FROM THE EDITOR — USATF’s Split Nationals Is A Good Thing

THIS YEAR’S USATF CHAMPIONSHIPS (the outdoor version, that is) will be missing 6 events. Sorta. As noted in “Last Lap,” when things unfold at the WC Trials meet in Eugene in June, the program won’t have any 10,000s, 20K walks or multi-events, men or women.

And that’s a good thing. A thing I’ve been lobbying for for years.

Primarily, it’s a good thing for the athletes involved in those disciplines. Although there are different trains of thought on how long a break between major meets (like this summer’s USATF and the World Championships) is optimal, there seemed to be pretty much a consensus that this year’s gap between the two Eugene meets was too short for some events. And thus it is that the three pairs of events will be held separately.

For the 10K runners comes the added benefit of being able to attempt 5/10 doubles with greater ease. Sure, through the years many runners took a shot at both, and even quite a few were successful. But many — too many — have felt compelled to take the discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor route.

On the other side of the coin, obviously, is that spectators who are big fans of the split-off events will have to make separate plans if they wish to see them live. But all things considered, I see this as a positive move simply because the athletes need to come first.

So long as USATF is in a purging mode, here’s an important question that should be asked: should the Junior meet be split off permanently?

This elitist fan never misses the kids when they’re not there, as in the Olympic Trials years. I could well be wrong, but my take is that the ticket-buying public is pretty much there for the pro performers, with the kids’ audience pretty much being restricted to friends and family.

You might well ask, “What’s the problem with having the Juniors if the timetables between the two meets — particularly down the road when the multis aren’t in play — don’t impinge on each other?”

That’s where the Mr. Field & Track in me kicks in. In a 4-day meet without multis and Juniors to contend with the rings and pits would be compromised far less of the time and the meet could go back to international style and stage proper qualifying rounds in the jumps and throws.

As it is, fans are subjected to the abomination that is the flights system, which drags on forever and sucks the life out of much of the competition. Warmup, flight 1 competes; warmup, flight 2 competes; warmup, and after an eternity the leaders at long last get their final attempts.

(The NCAA uses the same setup but with its “separate” men’s and women’s days appears wedded to the concept, so I won’t waste keystrokes yelling at them here.)

Speaking of final attempts, I’m glad that the Diamond League came to its senses on its “final 3” protocol (“Last Lap,” January). It was a noble effort to bring more excitement to the throws and horizontal jumps, but athletes and fans alike seemed united in their disdain for it in the two years it was tried.

To refresh your memory, that system gave attempt No. 6 only to the top 3 in the standings and final placing was completely dependent on that last effort. We never signed off on it in our World Rankings, assigning places in the standard way.

For the ’22 DL, once again the top 3 are the only ones who will get try No. 6, but like the old days, marks from all rounds will be considered for ultimate placings. What will be new (only for the DL — not the World Champs, I hasten to clarify) is that rather than the traditional method of jumping/throwing in placing order, the 3 will perform from best to worst.

One practical effect — with both the athlete and fan juries obviously being out on whether it’s good or bad — is that the day’s top performer after 5 rounds will be “forced” to take a sixth attempt instead of passing. In theory, at least, that should increase the excitement level, although I must admit I’m concerned about athletes who are nursing an injury feeling compelled to compete when they shouldn’t.

But the bottom line is kudos for governing-body attempts to improve our sport. ◻︎

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