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

Let’s Make the Off Season a Challenge

Jan 7th, 2013
4:06 pm PST

Ashton EatonI know that we’ve just started the World Championship year and are nearly 365 days away from the"Off Season". That’s exactly why I’m talking about it however, because change takes time, and perhaps there’s enough time to implement something that I think would be a benefit to the sport.

You see, right now the Off Season is somewhat of a throwaway year in many respects. There is no championship meet, so many athletes feel that there is little to accomplish. Some females look upon it as a good time to have a child. Other athletes see it as a time to heal injuries or even have surgery. And yet others view it as an opportunity to try out new events or techniques.

All of the above is well and good, but it leaves the sport without the purpose and direction provided by having a championship as the seasonal goal. More importantly it leaves the sport without a marketing focus. Not a good thing for a sport that really can’t afford a "down" season.

However, what if the athletes DID have something meaningful to work towards in 2014 and subsequent Off Seasons? What if there was a "Challenge" out there – a competition if you will – that everyone could participate in. A "Challenge" that would run throughout the year, and would encompass the sport’s brightest stars as well as up & coming talent. A "Challenge" that could be used by the sport and meet promoters as they market their meets. A "Challenge" that would culminate in the crowning of a male & female champion at the end of the season. A "Challenge" that offered a monetary prize to each winner to the tune of say $1,000,000?

Having a year long challenge or competition that could encompass every athlete in the sport regardless of his/her discipline, could provide the sport with a focus for the year, and perhaps the ability to create a huge marketing push that could highlight the sport’s best athletes! Something to work towards perhaps?

PearsonHere’s my idea. I would like to create the "Multiple Threat Challenge". A year long competition to run throughout the Off Year, crowning a male & female Multi Threat Champion, and awarding them each a $1,000,000 cash prize.

The rules are simple. The contest is open to everyone. It’s not a sprinter’s competition, or thrower’s competition. It’s not confined to the track or the field. You simply have to compete in three different events during the course of the outdoor season – indoor events do not count. Using a scoring system based on current WRs, all marks made throughout the year are awarded points. Each athlete then uses the highest points earned in each of three different events to come up with his/her "Multiple Threat Challenge" score. At the close of the season, the man and woman with the highest three event score wins $1,000,000!

I say a scoring system based on current WRs, because as I look at the IAAF scoring tables they’re clearly weighted in favor of the men’s sprints. For example, Rudisha’s WR (1:40.92/1296 pts) falls behind 2012 times by Bolt (9.63/1337) & Blake (9.69/1316) – with Gatlin (9.79/1280) just falling short. Aries Merritt’s WR (12.80/1291) is also behind Bolt & Blake’s marks. And Ashton Eaton’s WR 9036 pts is only worth a paltry 1270 pts on the IAAF tables. Even FloJo’s otherworldly 10.49 only gets 1296 pts with the IAAF system.

So I’m thinking that awarding 1000 pts to the current world record in each event, then distributing points based on percentage of the world record per event might be a fairer way to go. the only way to score more than 1000 pts is to break a WR – and the person that breaks a record by the greatest amount would then get “maximum” points.

With the system in place, the possibilities become endless. A sprinter could run the 100, 200 and 400. Or the 200, 400, and try the 800. Or forego the 8 and try the long hurdles. How about an 800/1500 type? Move up to the 5000 or drop down and try the quarter. A "jumper" could go long & triple then opt for the 100, or 200, or even 400! How about a thrower? Perhaps the shot, discus, and javelin – or maybe hammer? A short hurdler could try a pair of sprints, or the long hurdles and a sprint, or a jump! Like I said, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Yohan BlakeThese combinations are not out of the question, and have occurred naturally throughout the years. The most obvious would be Carl Lewis, who ran the short sprints and long lumped. Or a multi eventer like Heike Dreschler who long jumped and ran both sprints. Not so obvious, would be someone like Renaldo Nehemiah who ran the short hurdles and showed much sprint promise in relays. Or a Mike Conley who was outstanding in both jumps AND the 200 meters! Or a Harold Schmid who was world class in the 400H, 400, and 800.

So having athletes do well, at more than just a standard "double" – 100/200, 800/1500, 5000/10000, LJ/TJ, SP/DIS – is certainly not without precedence. Hence the contest involving three events and not just the "standard" two. And we’ve certainly seen several of today’s athletes do well at a third event in passing. Athletes like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Christian Taylor, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richard Ross, Ashton Eaton, and Sally Pearson come to mind. And I drool at the prospect of athletes like David Rudisha, Yohan Blake, and Kimberlyn Duncan seriously trying a third event. By the way, the contests would require only one mark per event – though obviously it would have to be a very good one!

The cool thing about this type of competition however, is the potential for someone other than a headliner to come up and surprise. I can see someone like Abubaker Kaki – who’s already thrown down a serious 1500 meters – or one of the young up and coming female distance runners from Africa surprising. Or a thrower, male or female, that really hasn’t stepped outside their primary event for a while – I remember when the shot/discuss double was common, and who knows with the javelin or hammer. And while the decathlon and heptathlon competitors are typically called the world’s best athletes, could not a Challenge of this nature carry that moniker for marketing purposes?

And that’s what really excites me about this Challenge – the potential to headline the sport’s best ATHLETES (plural) to the world! Suddenly no one single athlete is a runaway, given winner. Now many great athletes are in play. Now you have the potential to pit Bolt v Rudisha v A. Merritt v C. Taylor v L. Merritt on somewhat equal footing. Now we have the potential to have many meets and many events become meaningful throughout the season. How about a meet where Bolt runs the 400, or another where Blake (400), Rudisha (1500?), or C Taylor (400) is looking to take the yearly point lead? Marketing opportunities for the meet and the sport abound! Something that the sport desperately needs.

So there you have it. My thought on pumping up the Off Season. What do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

4 Responses to “Let’s Make the Off Season a Challenge”

  1. Waynebo says:

    Big thumbs up… with a few slight modifications 🙂 I would want at least 2 entries in each event – there’s a million bucks on the line, you cannot just dabble, run the event and run in enough meetes to give them something to market. I would also like to reward athletes who compete more often so how about 50 or 100 points in your bank for each race entered. I don’t want to see Bolt enter a 100m run 9.65, run a single 200m in 19.35, run a 400 in 44.15 and walk away with the money having only run 3 times for the whole season. No. Run some races!

    Also, I think a winner-take-all approach on the prize money will discourage athletes from competing. Those who know they don’t have much of a chance at 1st place wouldn’t bother. I think dividing the million by places would encourage more to compete. Maybe something like 1st= $500,000 2nd= $250,000. 3rd= $125,000. 4th= $75,000 5th= $50,000. That way even 5th place is worth competing for because there are some good athletes in T&F making less than that. Also, it addresses the important issue of “spreading the wealth”.

    This should be a wonderful marketing tool. If T&F can’t market Bolt vs. Rudisha over 400m, then we are truly in trouble.

    • CHill says:

      I can live with your suggested modifications …

      On the number of entries per event, my original thought was that no one will just turn out a spectacular time/distance their first time out .. the likelihood of Bolt just dropping a 44.1 isn’t very likely, especially if he’s already run the other two times you’ve mentioned .. Those are all end of the season marks and would require slightly different types of training to accomplish .. I think it would take at least a few attempts in your “off” event anyway so requiring two would be fine .. Plus the other component is the competition .. because as soon as someone out points you you have to give it another go ..

      The money distribution is fine too, probably preferable … I just like the idea of a million dollar winner – that gets people’s attention .. So would actually be nice if the sport could raise say three million and award a million to reach of the winners then go with the other distribution .. The public would get into a million dollar contest AND your better athletes would find it worth their time and effort to take on that third event … So I’d really like to keep the million dollar winner and then add your suggestion .. my initial fear is that the sport wouldn’t be able to come up with the money .. But perhaps we could find three companies to drop a million each ..

  2. Anderson says:

    Pretty interesting idea, but considering how much more technical throwing events are compared to sprints, and even the long and triple, throwers pretty much wont have serious showing here.
    Its much easier for a 100m runner to go 2-4 then for a hammer thrower to go shot discus.

    • CHill says:

      It’s not a perfect world .. Will the throwers have a harder time ?? Probably .. But only because they have become so specialized .. I remember a time when they too doubled – and were quite successful at it ..

      That partly why I want the money huge – to encourage participation which in some cases means adding to what you do ..

      But there is no such thing as a level playing field in anything in life .. This is no different .. But I do believe it is as level for the majority as is possible to achieve ..

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