ONCE THE CENTER of the sport in the U.S., Southern California aims to become a major player again with the announcement of a new major meet set for the weekend of May 27 that is aimed at attracting many of the brightest stars, as well as reinvigorating the sport in one of its biggest markets.
The LA Grand Prix was announced in early January by legendary coach Bobby Kersee and the event’s major sponsor, Internet Brands/WebMD’s Impact Fund. USATF is also taking a key role in putting together the event, which will be staged at UCLA. Events and fields will be announced in the coming months.
Called “a no-holds-barred, maximum-energy celebration of the sport,” the festivities begin on a Friday night with the USATF Distance Classic. The next day, the Grand Prix meet proper will take place alongside a music, food and fan festival.
That evening, the USATF Legends Jam will continue the festival atmosphere while showcasing “LA’s very best R&B, Gospel, Soul, and Rock ‘N’ Roll” acts.
According to Internet Brands CEO Bob Brisco, the meet is just a first step in an effort to build up viewership and enthusiasm in SoCal in the years leading up to the ’28 Los Angeles Olympics. “The amount of upside opportunity there is for the fan to engage in this sport, I think it’s just enormous,” he says.
Brisco notes that the challenge of making the meet draw in the fans comes down to “better coordination and alignment between media coverage, live coverage, fan activation, community involvement and sponsor engagement… All of those ingredients are there before us — and conducting meets in the hubs of the American population centers, the LAs, the New Yorks, the Chicagos.
“I’m firmly of the belief that if we get the elements of the recipe aligned in the right way that we can be very successful.
“Will it be overnight? Probably not. But over a couple year period, and certainly with the ramp towards the Olympics here in 2028, I’m very confident that we can rebuild track towards where it was a couple of decades ago, and maintain it.”
The involvement of Kersee as a major figure on the host committee lends hope to those who want to see America’s biggest stars compete, as he coaches, among others, two Olympic gold medalists who competed very sparingly last season, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu. “That’s a possibility,” Kersee says. “They’ve got managers and I’m in the process of putting their meet calendar together. It’s on my schedule to have them compete there.
“Nothing’s confirmed yet, I want to make that clear. But it is a strong possibility that they will be competing along with some of the other athletes that I’m coaching now such as Keni Harrison, Jenna Prandini and Brandon Miller.”
The new meet falls on the weekend that typically has been occupied by the Prefontaine Classic, which will be held September 16-17 this year as it hosts the Diamond League Final.
However, LA will be competing for athletes against the Rabat Diamond League meet, set for the next day. “There was an eye toward this being a good window,” says Brisco. “We’re competing with a DL event, but I think we’ll compete well on that day.
“We’re thinking about the sport globally, and I think you’re going to see tighter coordination in the years ahead to get those calendars harmonized in ways that work really well for the sport and the athletes.”
Says Kersee, “We don’t promote the sport enough. That’s why we got to do it. We promote it so that the fans will come because they know this meet is going to be there and these athletes are going to be there… And a food festival, a music festival. When I go to a NASCAR race, I spend my whole day.”
Brisco chimes in, “We’re very much thinking locally and bring together all of those elements to the holistic fan experience. We want to be judged on, yes, this did go well in Los Angeles, but are we also setting in place some fresh thinking around what the fan experience should be locally, but also what was the experience of watching it, and bringing more creativity and innovation to that as well.
“There are a lot of upsides both on what can be done locally and globally at the same time. It’s that thousand flowers bloom approach, but we’re confident that the athletes are there and the experiences are there, it’s just a matter of pulling it all together.”