KUDOS TO USATF for its moving of the Nationals a month later this year, ameliorating some of the disconnect that would have come had the Team USA selection meet been held in its typical late-June window. But even later would have been better. From where I sit the chances of producing a maximal-strength team get only better the closer to the WC (or OG).
But now the wait—the wait for the latest-ever World Championships—begins. From the final day in Des Moines to the first day in Doha will be a seems-like-it-will-take-forever 61 days.
How does that 61-day USATF/WC gap stand historically? Looking just at this millennium, which has had 10 WCs, here’s the spacing between the last day of USATF and first day of WC: ’01–40; ’03—62; ’05—41; ’07—62; ’09—48; ’11—62; ’13—48; ’15—55; ’17—47; ’19—61. That’s a high of 62, a low of 40 and an average of 52.6. As an adjunct to that, let’s look at this century’s 6 Olympics and the gap from the OT (including next year): ’00—61; ’04—33; ’08—40; ’12—33; ’16—33; ’20—33. That’s a high of 61, a low of 33 and an average of 38.8. In other words the after-Trials gap is 2 weeks less in Olympic years.
If the OT can be moved up as close as 33 days from the OG (which they have been in 4 of the last 5 quadrennia), why can’t the WCT have similar treatment instead of a low of 40? And an average far higher.
While there are all kinds of variables that come into play, this nonetheless tells me that USATF has simply been wedded to its traditional Nationals date for too long. While there’s certainly lots to be said for continuity, choosing the best team should be first and foremost, and while the powers that be have apparently gone out of their way to make that happen in Olympic years, the WC Trials meets aren’t being treated with the same gravity. And they should be. For both the athletes and the fans.
In the pre-pro days, when the AAU/TAC/USATF meet had a far larger collegiate presence than it does now, it made sense to have the two nationals kind of joined at the hip. Wrap things up all nice and neat at the end of June. That model, however, should have been consigned to the scrap heap long ago.
Also not great for the athletes and fans of the top end of the pro sport is the timing of the schedule for the rest of this year: From Des Moines until the Diamond League resumes is a 21-day gap. Then a frantic explosion of competition, with the last 4 DL meets of the year in 19 days. But then another 21 days of Rip Van Winkling until things kick off in Qatar.
The syncopated rhythm of Diamond League scheduling has long made me crazy and this year is no exception. Here’s how the 14 DL meets of ’19 were spaced: Doha–Shanghai 15 days; Shanghai–Stockholm 12d; Stockholm–Rome 7d; Rome–Oslo 7d; Oslo–Rabat 3d; Rabat–Stanford 14d; Stanford–Lausanne 5d; Lausanne–Monaco 7d; Monaco–London 8d; London–Birmingham 29d; Birmingham–Paris 24d; Paris–Zürich 5d; Zürich–Brussels 8d. Do you get much of a sense of continuity from that?
When the IAAF finally gets around to telling us what’s up with the “new & improved Diamond League” for next year, I certainly hope improved continuity is part of the package. In my March column I ventured that the tighter presentation that’s being envisioned might actually be good for the sport, but I’m not sure I buy into the apparent plan to cut the number of DL meets. My worry would be that some of those long gaps between fixtures will only get longer, when the obvious fix would be to add meets and make the breaks shorter.
But hey, what do I know? At heart I’m just a selfish hardcore fan who wants to see the world’s best go head-to-head as often as possible. □