Budapest ’26 — WA’s All-New Ultimate Champs

In selecting the first host city for a new major meet, Seb Coe said, “We wanted to make sure that we went to an environment that understood athletics, knew how to promote it.” (COURTESY WORLD ATHLETICS)

WORLD ATHLETICS has unveiled plans for “a new global championship for the sport” that will be staged for the first time in 2026 and “serve as a grand conclusion to the track & field season.” Far from a replacement for the World Championships held in odd-numbered years in each Olympic cycle, the World Athletics Ultimate Championships will be modeled as a compact (3 competition days), fast-paced season finale in even-numbered years.

The meet will also feature substantial prize money.

Budapest, Hungary, which hosted the fabulously successful World Championships XIX last year, will serve as venue for the first edition of the new event September 11–13, 2026.

“What is this about?” WA President Seb Coe asked rhetorically on a video chat with media this morning. “It’s very simple and I am unashamed about it. This is showtime. This is 3 nights, 3 hours [per night], 400 of the top athletes, 16 in the track events, 8 in the field —straight finals in the field, semis and final in track.

“Not every discipline, and we are still working through that, but you can rest assured all the marquee events will be there, including sprints, middle and long distance, throws, jumps and relays. So what do we want to achieve out of this? We want this to be fast, free, flowing, well organized.”

Also lucrative for competitors. “The prize money pot is significantly higher than we’ve had ever in the sport before,” Coe said. The prize money pot for those athletes is $10 million. That means every athlete that wins will walk away with $150,000, but there will be prize money down through the rank. So everybody will leave the championships with something.

“Not every discipline.” That phrase will grab the attention of athletes and fans alike. It’s an inconvenient truth, though, that not all of the 48 events showcased at a 9-day World Championships will fit in a 3-night box.

While the event slate is as yet not fully hammered out, Coe said, “I can confirm it won’t be race walk and it won’t be combined events. They’re just not feasible in that type of television format. But we are absolutely committed to those events in other formats, particularly our World Championships at both Junior and Senior level, and of course our own world team race walking championships.”

WA CEO Jon Ridgeon, also on the media gaggle, said, “We’ll announce those disciplines later in the year, but every important group will be covered within the stadium.

“But you could see actually that model meaning that a different roster of disciplines actually are included in future championships depending on where we are [staging the meet] in the world.”

Besides the tighter, action-packed broadcast-friendly footprint for the Ultimate Championships, Coe cited benefits for the competitors.

“We want to make sure that the athletes are able to actually activate much more around these championships than they would in other championships and particularly the Olympic Games [with its restrictions on athletes’ promotion of their sponsors].”

The marketing term “activate” in Coe’s comment is all about social media, of course, which now is all about how athletes build and leverage their market value.

At the Ultimate Championships, Coe explained, “They can take their own social media teams with them so that they can create and utilize content. There’ll be moving image content that they’re able to use on their own platforms.

“It’s shoe agnostic and that was very important. They all have their own shoe deals, so we didn’t want that to be an inhibitor to their competition. And they’ll be competing in national vests, but they will be selected through [WA] ranking with some flexibility around wild cards that allow us to do two things.

“First of all, to deal with those extraordinary cases where somebody may have been injured all season but got back in time. You wouldn’t want to lose them from a championship. But also it gives us the opportunity to promote local burgeoning talent, as well — which is important.”

Coe’s team for the new initiative, he said, has consulted with relevant stakeholders: “We’ve spoken to the athletes, we’ve spoken to the athlete representatives, we’ve obviously spoken to the shoe companies, which are a very important part of the landscape.

“Jon, just last Thursday, was talking to the [WA] Athletes Commission. And, of course, broadcasters. So we are putting together what we think will be a compelling and attractive event and format.

“We have innovative thoughts that are being road tested at the moment and they may well make it into these championships. But you have my commitment that if they don’t road test well we are not doing them. There are no gimmicks here.

“When people watch this they will be watching an athletics event, track & field event. They won’t be watching something that is bells and whistles but no substance.”