LAST MONTH in this space I aired my eager prediction of “a smashing Worlds” ahead in Budapest. The build up in the Diamond League, Continental Tour, national championships and international circuit generally signaled “stay tuned.”
No stepping out on a limb was required to say so. As it played out on the ground in Hungary’s beautiful capital — in the spirited atmosphere inside the newly constructed National Athletics Centre stadium and for the road events looping through the heart of the town — from where I sit expectations were exceeded.
I hope the reports that follow in this issue do the 49 events comprising World Championships XIX justice. I cited WA President Seb Coe’s pre-Budapest predictive case for what was to come last month. This time around I echo the former middle distance great’s assessment at his Worlds wrapup press conference:
“There’s an extraordinary nature on the range of talent that’s now coming through both in track and in field throws and jumps.”
The performances, the pitched battles by the Danube writ that large. But there’s more to it. Maybe it’s social media — certainly this generation better understands connecting to their audience — and maybe it’s a post-pandemic effect.
While 5 straight major championships years present a novel test for athletes physically and emotionally, it feels like the sport is on a roll two years after the empty-stadium Olympics of ’21. In Budapest a buzz coursed through the hot summer air. Both the competitors and their onlookers were captivated by it.
Again, could be down to the lingering effect of the pandemic pause, but it’s not easy to recall a pre-Olympic season in which more and better storylines have coalesced to whet the appetite for the Games ahead.
I also gotta say championships track & field has sharpened its presentation game. We’re seeing a tauter, punchier show both on the track and the field. Big intros for finals — fun, splashy stuff — improved spotlighting of sixth rounds in the jumps and throws and even smaller touches like Budapest’s vertical jumps standards lighting up green or red after a make or miss.
Count me among those beyond content that at Worlds the quintessential show, the competition, no longer stops constantly for the wedging-in of 49 in-stadium medal ceremonies. Budapest instead showcased a “medal plaza” where fans outside of the stadium bowl could cheer and snap photos up close as the golds, silvers and bronzes were presented. After each ceremony, selfie-fests ensued, athletes mingling cheek to grinning jowl with excited spectators. Also, for the first time and I’d argue long overdue, medals were presented to the medalists’ coaches.
Coe again: “I think from the response of the athletes that genie’s out of the bottle, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to present medals again inside a stadium or inside a stadium where most people have gone home.”
Presentation in Budapest hit a new high note. But yes, I have a quibble. A Worlds is a show not just for those on hand. Millions around the globe are following via broadcast, streaming and a results site. World Athletics and sponsor Seiko can do better.
I’m talking here about splits and I’ve bugga-booed about them before.
We’re a numbers sport and it’s past time to get them right. Why on the official results site must we click on a separate link for the cumulative times for every lap in a distance race? That’s 25 links for a 10,000. Do those who make the decisions even understand what fans want from the numbers?
Track races aren’t the Tour de France. Does anybody care about the “gap” behind the leader on lap 20 of a 10K? What we want — don’t we? — is a lap split for every athlete, a number that for track fans means something. And we want it on a single auto-refreshing page, not as a separate link for each lap.
Commercial timing companies for major — and even not so major — U.S. meets provide this routinely. Why doesn’t WA?
And don’t get me started on correcting, or at least acknowledging, mistakes. As I write two weeks after the World Champs women’s steeple final, the official race analysis still shows Kenyan Jackline Chepkoech with a 7.45 100 split (running start WR!) for the 2400–2500 section of the race and suddenly leading after running 8th just before. Transponder glitch, I get it. Please just correct the record.
But it gets worse. Remember this was a World Championships. The first two official splits presented for the gold medal U.S. men’s 4×4 squad are manifestly just wrong.
The women’s 4×4? The split timers blew that race completely. No splits provided. WA and its sponsor have the resources to get this right. Just point a video camera so it captures the middle-of-the-zone split points for each lane on leg 1. With that and 2 minutes of eyeballing, they’d produce perfectly reliable splits to the 10th for the first two legs, all teams. Lower tech than transponder chips, yes. But better, we can all agree, than no splits at all for a world title relay.
OK. Got that off my chest. Otherwise, I’m still abuzz about Budapest. On to the Diamond League Final.