[Apologies from your editor, but personal obligations are keeping me from writing a column this month. Allow me to attempt to entertain you with a goldie-oldie, a rerun of my column of August 2018, which retains much of the relevance it had then as we’re on the cusp of the Doha selection meet more than 2 months ahead of time and the summer-meet problem hasn’t particularly been addressed either.]
A call for more U.S. summer meets at the professional level is hardly a new or revolutionary concept. Indeed, the U.S. could use more high-end domestic competition in every month from January through August. In every year. But next year, 2019, is special. It has a crying need for competitive opportunities for Team USA in not only July and August, but also September, as the IAAF has thrown a nifty curveball at the sport with the staging of the latest-ever World Championships. Doha’s do in the desert will be staged between September 27 and October 6. The previous latest any WC has cranked up was August 28 by Rome ’87.
So, what’s the USA doing about this timing? Back in January of ’15, my column said this: “I have long ranted about the traditional late-June timing [of the Trials meet] being horribly out of touch with the realities of modern international competition, with a too-large break between the USATF Championships and the Worlds compromising Team USA’s ability to field the best team possible. Obviously, if you have joined me in believing that the typical late-June/mid-August gap was bad, imagine how bad it will be when the Worlds moves to late-September.
“So the ’19 USATF needs to move. And by a lot. If you’re going to move it, make it a real move. My suggestion is that it needs to be the first weekend of September, leaving two off-weeks before things crank up in Qatar. That might compromise IAAF thinking on its DL series a bit, but I think USATF needs to exercise its tail-wagging-the-dog power here by making a preemptive strike and announcing well in advance that it has that weekend staked out.”
Well, somebody in Indy ended up somewhat on the same page, and next year’s WC Trials have moved. But only a month, to July 25–28. Then it’s basically 9 (nine!) weeks until the WC itself. That gap is filled thusly at the highest end of competition: after the WCT it’s 3 weeks with no Diamond League meets and then the final four in 20 days. After that it’s another 3 weeks before Doha cranks up. The highest-end U.S. performers will have DL opportunities, but not many. For most it could turn out to be 9 weeks without competition. And that’s just the back end.
On the front end, June sports 5 DL meets, not the least among them Pre, which has moved a month later than usual and will be staged on June 30. Then there’s a 3-week gap to the WCT that at least has 3 DLs.
So I ask this question: for the bulk of the WC hopefuls, those not quite good enough to garner DL invitations, where are the meets that will give them a serious chance to hone their competitive skills? They don’t exist. Where are the meets for these people after they’ve made the team? This is not a new problem, but with the radical dating of both the Nationals and the Worlds the situation will be exacerbated.
I fully realize that creating new meets is a nasty task. Just ask agent Paul Doyle, who put together the short-lived American Track League and deserves more credit for trying than he got. The Oregon folk took a stab at it with the team-oriented TrackTown Summer Series, but that has silently faded away too. But should it be up to “private citizens” to be doing all the heavy lifting in this regard? What about the folks in Indy?
Sure, USATF has created a nice little property with May’s Distance Classic in SoCal. Is this a meet that should be moved a month or so later next year? And shouldn’t the federation be creating more meets along this line for next year? (Next year = all years, of course, but let’s start small.)
We wouldn’t be having this conversation, of course, if the IAAF hadn’t allowed its calendar to be egregiously disrupted. My August ’15 column was titled, “Both of the IAAF presidential candidates are talking about calendar reform… yesss!” I went on to note that Sergey Bubka had in his manifesto, “Reviewing the international calendar to ensure harmonization of key IAAF events, regional and national competitions.” For his part, Seb Coe said, “I believe that the creation of a truly harmonized calendar is key to the global promotion of track & field. Listening to the Federations and our broadcasters, sponsors and athletes, it’s clear that we need new competitive structures for the future. We must look at how the format and presentation of competitions like the Diamond League fit within the overall calendar and how we can help boost the quality of these competitions to make each meeting and the overall season more compelling.”
Coe won, of course, and the Doha horse was already out of the barn. Let’s just hope that his ongoing efforts to reform the calendar (he brings it up all the time) bear some fruit. The sport needs cohesion, and the way the DL and the WC are all over the map just isn’t doing us any good.
I would note that golf, despite already being one of the more popular sports going, has taken major steps for 2019, moving the PGA from its traditional August date to May, and pulling the FedEx Cup from September into that hole. All the majors will be wrapped before football and baseball take over TV in September. It’s time for track to aim for a hole in one. □