The last time around I took a look at some rivalries on the men’s side of things that l think would be a good sell to build the sport from a marketing perspective. Today I want to broaden that to include the women (and a hybrid) – who actually tend to compete against reach other on a more regular basis than the men.
The first rivalry I want to look at really hasn’t become one yet but I think could be a doozy – Allyson Felix v Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce over 200 meters. Both women have experienced rivalries in other events – Felix v Veronica Campbell Brown over 200, and SAFP v Carmelita Jeter over 100. Both rivalries have been great, but both have a woman on the other side that is beginning to age – Campbell Brown and Jeter. Felix and SAFP on the other hand are both young and talented, and Fraser Pryce has gotten very good in the deuce. With both women beginning their approach to their late 20s they’re ready to hit their prime – which means some sub 22 showdowns could be in store.
Felix is involved in another potential rivalry that I would LOVE to see play out – Felix v Richards Ross over 400 meters. Sanya is the best of the world in the event, and in spite of a few mistakes at Majors has dominated this event for most of the last decade. Allyson, however, has run 49.5 in minimal appearances and has shown in relay action that she may indeed be the best in the world. The problem has been that Felix favors the 200 and needs the speed and rhythm of the 100 to perform her best there. Trying to double in the 200/400 is just hard as Allyson found out in Daegu and Sanya found out in London. But oh would I like to see this pair for just one season doing nothing but running the 400, and going at it in “best out of five” on the season. Perhaps we could find ourselves back in that mid 48 second range once again – or perhaps even lower! Great for the fans, great for TV, great for the sport!
Everyone loves to talk about the sprints, but like the men the women’s short hurdle race has become one of the hottest events on the track. In 2011, Sally Pearson stepped up her game and became #4 all time in the event. This year Dawn Harper became =#7 all time and took Pearson to the photo in London. Suddenly we have a rivalry at a level not seen since the 80s! Both women should have at least one more Olympic cycle in them – that’s at least four more years of sub12.50 racing. I think that is very marketable.
One of my personal all time favorite rivalries was Jackie Joyner Kersee v Heike Dreschler in the long jump. I’m beginning to think that Brittney Reese v Anna Nazarova could be the next big long jump rivalry. Both women are outstanding jumpers. They are approximately the same age. And they bring that East v West vibe to the track. What I like most however, is that Reese has that 24 foot ability and I think Nazarova is competitive enough to push her to it – and possibly beat her in the process. They have all the ingredients to be must see TV.
Speaking of must see TV, a great multi event rivalry can be just that which is why I love the pairing of Jessica Ennis v Tatyana Chernova. Another pair of exceptional athletes who also bring that East v West vibe – and they get eight events and two days of head to head competition to thrill a crowd. Ennis got a lot of publicity competing at home in the Games, but she and Chernova are headline quality regardless of location or event.
Finally there are two great rivalries that get very little opportunity to play out – the men and women’s 4×100 meter relays. When the Jamaican and American men and women take to the track with batons in hand the resulting race is about as exciting as it gets in all of sport. Look no further than London where they produced a pair of WR efforts. Unfortunately we only get to see this once a year. The IAAF should really look at encouraging the inclusion of the 4×1 (& 4×4) into more meets. Perhaps adding it to the Diamond League as a diamond event – with a bit of financial incentive. Now THAT could become be the best rivalry in all of sport!