FROM THE EDITOR — The Mixed-Sex Relay, Firecracker Or Fizzle?

With the “innovative” mixed-sex 4×4 having finished off the Continental Cup in anything but satisfying fashion, dare we dream that the IAAF might rethink its timetable for Doha next year (see sidebar)? Nah. That meet, too, is slated to wrap up with the decidedly non-traditional gender-bender. Ending with the men’s 4×4 hasn’t been completely graved in stone, of course, as the ’11 and ’13 WCs reversed the relays and ended with the 4×1 (as did London ’12). All but a few of the hardest of hardcore traditionalists surely forgave Monaco for that transgression, given that those meets thus ended with a Bolt-anchored 4×1, two of them in World Record time. Smart marketing.

At least as things played out at the Continental Cup, the new race is anything but smart. As Lamine Diack once famously said when he was running the IAAF, the mixed-sex concept would happen “only after I am dead.” Since the idea is probably here with us to stay, I just hope they get the formula right before I’m dead.

I’m not at all against the idea of mixing the sexes; what I am against is any race that is bereft of all drama, and allowing the teams to choose their own order indeed seems like the perfect recipe for creating a bland dessert. The solution, to my way of thinking, is simple: mandate that all teams run in the same order, so it’s always man against man and woman against woman. In the IAAF’s rush to attempt to raise the sport’s entertainment value with confetti, flashing lights and flashpots, allow me to suggest that the decision on what the order is should be done with hoopla. Bring the foursomes out onto the field, not knowing what the order is going to be. Celebrity guests then sequentially draw cards that have the 6 possible permutations—MMWW, WWMM, MWMW, WMWM, MWWM, WMMW—with one sequence dropped with each pull. The remaining card gives the sequence that will be used.

All this, of course, ignores the fact that the whole long-sprint continuum has been severely impacted, given that sequence of events has been set up so that runners can run—in this order—the 4×4, 400 & mixed4x4. That means heats of the 4×4 on day 2 and the final on day 3. When’s the last time, other than never, you saw a meet where the long relay preceded the flat 400? Maybe it’ll turn out to be super-exciting, with some star(s) going for a 400 triple (the 400H could be swapped out for the 400). That wouldn’t be a bad way to end the meet.

As for me, I’d rather see more shots at individual glory. It’s pretty much guaranteed with this timetable that what you won’t see is Wayde van Niekerk, Michael Norman or Shaunae Miller-Uibo going for a 200/400 double. Or Rai Benjamin or Karsten Warholm essaying a 400/400H combo. That’s the kind of stuff that legends are made of in our sport.

It will be interesting to see what kind of protocol USATF comes up with for selecting the personnel for the two 4x4s. Who decides if somebody gets to run in both? What if team leadership wants somebody to run in both and they’d rather not? Will there be a separate pool for the two 4x4s? Indy better have a solid methodology worked out and made public well in advance or I can see some unhappy stickmeisters.

Given the depth of talent, it’s Team USA that’s surely going to benefit the most from the addition of the new race when it comes to adding medals to the collection. I’m amazed that the IAAF signed off on that concept.

What do your fellow fans think? Here’s a sampling of opinions from the T&FN message board:

“lonewolf”: << OK, I am a curmudgeon Luddite but IMO the mixed gender relay is a circus act that does not belong in a serious track & field meet. Maybe a fun novelty for a middle school playday.>>

“OneWay”: << You just cannot make this stuff up. The rubbish called the mixed relays now takes center stage, watch for the egg & spoon and sack races at a track near you soon.>>

“tm71”: << these so called innovations are doing NOTHING to add any fans but are certainly quickly turning off the loyal base! At least it will easy for the stadium crew to clean the stands after the meet!>>

“americantrackfan”: << Stop trying to make the mixed relay a thing, it’s stupid and no one cares. The real 4 x 400 should always be the last two races of any track meet ever.>>

“Speedster”: << Why so much hate for the mixed relays?!?!? It’s good to try new things, to innovate/fail/learn and this will be one of them.>>

“DentyCracker”: << Best way to run a mixed 4×4 is not at all.>>

The organizers remain upbeat that their overall product will be an engaging one. In announcing the schedule, which has to run late because of the desert heat, they called their setup “a new format that enables spectators to have an exciting and engaging event experience. Details for the IAAF World Championships’ first-ever midnight marathon have also been announced with a stunning setting that will showcase the event like never before. A revamp to the competition schedule sees all morning sessions removed and split evening sessions introduced for the first time. One-hour intervals will be incorporated into each session to combine entertainment and family-centred activities with the excitement of the competitive action, engaging all ages and interests.”

I remain to be convinced. □

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