The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

What are the Sport’s Best Rivalries?

Sep 18th, 2012
6:16 am PST

David Rudisha3Coming off a successful Olympics and 2012 season, it’s time to take a look at how the sport can improve moving forward. One of the glaring problems in the past few seasons in my opinion has been the false start rule which I addressed a couple of days ago. When I listen to what other people are saying, one of the biggest complaints that many people have about the sport of track and field is the lack of head to head competition among the sport’s best athletes. A complaint that I think stems more from their disappointment with the top end male sprinters, who just can’t seem to find each other on the track, than to the sport in general.

While the male sprinters still engage in the "where & what are you running" game, we’ve seen some outstanding head to heads taking place regularly in several field events, and most other events on the track. Jeter v Fraser Pryce; Merritt v Richardson; Jelimo v Savinova; and Ukhov v Grabarz are just a few of the "rivalries" that were played out this year – rivalries that the sport should be looking to market.

Personally I think that’s the key to building this sport – developing rivalries that can be sold as part of a larger marketing program. And frankly, if the sprinters won’t give it to us that’s fine. It’s not like the other athletes out there are chopped liver! Aries Merritt is arguably this year’s top athlete, and if it’s not Merritt, David Rudisha is right there close.

That said, what are the sport’s top marketable rivalries? For my money, here are a some of the best developing rivalries. The kind of match ups the sport can build a strong following around.
One of the most interesting rivalries that I hope to see more of is that between David Rudisha and Mohammed Aman. Nigel Amos took silver in London behind Rudisha and set the WJR, but it’s been Aman that has given Rudisha his last two loses in the last two years. It’s that competitive nature of Aman that I find interesting. He followed up his sixth place finish in London by winning his final 3 races of the year, including his PR run to beat the WR holder. I think this pair will lead the way to the next level of 800 meter racing, along with youngsters Nigel Amos and Timothy Kitum.

Lashawn MerrittIt’s been a while since we’ve had a pair of quarter milers that could run under 44 seconds. Lashawn Merritt looked like he was on his way until getting injured before the Games, and Kirani James turned the trick when he won in London. Sub 44 is rarefied territory, and it’s not been often that we’ve seen racing at this level. Interestingly, James is the first non American to break the barrier which gives us out first American v anybody else sub44 match up. James is young; Merritt "middle aged". Merritt brings speed; James more strength. There’s a lot to sell here and some exciting racing in store if we get them together on the track.

The men’s 110 hurdles is an event that has been begging for the spotlight. Coming into this year there was much talk about the Big 3 of Robles, Liu and Oliver. In spite of injury to Liu and Robles we STILL ended up with 3 athletes running under 13.00 and a sizzling WR. Aries Merritt is in the running for athlete of the year and Jason Richardson had been hot on his tail all year. I expect at least one of the Big 3 back in 2013, and my gut says there will be another break through athlete next year. These guys run against each other more than any other group of athletes on the track. No one has to ask where and what are you running because their traveling to the same stadiums week after week. Sounds like a hit event with several potential rivalries to me.

One of the hottest events this year in the field was the pole vault. Unfortunately the field events tend to get discarded during telecasts. I understand that they take a while to develop, but some of the best drama is in the field. Especially when you get athletes the quality of Otto Bjorn and Renaud Lavillenie who have found themselves way up high around the 6.00m zone – that’s 19′ 8.25" for us non Europeans and WAY up there. If you’ve spent much time watching the field events, where the lead can go back and forth and the winner may already have won but have to wait and watch the others to find out, then you understand just how exciting a rivalry like Bjorn v Lavillenie can be. And if you throw in someone like Malte Mohr who is every bit as competitive and just centimeters behind, you have another exciting event. Now if we can just get the TV cameras to follow them around a bit more so we can see it!

Reese HoffaStaying in the field, have any two athletes been more exciting than Christian Taylor and Will Claye? Now here are two athletes that seem to thrive on "one up manship"! Both are decent long jumpers, but they thrive in the triple jump. And where just a couple of years ago we (the US) had trouble getting jumpers over 56 feet, this pair starts there, double downs around 57 feet, then gets busy when they hit 58 feet – and both have scared 59 feet. This is high level jumping at its best by two very young athletes that should be providing thrills to the crowd through the end of the decade.

Actually the field is ripe with rivalries. The men’s shot put is half a dozen deep with men that throw far and can win on any given day. Christian Cantwell, Reese Hoffa, David Storl, Tomas Majewski, Ryan Whiting and Adam Nelson, bring it every time out. And like the hurdlers, they do not shy away from competing, and they too know how to put on a show! Like the rest of the field events they just don’t get enough “air time”. That’s why they get a shout out, because they are to often ignored by the media.

Want more great rivalries? I’ll bring up some others that I’d like to see develop/get more exposure on the women’s side next.

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