FROM THE EDITOR — It’s Time To Fill Those Empty Lanes

THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS WAS BETTER than the World Championships Trials in an area that you may not have noticed: it used all the available lanes. I said that in this space last year and it’s worth saying again.

The new version of Hayward Field has 9 lanes all around and just as in ’21 the collegians utilized them all in every by-lane final this year. The Trials, on the other hand, used just 8, not only leaving an unsightly vacancy but also depriving another high-level athlete the chance to move on to the semis and/or contest the all-important final. And that could have been accomplished without creating any extra traffic that would negatively affect the competition as a whole.

As it was, the ugly-gap look played out in spades: three reigning world champs (Christian Coleman 100, Grant Holloway 110H, Nia Ali 100H) availed themselves of their Wild Cards — a scenario with which I have no problem — and those three primo events all had an unsightly blank space for the final that didn’t have to be that way.

Back when I was doing announcing work for the IAAF at the Olympics and World Championships, more than once I raised this topic. To no avail. The standard answer was, “We need the ninth lane in case there are unbreakable ties.”

When I responded with, “If that’s the case, why don’t you only use 7 lanes on 8-lane tracks?” the typical response was a blank stare. I’ve still heard no good rationale for this setup. In these days with reliable 1000th-second timing available to break ties, the likelihood of having 10 people qualify is so remote as to be irrelevant.

But let’s just suppose that the unthinkable happens and you have too many people: no problem. All that needs be done is to rewrite the qualifying protocol. For a 9-lane facility, instead of specifying “3 semis, qualify 2+2” simply change the wording to “qualify 2+2, or where possible 2+3.” The meet goes off without a hitch and those ugly vacant corridors don’t exist.

I’ve heard naysayers kvetch that it would be unfair to field eventers (where only 8 get to the final 3 rounds) if they went to a lane-filled 9. This conveniently ignores the fact that there’s already a lack of parity among running events. Allow me to present the 1500 and steeple finals at USATF, which had, respectively, 12 runners and 14 in their finals. There’s always going to be some differences across events.

Empty lanes in 9-lane finals aren’t the only blanks which frustrate me. In anything beyond the first round — be it quarterfinal, semifinal or final — there should never be an empty lane no matter how many chutes the track has.

On a standard 8-lane track, rounds are of course designed to fill all the lanes. It’s not remotely uncommon, however, to have some qualifier come up injured. That lane then lies fallow in the next round.

Why? Why not have a protocol whereby the next athlete in the qualifying queue is on standby, and allowed to warm up for the race? If the person ahead of them has to withdraw, voilà! no empty lane.

Now more often than not Athlete #9 won’t have an impact on the medals, particularly in the non-straightaway races where they’d be drawn in the tight confines of lane 1. But think how much satisfaction they’d enjoy from competing in the next round.

And the optics are so much better.

Using a fill-the-lanes protocol, next up in the 110H would have been Aaron Mallett, and he noticed, tweeting, “What’s the rule about not filling the lanes at a National championship when you have a DNS 1.5 hours before the final? Put the next man/woman up!! We work too damn hard and y’all know it!!”


Formcharting the World Championships

Eager to know how T&FN is handicapping all the action at the World Championships? Unfortunately, the logjam timing of the NCAA/USATF/WC has rendered it impossible for us to get any meaningful charting into the print issue.

The good news is that you’ll be able to find our Top 10s for every event on our website in the week before the meet. This is the kind of thing the Internet was made for, with up-to-the-minute updating possible.

How many medals will we predict for the U.S.? Check out the home page, starting on July 14! ◻︎

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