From The Editor — October 2011: 19 days in August…track goes into stealth mode

HERE ARE SOME NUMBERS TO CHEW ON: Blanka Vlašić 40; Andreas Thorkildsen 33; Yelena Isinbaeva 29; Usain Bolt 28; Asafa Powell 27; David Rudisha 20.

No, those aren’t the ages of the six superstar athletes I’d consider to be the sport’s biggest draws at the moment.

No, at what should be the peak of the summer season—when track & field is supposed to be making its biggest impact on the sporting planet’s collective consciousness—that’s how many days each will go between his/her last Diamond League appearance and first appearance in the World Championships. Really.

That’s an average of 29.5 days (a couple more if you actually look at their first significant competition in Daegu, in the finals)—a month!—in which they’re not on the stage.

Earlier this year (From The Editor, May) this column was critical of the DL’s failure in its first season to deliver the highly touted sequence of major matchups. Now that the second season is all but done, the matchupping, if anything, has been worse than last year.

But I consider that a secondary sin compared to how the 2011 schedule has worked out. T&FN got dire warnings from agents back at the beginning of the year that meaningful non-DL competition on the European Circuit was becoming an endangered species. And boy, were they spot-on.

It’s not the fault of the DL/IAAF that a shrinking economy is helping kill off the secondary meets. We understand the economics. But how can you allow/promote a big-league schedule that finds no invitational competition worthy of the name for any athletes for 19 days in August?!

After London wrapped up on August 6, that was it. Ahh, but remember that the DL concept splits the events, so by definition, about half of the athletes don’t have a DL event to compete in at every stop on the circuit, so you have to go back to Stockholm on July 29 for their last shot. Then you toss in the fact that the last women’s HJ was in Monaco on July 22, and it’s one of the last events in a 9-day WC schedule and suddenly you have Vlašić gone for 40 days.

Some say the gap isn’t much worse than in the past. Maybe not, but it’s the worst ever. From the last Grand Prix meet to the WC in ’07 it was 17 days; Beijing ’08 was 16; for the ’09 WC it was 14. Understanding that the athletes want/need some R&R (and for most, adjustment across many time zones), I can live with 14 off. That means only one weekend without a meet. This year’s means two off, and that’s not acceptable.

In a crowded sports schedule, track has a tough time getting up to speed as is. Why just as we’re starting to achieve critical mass would you allow yourself to come to a crashing halt? It’s akin to throwing a 6-hour intermission into the middle of a basketball game.

The good news is that next year the gap will drop all the way back to 13 days, so obviously it can be done. Of course, if there’s one year in four where we can survive without ongoing coverage it’s the Olympic year. In the runup to London there will be plenty of buzz no matter what the gap.

The IAAF needs to better flex its muscle in deciding when meets are held.