some interest, especially playing off the concurrently running soccer World Cup.  Or maybe not.  There is a lot of negative press floating around for the event.  How you view the event probably depends on whether you are a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person.

The half empty crowd points out that many top stars are forgoing the event to concentrate on the more lucrative Diamond League calendar or the European Championships to be held in August.  It’s not a true World Championship anyway since only eight countries are involved.  There are no distance events.  Some suggest it’s just an attempted fundraiser for UK Athletics.  And why schedule it on the same weekend as the World Cup soccer finals and the Wimbledon singles finals, not to mention the Tour de France?

The half full advocates note that despite key defections, the teams still include a decent share of Olympic and World Champions.  It is a novel format with a team competition rarely seen these days.  And just because it’s not all the top athletes, why does that make it any less worth watching? If the events are competitive, does it matter?

I looked at the announced teams for each country and it is indeed clear that many top stars are passing on the event.  This seems to be particularly true for Germany and Great Britain.  Ooh, not good when the host country is one of the main culprits.  But that does not necessarily mean the events are devoid of quality.

Let’s look at the men’s 100.  On Friday, Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker and Mike Rodgers will square off at 100 meters at the Rabat, Morocco stop on the Diamond League tour.  No doubt we’re looking at the best there.  But on Sunday, the World Cup lineup will include Su Bingtian (SB 9.91), Jimmy Vicault (9.91), Akani Simbine (9.94), Kendall Williams (9.99), Ojie Edoburun (10.04) and Tyquendo Tracey (10.07).  That looks to be a high quality and extremely competitive field.  Can we afford to be turning up our noses at competition like that just because it’s not the absolute top of the charts?

I won’t say every field is that deep and tight but most are.  All the men’s and women’s hurdle races look interesting.  I count yearly leaders competing in eight of the events – Clarence Munyai (200), Sam Kendricks (PV), Fedrick Dacres (JT), Caster Semenya (800), Lorraine Ugen (LJ), Lijiao Gong (SP) and Deanna Price (HT).  There’s a lot of good stuff happening in this meet.

The negative press feels a bit like the Major League Soccer problem in America.  Everyone knows it is not as good as the professional leagues in Europe.  Many serious soccer fans won’t support it.  No wait, it’s worse, they actively trash it.  With limited support, the league makes glacial strides forward while we’re all watching English Premier League on TV.  And everybody complains that there’s no good live soccer in America.  As the saying goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

If our own community doesn’t support (actively trashes?) an event like the Athletics World Cup, why are we surprised that track and field operates far from the floodlights?

Are Any ABers Going?

Why yes, thanks for asking.  Donald Scott, fresh off his final jump triumph at the US Nationals goes in with the best season mark to date of any of the triple jumpers.  Same for Queen Harrison; she has the leading mark of any of the 100 hurdlers.  Kara Winger will face some tough competition in the javelin but looks to be in the mix for a top three finish.  Our club partner – Brooks Beasts – has Izaik Yorks competing in the 1500 with a good chance to bring in some points for the US.

How to Watch

If I read my local listings right, Saturday’s action is live on NBCSN from 2 to 5 pm.  On Sunday, it looks like the action is live on the Olympic Channel from 2-5 but rebroadcast on NBCSN at 6 pm.  Yes, you’ll probably be full from Wimbledon and World Cup soccer but you should definitely save room for dessert as it were.

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