November 2005
LAST MONTH’S COLUMN ended with this paragraph: “And if the IAAF is eager to improve field-event presentation, why aren’t specific windows created for the final rounds? It’s not that big a technical challenge. More on that next month.”

For those who missed that column, its central premise was that if the IAAF wants to make the field events (not including the vertical jumps) more exciting, cutting to the oft-proposed 4 rounds is not the way to go. The system that I proposed would give all 12 finalists at a WC/OG two attempts, then give two more to the best 8, then award the final two only to the top 4.

You’ve all looked at countless meet schedules. From them you know when a race starts and when it ends. You also know when a field event starts, but you don’t have the vaguest idea when it is going to end.

If you’re in the press corps you might see a more detailed schedule that even shows you when each of the 8 heats in the 100 will start. And if you’re part of meet presentation—as I often am as a stadium announcer—you’ll see an incredibly fine-tuned schedule that allows 2 minutes and 30 seconds for a race intro, or 4 minutes and 30 seconds for a victory ceremony between heats IV and V.

But nowhere do you ever find any indication of what’s going to happen in the field events. That’s why you get the agonizing sight of an athlete on the runway for a crucial sixth jump and off blares the fanfare for a ceremony. Or they close the runway because a sprint race is coming right by. The field events are left to dangle, typically robbing them of much of their excitement and promise.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The time required to contest each round of a field event can actually be plotted with surprising accuracy, particularly now that the time between attempts has been shortened. Yes, it would require inconveniencing the jumpers and throwers to a minor degree, but why not rigorously plot each attempt, even if means standing around for a few seconds once in a while? Runners often stand at the line for an interminable amount of time. If they can take it, so can the fieldies.

For sake of argument, let’s allot 90 seconds per throw. You start the men’s shot at 9:00. Twenty-four throws (12 throwers times 2) take you 36 minutes. So you put on the timetable that the second segment (under GH’s 3-part final) starts at 9:45. Those 16 throws take 24 minutes. So you schedule the final-final for 10:15. Since you’re only talking about 8 attempts and 12 minutes, you ensure that that small window has no races and no ceremonies. Just four people—the four very best—battling for three medals.

You don’t think the crowd would love that? You don’t think that TV might actually pick up on the fact that there is exciting jumps/throws action they can show, and that it won’t conflict with any race action, and it will occur at a perfectly predictable point in the program?

Such a system is easier under my proposal, because there are fewer athletes to deal with, but even with the current setup, specific windows can—and should—be set up.