BUCKLE UP! If you strapped on your seatbelt for the thrill ride that was the Olympic season I suggest you leave it latched. And if you didn’t, then I would suggest that you do it soon, as the sport prepares to race through its biggest half-decade sequence ever. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but who are we to complain?
After Doha ’19 provided us with one of the best World Championships yet, track’s major-championships roller coaster was at the crest of a peak, ready for the grip-your-seats excitement that would come as the car plummeted into an Olympic year at warp speed.
The excitement never came, of course, as 2020 will go down not merely as a lost year for track & field, but also one of the darkest in recent memory for the planet as a whole.
So when ’21 dawned our metaphorical roller coaster was still perched, ready to go, even though yellow caution flags remained much in evidence. Would the Games come off? Would track have a meaningful season at all? Check and check! A fabulous Tokyo Olympics was bookended by a fine Diamond League (not to forget the Olympic Trials). What a whoosh that was.
In the normal sequence of things, next year would have been the “off year” in the quadrennium. The one in four with no OG or WC (which means a lot more to those nations which don’t compete in the European Champs or Commonwealth Games). And then it would have been on to a standard WC/OG/WC/off sequencing.
Instead, for the first time ever our thrill ride will have 4 straight years of biggies following the Olympics: ’22 World Champs in Eugene, ’23 WC in Budapest (assuming the mayor doesn’t get his way), ’24 OG in Paris, ’25 WC at a site yet to be determined.
Those — like me — who have been calling for an additional WC for years (see May ’15: “I’m still in favor of 3 World Championships in every quadrennium”) are absolutely delighted at this turn of events. What’s not to like about pigging out on high-end track meets?
The key question is, how will the powerful vested interests behind the Commonwealths and Euros react to a July/August schedule next summer that sees all three of the meets (WC July 15–24, CG August 02–07, EC August 15–21) go off in the space of just 6 weeks?
If that sequence meets with popular acclaim, then perhaps WA will indeed consider adding a third WC, not that there has been any groundswell of sentiment for such other than from greedy fans.
For North Americans it’s easy to point at the big 4 of professional team games (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) and note that it’s normal to choose a new champion annually. And the important NCAA schools do likewise. How could you have it any other way? The major golf and tennis tournaments are also staged on an annual basis.
On the other hand, the biggest sporting extravaganza of all, the Olympics, is quite happy to be an every-4-years deal. And I can see how making it such adds to the prestige of the whole affair, as it makes winning a gold medal that much more rare.
Close behind the Olympics in prestige is soccer’s World Cup. That too is a quadrennial affair, although as we speak there are internal battles going on at FIFA regards thoughts of going every 2 years.
For me the bottom line isn’t just about serving track’s hardcore fans. It’s also about keeping a faltering sport healthy and alive.
We need to be in the public eye as much as we can possibly be. While WA is taking some bold steps to upgrade the sport’s presentation values and visibility, the old adage “out of sight out of mind” still comes to mind.
Every year that doesn’t have a WC or OG is a year where 10-odd days don’t have high-visibility broadcasting of track & field. And the missing days are the kind that stick in people’s minds. We can’t afford that. ◻︎