As the 2018 season takes its last breaths, the IAAF’s productions will wrap up with the Continental Cup (né World Cup). As in Marrakech 4 years ago, this team-based competition will pit teams from 4 “continents”: Africa, Americas, Asia/Pacific & Europe. Each team has 2 entrants in each event (but they can’t be from the same country) and each event will be scored 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1; each team’s points in each event will be tallied and the teams then placed in 1-2-3-4 order, with points for the overall team scoring then assigned 8-6-4-2 for each event.
With “presentation” very much on the lips of track promoters who realize that the traditional methods of showing off the sport don’t always work with a modern audience, there are some innovative steps being taken in Ostrava, not the least of which is a new field event protocol (see Talking Point #1). And for the two longest events on the program, the 3000 and steeple, they’ve even brought back that old chestnut, the devil-take-the-hindmost concept (runner in last place on each lap is eliminated).
So before we get into what competitive goodies are on tap, allow us to expend a few words scratching our proverbial heads wondering if the innovators have gone too far:
1. It’s About That Field Event Format
Well, if nothing else, the throws and horizontal jumps will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
You can imagine the excitement if the first to jump/throw fouls. To win, the other performer then merely need drop the implement/step over the line and register a 1-inch mark to claim the victory.
The competition will feature 5 rounds. Each of the 8 contestants will receive 3 tries, at which point the field will be pared down to 4. But wait! It won’t be the 4 with the best marks. It will be the best from each of the 4 teams. So (making this really simple) even if the Europe team appears to be 1-2 and the Americas team 3-4 at the end of the 3 rounds of say, the men’s discus, Nos. 2 and 4 won’t be appearing in round 4. The other two spots will go to the best African and best Asian, even though at best they will be 5 & 6 in the standings (and might even be 5 & 7).
On to round 4 (what the IAAF is portraying as “semis”), where it’s absolutely crucial that you not foul. Why? Because if you do, no matter what your mark was in the first 3 rounds you don’t end up in round 5. Why? Because the marks from rounds 1-3 have been wiped out and the “competition” starts anew.
Two best marks move on to round 5 (the “final”), and guess what? Round 4 marks are then also wiped out. Best performance from this final round wins it all. You can imagine the excitement if the first to jump/throw fouls. To win, the other performer then merely need drop the implement/step over the line and register a 1-inch mark to claim the victory. We doubt anybody would really do that, but in such circumstances we can certainly expect nothing more than an obvious safety jump/throw.
While T&FN will certainly carry all marks from these events on its yearly lists, it’s hard to rationalize any way that the placings should be counted in any performer’s head-to-head record against others in the competition.
Combine this with the devil-take-the-hindmost concept in the long races and you see why Message Board contributor “Atticus” posted, “Clearly the IAAF has recruited people right out of Clown College,” which caused “CookyMonzta” to chime in with, “Is this a track meet or is this the Gong Show?” What do you think?
2. The Team Battle
Teams sell. We see that in so many of the other pro sports. For many fans, team loyalties are a driving force in their very existence, or at least a reason to own a variety of shirts that identify one as a proud member of whatever tribe of fans one wants. And therein lies the rub with the IAAF’s team concept. We don’t know of anyone who roots for a continent (except perhaps the Australians, and they’re part of Asia/Pacific here). No one we know has a shirt that says “Americas” or “Europe.”
So while we might have some fun watching how the scoring plays out, we haven’t bothered formcharting it and we will not likely be screaming for our fave team in the final stretch. Don’t get us wrong, we’ll definitely get excited about individual performances. These are folks—regardless of continent—that we rave about all the time anyway. So while teams sell, don’t expect a lot of buyers for made-up teams in a 2-day event.
3. The Return Of Samba
We missed Abderrahmane Samba when he said goodbye to the DL circuit after Lausanne to concentrate on the Asian Games (which he won in 47.66), but he’s back to take on Karsten Warholm one more time. With 5 men under 48 this season (the most since ’12) and 4 of them competing in Ostrava, expectations are high. Samba, who just turned 23, is the odds-on favorite, being the only human under the age of 50 who has a PR under 47-seconds. He says he wants this race to be a birthday celebration: “I always think about something big in races and I want to give myself a big present here.”
4. Semenya’s Task
While always interesting, an 800 battle between Caster Semenya and Ajee’ Wilson is nothing that will create a great deal of suspense after a season of such clashes. Unless Wilson shocks, we probably won’t be surprised at the outcome. The day before, however, Semenya takes on a real challenge, lining up against DL champ Salwa Eid Naser in the 400. Semenya impressed mightily with her 49.96 at the African Games. That number probably doesn’t scare Naser much. The Bahraini has run faster 5 times this season, topped by her 49.08.
5. Does Lyles Have An Answer?
We saw Christian Coleman make a powerful statement with his eye-opening 9.79 at the DL Final in Brussels, but that was his season finale. In the absence of the yearly list leader, does former leader Noah Lyles have an answer? With his 9.88 best he has made a world of progress this season, and at 200 tying Usain Bolt for the most sub-19.7s in a season says volumes about his consistency. With 7 of the 8 dashmen having season bests under 10-seconds, we can justly expect some fine racing, even if this isn’t a typical DL affair.
6. Houlihan’s Kick, Revisited
Shelby Houlihan has had a beautiful season, with key wins, a runner-up finish in the DL Final, 3 sub-4:00 clockings and an American Record 14:34.45. She could have perhaps won that DL Final had she gone with the leaders when they broke away from the main pack. She won’t be able to redeem herself here by facing Laura Muir again. The best competition on the start list will probably come from Pole Sofia Ennaoui, the Euro silver medalist. Rabab Arrafi of Morocco has a pair of sub-4s to her credit but placed 8th to Ennaoui’s 7th at Brussels. In any case, the big fun for fans might be in watching Houlihan unleash her brutal kick one more time before she stashes it away for the winter to concentrate on training for Worlds next year.
7. Battle Of The Men’s 800 Titans
The two fastest active 2-lap runners on earth will be facing off. Emmanuel Korir is the yearly list leader at 1:42.05 and is undefeated save for his loss to rival Nijel Amos at the African Games. Amos has had a season of the much more spotty nature, but with his 1:42.14 win at Monaco he showed he still has serious wheels. This match will be crucial when the time comes to debate World Rankings. For American Clayton Murphy, the race will provide one more opportunity to show he is a 1:43 man this season, and not the guy we have seen in his last three outings.
8. More Fun For Ibargüen?
One of the faces we love to see on the circuit is Caterine Ibargüen’s. Her joy in competition is so contagious that it lights up the crowd sitting near the horizontal jumps and makes the experience fun for all. She will be competing in both the long and triple jumps here and won’t have to commute overnight as she did with the DL Finals. Can she pull off the wins again? She’s the strong favorite in the triple. In the LJ, not so much, but it’s safe to say that she has as good a chance as anyone in a topsy-turvy season. And as we have alluded to in the notes above, the field events at this meet could be the one place where a win is not a win. Says the Colombian star, “It is going to require a lot of both physical and mental strength to compete under the new format. You need to be psychologically strong.”
9. What’s Up With The Longer Races?
Plenty to watch here. Will Paul Chelimo (3000) and Evan Jager (steeple) finish off their seasons on a high note? Will World Record holder Beatrice Chepkoech and AR-holder Courtney Frerichs be able to forge a fast steeple pace without a pacemaker? Will the 3000 provide us another opportunity to see Sifan Hassan come into her own as a top-flight runner? Though really, the most important question is how much these races will be affected by applying Devil-Takes-The-Hindmost rules. It could get weird out there.
10. That Mixed Relay
Will the mixed sex 4×4 be the salvation of our sport? Perhaps a piece of it, but that’s a discussion for after the meet. What’s more curious is how it will play out in Ostrava, supplanting the “real” relays with the plum grand finale slot in the schedule. Any thought that the teams would use second-string athletes in this race died when the lists came out, showing that Africa (Nijel Amos, Caster Semenya) is loading up. The Americas squad (Shaunae Miller-Uibo, etc) is nothing to sniff at either. No matter what your feelings on the event, it should prove interesting to watch. □