IF ASKED TO CHOOSE THE SINGLE GREATEST thing that has happened to our beloved sport in the 40-plus years I’ve been privileged to be with Track & Field News, I think I’d have to say the creation of the World Championships in ’83. Why? Because it’s the top end of the sport that thrills me the most. They weren’t paid openly in my early days, but it has always been the “pros” I’ve followed most passionately and the birth of a true World Championships was a dream come true.
So pressed to select a No. 2 for that list, it’s only logical for me to go with the switch of the WC from every four years to every two years, starting in ’91.
Which leaves me wondering how high up on the list I’d put this radical thought: the creation of yet another Worlds, meaning that every quadrennium would consist of three WCs and an Olympic Games, instead of just the pair of WCs and an “off year” to go with each OG. A World Champs in every non-Olympic year, even though the invention of such would create some massive scheduling problems.
Every four years may be good enough for the Olympics or soccer’s World Cup, but those are the tails that wag the dog. More and more, track is becoming a niche sport that needs to fight for every inch of visibility it can get, and that means internationally as well as in the U.S. WC = visibility.
I shudder to think how fractured track & field may have ended up had there not been that first WC back in ‘83. The sport took a real body blow when the U.S. boycotted Moscow in ’80, and LA ’84 was almost as bad (despite the happy spin the U.S. media put on it). But in between we had Helsinki to hold us together.
What with Finland’s being a magical history-riven place in which to stage a meet, ’83 gave the world a fresh new look at track. As with the Olympics, “all” the world’s best in one place at one time, but free of all the political baggage and posturing. All track & field all the time: a fan’s dream come true.
Certainly anybody who was there—and I suspect many who weren’t—felt a sense of loss when ’85 came around and there was nothing comparable. And that feeling was repeated in ’86. What a delight, then, when Rome ’87 brought the magic back to life, even if not quite as vibrantly as the Helsinki debut. But after the ’88 Olympics, the wait for Tokyo ’91 was ghastly.
Tokyo, however, ushered in the best era yet: three straight years of an ultimate meet. It wasn’t until ’94 that we were again without the best the pros had to offer. And so the off-years have continued: ’98, ’02, ’06 and now this year.
The Diamond League has been a promising creation, and lots of regional pride was certainly felt by those who enjoyed the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, but I’m sorry, that’s just not the same. I want 10-odd days every year in which there are long sessions devoted to nothing but crowning the best athlete on the planet in each of the 40-plus disciplines.
After Daegu ’11, London ’12 & Moscow ’13, that’s what I want to see come 2014, not a year where the sport suddenly takes its foot off the accelerator.