LAST LAP — May/June

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed. Note also up front a separate major interview with Seb Coe in which much is discussed, including the redating of Eugene’s ’22 hosting of the World Championships.

Reigning Athlete Of The Year Karsten Warholm looks to run the fastest 300H ever. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Warholm Going For 300H WR At Impossible Games

What do you do when faced with pandemic-induced conditions? “You have two options: you can give up or look at the possibilities,” says Bislett Games meet director Steinar Hoen. “We have had a very positive dialogue with [government officials] and we have come up with a concept that is well within the government’s infection control requirements.”

So this year’s DL stop in Oslo, tagged as the “Impossible Games,” will have “exhibition” status and feature some unique concepts. Like world 400H champ Karsten Warholm attacking the “World Record” in the rarely run 300H. He tweeted, “Let’s save @bislettgames and help defeat Covid-19 at the same time! I will run alone and keep social distance. Let’s run.” The fastest time ever produced is a 34.48 by Britain’s Chris Rawlinson in ’02.

The meet is also scheduled to have a vault head-to-head between Scandinavian stars Mondo Duplantis and Sondre Guttormsen, with Renaud Lavillenie joining the fray by remote from his home in France.


Mt. SAC’s New Stadium Ready To Go

As noted in our feature on a spring without such major fixtures as the Mt. SAC Relays, SoCal school Mt. San Antonio College had been set to open its new track/football stadium on April 04. The state-of-the-art 9-lane facility seats 11,500, but can be expanded to 25,000 for major events. The school—which at one point was supposed to host the ’20 Olympic Trials—is eager to get back into the big-meet-hosting business, including the NCAA Championships. There hasn’t been an NCAA in Southern California since USC hosted the ’55 meet at the LA Coliseum.

“Obviously it was disappointing when the Trials were taken away,” says Doug Todd, Mt. SAC’s head coach. “But it never changed our goal to have the stadium ready in time, so for us, it was sort of vindication because we met that goal.

“But when we won the bid to host the Olympic Trials and were building with that deadline in mind, we had other projects in the pipeline,” Todd said. “We wanted to present a nice, clean, brand new face to the world when the trials happened, and when that was taken away, we were able to start some other projects earlier, and that’s the next phase of this. The future is exciting.”



Tentative New 2020 Diamond League Schedule Announced

Much could happen in the interim, of course, but World Athletics has laid out a prospective Diamond League program for this summer/fall. Four meets which were originally scheduled to be part of the 2020 calendar are not included. Three of them—London, Rabat & Zürich—have been canceled, and another, Oslo, will be staged on June 11 as an “exhibition event.”

The new tentative schedule features 3 meets in August (14—Monaco, 16—Gateshead, 23—Stockholm), 5 in September (02—Lausanne, 04—Brussels, 06—Paris, 17—Naples, 19—Shanghai) and 3 in October (4—Eugene, 09—Doha, 17—China, likely Nanjing). Overall, only Oslo, Gateshead & Brussels remain on their original dates.

Unlike all other DL years, there will be no Final. Explained WA, “Given the current discrepancies in training and travel opportunities, it would be impossible to ensure a level playing field and a fair qualification system during 2020. Athletes will therefore not earn Diamond League points this season, and there will not be a single, 24-discipline final in Zurich as originally planned.

“Each meeting organizer will review and announce the format of their competition and which disciplines are included 2 months before the event takes place so they can work with the prevailing conditions set by their Governments.”

Zürich, which was slated to stage the Final this year and next, will instead become the ’21 & ’22 host, with the Pre Classic moving its first-ever hosting of the climactic meet from ’22 to ’23.

WA’s next level of meets, the Continental Tour Gold sequence, has been cut to 6 meets, 2 in August (11—Turku, 20— Székesfehérvár) and 4 in September (06—Chorzów, 08—Ostrava, 15—Zagreb, 26—Nairobi).


Pre Has A “Placeholder” Date In October

U.S. fans, you can mark down October 04 on your calendars for this year’s Pre Classic. But if you do, use a pencil, not indelible ink. In mid-May, when WA announced its tentative summer/fall calendar for this year’s DL Circuit, Pre meet director Tom Jordan clarified to the Eugene Register-Guard that the date should just be considered a “placeholder” at this point.

And this year’s edition understandably won’t be like its predecessors. Jordan continued, explaining, “The exact format is still under discussion and again, it will still be dependent on restrictions that are in place in terms of testing, travel, visas, etc. There will almost certainly be no international athletes coming from overseas.”

The matter of whether or not many/any fans would be allowed at what would be the grand opening of the new Hayward Field obviously remains in the hands of officials at multiple levels—federal/state/county/city/university.


New Dates Set For ’21 Olympic Trials

In the March/April edition we noted that the Tokyo Olympics had been moved “exactly” a year, to July 23–August 08 (with track being staged July 30–August 08). Accordingly, the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene have also moved 12 months and will now be held June 18–27, 2021.

Existing ticket customers will have their tickets automatically rolled over to the new dates in 2021. Customers who wish to request a refund will be able to do so in a 90-day window that opened at TrackTown20.com on April 22.


New Dates Set For ’22 World Championships

The U.S.’s first hosting of the World Championships will have to wait a year, what with the Olympics now co-opting the summer of ’21. The meet will now be staged July 15–24, 2022.

When the dates were announced in early April, the meet’s executive director, Niels de Vos, said: “I should like to thank Oregon’s stakeholders for committing so early to the postponement, allowing maximum flexibility on dates for our friends at World Athletics, just as they have been flexible with us in ensuring our plans can remain on track despite the 12-month postponement. Oregon22, as we must now get used to calling it, will be kickstarting a global festival of international track and field championships in the summer of 2022 that will be a fantastic experience for athletes and fans alike.”


What About The USATF Championships?

There are no teams to qualify for this year, but many (most?) athletes would love to get in some real competition before all the pages have turned on the 2020 calendar. Still a possibility (no news is good news!) is a USATF Championships. The last “official” word from federation headquarters, as recounted in the last issue, was, “We will have a championship event if it’s possible.”

In late May, David Woods of the Indianapolis Star reported that one source had told the paper that USATF is trying to organize a late-September staging of the meet at Mt. SAC. The source also said that Indianapolis was considered and then rejected as a site. Jeff Porter, chair of the Athletes’ Advisory Committee, told Woods that a decision almost certainly needs to be made by mid-June.

Porter also said that holding a Nationals later than September would be “asinine” because that date would be too close to the 2021 indoor season and buildup to the Olympics. “Generally speaking, the athletes would love to compete,” Porter concluded. “They would love to have a Nationals. It probably wouldn’t be a true Nationals. It would be a modified Nationals.”


What’s Up With The Big Marathons?

As with so many other things, the status of the world’s most important 26-milers remains in a state of flux. The two Abbott World Marathon Majors scheduled for April, Boston and London, were moved to the fall. Boston is now tentatively scheduled for September 14 and London for October 04.

So far, at least, Chicago (October 11) and New York City (November 01) are still in place on their original dates. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio said in late May that it’s still too early to decide whether or not the Big Apple race will be staged, and if so, in what format.

As for Berlin, it said it would stay on its planned date of September 27, but in late April the local government ruled events with more than 5000 people until October 24. A month after that announcement, there has been no further news on what the race might do.



A Call For More Shorter-Format Meets

“People do not want to sit for hours and hours and hours—they want excitement and they want entertainment coming at them all the time,” Joanna Coates said in late May. Coates, who took over as CEO of UK Athletics in March, also said, “We have to keep the integrity of the sport, but we are looking at shorter formats. And we need them to engage a younger audience.”

Coates did acknowledge the need for some big meets, like London’s usual 2-day Diamond League affair, saying, “You would still want that real purity.”


Staffing Cuts In Alphabet-Soup Land

USATF, WA and the USOPC have all been forced to cut back on staff in the wake of the C19 pandemic and its associated revenue declines. USATF terminated 7 of its 65 employees. CEO Max Siegel said that all of the cuts came in divisions that support live events. Siegel himself took a 20% reduction.

WA put 50% of its HQ staff on furlough, but all will continue to receive their pay, with Monaco’s government providing 70% of the funding. Said WA president Seb Coe, “This means we will focus only on business-critical activities for the short term which will help us manage our cashflow effectively and protect jobs in the long term.”

Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said staffing cuts of 10% to 20% are “necessary to balance both the current delay in revenue and anticipated decline.’’ Subsequently, 30-plus employees took buyouts in a voluntary stage of cutbacks, with subsequent pruning resulting in more than 100 cuts total by the third week of May.


New Balance To Create New HS Nationals

After a decade of partnership which saw it as the title sponsor of the New Balance Nationals both indoors (’10) and out (’11), the shoe company has parted ways with the NSAF (National Scholastic Athletic Foundation). The Boston-based firm will kick off its own competition starting next year.

“Our priority has been and will continue to be to provide a first-class event that offers the opportunity for high school students to compete against the best in the country,” said Tom Carleo, New Balance’s VP of Performance Running in announcing the change. “We are excited to continue to bring the energy and competition the New Balance High School Nationals is known for and are committed to providing a seamless transition for the high school athletes.”


NSAF Remains In The Prep Business

“These are very challenging times for a lot of companies and organizations,” said NSAF Executive Director Jim Spier in reacting to New Balance’s departure as NSAF’s title sponsor for its HS Nationals, indoors and out. “We appreciate the 10-year relationship we had with New Balance. We are thankful for what they have brought to our events. But after each such transition we’ve taken our meets to new heights and we fully intend to keep growing and serving high school track & field athletes.”

NSAF, which first got into the “nationals” business with a meet in Van Nuys, California, in ’91, says it will announce a new title sponsor for its meets soon. As for this year’s meet in Greensboro, North Carolina, the C19 problem has things somewhat up in the air, but at this point the competition has tentatively moved from mid-June to July 16–19. Other dates may be under consideration too.


WA Wants Some Olympic Money Now

Track is one of multiple international federations that is looking towards Lausanne to enhance its revenue flow in this time of crisis. WA President Seb Coe told the Financial Times that the governing body had begun negotiations with the IOC to seek part of the Olympic revenue that would have been forthcoming this year.

“Like many Olympic sports, we are very grateful but also reliant on the share of the IOC broadcast revenues,” Coe said. “We work in that 4-year business cycle and not having those revenues in the year that we were planning means that we have to be very careful.”


WA Sets Up Welfare Fund For Athletes

With support from the IAF (International Athletics Foundation), WA has set up a $500,000 treasure chest to further an initiative begun by WR holder Hicham El Guerrouj to aid financially struggling professional athletes.

To qualify for a grant—which maxes out at $4000—an athlete must have made the Tokyo qualifying standard. The highest top-end performers are not eligible. Excluded are those in the top 6 in the WA world rankings in their event and anybody who earned more than $6000 on last year’s DL Circuit. Also not eligible is anybody who has ever had a doping transgression.

The protocol also says, “Athletes who, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to receive an annual grant from their Government, National Olympic Committee, Member Federation or sponsors are not expected to apply unless they can demonstrate a justifiable welfare need.”


Equipment Aid For U.S. Athletes

The USATF Foundation and USATF have partnered to donate funds for elite track & field athletes to purchase portable training equipment. Since many state and/or local municipalities have placed restrictions on facilities where larger groups may gather, gyms and weightrooms are often closed or unavailable. To assist in bridging the gap between now and when restrictions are lifted, funds have been allocated to each athlete in USATF’s Tier system in the amount of $400 towards the purchase of equipment for home use.

The Foundation also hosted a virtual town hall meeting in April to speak with the athletes directly to understand their individual issues during the pandemic. Over 30 athletes participated, all communicating that 2020 would be a difficult year. During the town hall, the Foundation reported, many current Foundation grantees expressed a desire to forgo their allotted award in an effort to allow the Foundation to help a greater number of deserving and troubled athletes.

“The Foundation has always done a phenomenal job with their efforts of open communication with their grant recipients. This spirit was heightened in the wake of the pandemic, as the Foundation’s Board put on several meetings to discover the needs and concerns the athletes may be facing while factoring in the social, emotional, and physical challenges,” said the world’s top triple jumper, Christian Taylor.


2021 Or Nothing For Tokyo?

Even though there are those who at this point think that the C19 problem will still exist to such an extent next year that the postponed Olympics won’t be staged, don’t look for the extravaganza to be bumped back to ’22.

Calling ’21 “the last option,” in late May IOC chief Thomas Bach said he backed Japan’s stance that the Games could simply end up canceled. “Quite frankly, I have some understanding for [Japan’s position] because you cannot forever employ 3000, or 5000, people in an organizing committee,” Bach told the BBC. “You cannot every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide for all the major federations.” At this juncture, there have been no dates bandied about as the fish-or-cut-bait point.


Coe Says Track Needs More U.S. Meets

Interviewed by Mike Tirico on NBCSN, Seb Coe said, ‘You are the powerhouse of track & field. You have been for a long time. But we also need to have the opportunities for American athletes to be earning their crust, to be performing in front of great crowds and audiences in the U.S. At the moment, it’s rather European-tilted. So I’m hoping that we can really start developing more 1-day meetings in the U.S., which is what you had in the past.”

He continued, “It’s really important for our sport to have a foothold—more than a foothold—in the U.S. Look, you are the largest global sports market. Athletics needs to be there.

“When I was competing a long time ago, there did seem to be more opportunities for U.S. athletes to be competing on domestic soil. I would just like to see more opportunities for those athletes to earn a living domestically, and maybe we’ve all taken our eye off the ball a little bit here. We’ve got a strategic plan that we are working our way through at the moment, and a very key indicator there is to try to reconnect more American fans with track & field… I think it’s not that difficult to reconnect, but I think we’re all going to have to work a little bit harder at that.” ◻︎

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