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

THE NCAA WAS BETTER THAN THE OT in one area that most probably didn’t notice: it used all the available lanes. The new version of Hayward Field has 9 lanes all around and the collegians utilized them all in all by-lane races. 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 without creating any extra traffic that would negatively affect competition.

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.

But those aren’t the only empty lanes which frustrate me. In anything beyond the first round — be it quarterfinal, semifinal or final — there should never be an empty lane. 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. Apparently, a version of this will be used in Tokyo, whereby anybody who fails a C19 protocol after advancing will have their spot taken by the next in line. Why not have this as SOP at all meets no matter what the reason?

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 draw from competing in the next round. And the optics are so much better.


DL Still Struggling With Field Event Presentation

In my column of September/October last year my blatherings were titled “The Diamond League Gets Creative.” That was the one where I discussed WA’s efforts to improve the visibility of throws and horizontal jumps in the DL series by assigning the ultimate 1-2-3 placings to order in the final round of competition.

In that column I lauded Monaco for its efforts to upgrade the status of those field events, although my general take was that there has to be a better way.

That analysis was based on a small sample size in the COVID-constrained year. This year there’s quite a bit of data to deal with: 21 disciplines having been contested in a half-dozen different meets (Gatesheads 1 & 2, Florence, Oslo, Stockholm and Monaco).

Of those 21 competitions, in only 7 did the “traditional” system (i.e., people with the best mark overall) match up. Of the other 14, those whose order changed, 7 of them ended up with a different winner, 7 with different placings elsewhere.

Commentary on the subject on the T&FN message boards is about 99.99% negative. The hard core want their old-fashioned method back.

Athletes have generated plenty of grumbles on social media. Tweeted long jump great Brittney Reese after Stockholm, “So Mihambo gets 2nd with a 7-meter jump… This is why I am not competing at any Diamond Leagues this year until that is changed!!” Said TJ great Yulimar Rojas, “It doesn’t make any sense; it’s absurd and ridiculous.”

My Solomonic suggestion? Since we’re actually dealing with two different things, cut the baby in half. Continue with the sixth-round “final,” but make it a separate thing in the rewards department, since the athletes are actually competing for two separate things: prize money and world rankings points.

So when round 6 rolls around the 1-2-3 participants know that all of their marks will count towards rankings points, but to maximize their cash collection they need to “win” the ultimate round. And if they top out in both categories so much the better. But the best mark of the day, as it always has, determines the actual winner.

Without some kind of reform of the current experiment I can see an ugly situation developing whereby the three athletes put their heads together and as a form of protest all of them pass (or foul) their sixth attempt. Now that would be really ugly.


Formcharting the Olympic Games

Eager to know how T&FN is handicapping all the action in Tokyo? Unfortunately, the logjam timing of the NCAA/OT/OG has rendered it impossible for us to get any meaningful charting into the issue proper.

The good news is that you’ll be able to find our Top 10s for every event (plus some commentary on each) on our website in the week before the Games. 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 25! ◻︎

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