It came, they competed, it’s over. After the wait and the build up the World Championships have come and gone. A little over a week of solid track and field, and a lot happened. Normally I would try to comment as things happen, but this year’s meet came at an odd time. School starting for my kids; one starting college; a trip cross country – and that’s just the peripherals.
So I decided to try something different this year. Watch all the action; take notes; and then review. As I did this I began to look at the meet a little differently. I started grouping events and individuals. There were exciting individuals and events – and some not so exciting. There were youngsters that were making an impact and are clearly the future for their countries/teams. There were athletes that I gained a new and/or different respect for and those I was very disappointed in. There were surprising victories and athletes that need more competition.
Most of all this meet stirred a lot of thoughts on many topics. So that’s how I’m going to look at this year’s World Championships – from the perspectives I mentioned above. Which means there will be several posts on this meet.
Before I begin I will say that it was not one of my all time favorite World Championships. This meet lacked oomph. There were few compelling matchups and at the end of the day the overall level of performances was below expectations. I’ll get into all that as I do my reviews.
With that said, where should I begin? I think I’ll start with my general thoughts about the meet in general – presentation, viewing experience, and a few odds and ends – and then move into the events, athletes and performances.
So I’ll begin by doing something I rarely do, give praise to the IAAF for their new phone/tablet app. While I’d love to see it do more – like provide race results for higher level circuit meets; have all time lists of say 30 deep; and link to general news on the sport – it was great for keeping up with the World Championships. It had daily schedules, round by round results, and event wrap ups. A big step in the right direction for track and field. Now if they can just incorporate a few of the other things I mentioned it would be awesome. National federations take note. It would be great to have fans of the sport losing half a dozen or more of these on the phones/tablets for their favorite countries!
Which segues into my next thought – that track and field is tailor made for the internet. THE best way to follow this meet if you are an American was via the internet. With minimal television coverage – I’ll cover that too – online streaming was the way to go. My personal choice was watchathletics.com which carried the BBC feed from start to finish. It also carries a library of videos of events after they air live so that you can go back and review the action. Looking ahead, it looks like they will be providing video stream links of other upcoming major circuit action as well.
With track getting so little coverage here in the United States it was the only way to go for complete coverage of the World Championships. And let’s talk about that coverage, because it was certainly "complete". I got each session from beginning to close including lots of the field event action as it was happening in between events on the track – the same as if I were watching there in the stadium. And the style of the British announcers was very "conversational" – as if we (the announcers and I) were sitting together somewhere watching the meet having a chat! It made watching hours of track and field every day a pleasurable experience.
Contrast that with my next thought/observation of the World Championships – American coverage of the sport sucks! We were told by NBC that we were getting unprecedented coverage of the World Championships – a claim that rang as hollow as the same claim regarding last year’s Olympic Games. In this case the claim was bogus in that the majority of planned coverage was provided by Universal Sports which is only available if you have Direct TV – a small percentage of the sporting public. Once upon a time Universal Sports did allow you to buy subscriptions, but that’s been taken away as well. To make things worse, the coverage that was provided by NBC (weekends only) covered only a miniscule amount of what occurred during the week – the bulk of the meet! If that’s not bad enough, they continue to give us minimal snippets of what happened on the field and we get the preachy/we’re going to teach you all about the sport attitude of the NBC commentators. Now I will say that they have the slickest show intros and closings around and great video montages – and they know how to put together a solid personal athlete segment. If they put as much thought and effort into actually presenting the competition as they do to those things the coverage might be passable. I would suggest that they too put together an online stream, but they would more than likely block, or fail to show many events, in deference to saving them for their own weekend packages a la their streaming of the Olympics. NBC needs to take lessons from their counterparts in other countries. While I watched the BBC streams this time, I’ve watched various others in the past and they all share similar attributes to the BBC which remains my personal preference.
Now that I’ve got NBC upset with me, my next thought is a suggestion for the already praised IAAF – we need a World Championships every year, Olympic years excluded. Let’s start with the fact that almost everyone else has a championship every year – from the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL to Little League. But aside from emulating other top level sports we need annual championships for the athletes – and of course we fans. As of today there will not be another global championship until August of 2015! That means that Yohan Blake, Allyson Felix, Georgianne Moline, Walter Dix, Dayron Robles, Liu Xiang and many others don’t have a chance at redemption/titles for another two years – that’s as archaic as the old days when there was only the Olympics every four years! Yes, there are lesser championships like Euros, Pan Am, and Commonwealth, but reality is these events were created to fill that four year gap between the Olympics. It’s the 21st Century, time for track and field to move forward.
Speaking of the 21st Century, that means we have over 100 years of championships behind us – Olympics, Worlds, etc. It also means the inevitable comparison of athletes from different eras – and we have had a lot of eras. Typically fans/media takes the easy way out of simply adding up titles won to determine "who was best". The most recent example being Brittney Reese dubbed by many as the greatest long jumper ever because she’s now won the most global titles – 4 in only a 5 year period! When I point out about Reese, and others, that for starters the titles were won against much lesser competition, the typical response is "you can only complete against who’s there" or something similar as if that gives greater credence to the titles/victories and therefore gives greater significance to the career. For my money, if you are winning titles against "weak" competition, you better be dominating/burying them and producing all time level marks if you want to be considered one of the best ever, let alone THE best ever.
Now I like Brittney Reese, but five years is relatively short. So in that time and records need to be broken or approached, you need to be high up on the ask time lists, and that inferior competition needs to be fading fast in your rear view mirror. And sorry but Ms. Reese isn’t in either of those categories. Her best ever jump is only = 67 all time. This year’s title was win by.02m, with her previous titles being won by .13m, .05m, and .05m against "weak" competition – winning yes, dominating no. Brittney has been the best of the most recent Olympic cycle without a doubt, but she’s a long way from being a JJK, Heike Drechsler, Tatyana Kotova, or Galina Chistyakova as a jumper/competitor. I bring this up not to pick on Brittney, but because too often fans and the media lack perspective when it comes to the sport. What’s happening now is always the best ever. It’s a sport that doesn’t seem to want to embrace its past or learn from it – which in my humble opinion is why we keep getting closer and closer to the edge of the abyss. History is a great tool for learning, teaching and improving. This sport could learn a lot from its history – just like Reese could learn a lot from JJK!
Finally a few comments on the meet specific to the US. First, far too many American athletes showed up for the most important meet of the year, if not their lives, in poor shape/form. Many would have been better off giving up their spots to other athletes that were willing to put in the time to be ready. Now I’m sure I’ll get comments like "you don’t know their situation", "maybe they got an injury", or something similar – and I will say you’re right. But in the next breath I will say that regardless of reason/excuse these people weren’t ready and athletes that were should have been sent instead. We have an image problem with this sport here in the US already. We can’t afford poor performances in events where we are capable of better. USATF needs to take a look at how we gauge fitness when sending athletes to represent us. Many countries choose to leave lanes empty rather than send embarrassments. We may need to consider something similar.
Next, can someone tell me why we can’t pass the baton in the 4×1? Our sprinters grow up in a system where they run relays in middle school, high school, and college. By this point relay running should be a matter of simply coordinating distance to place a mark! Yet since the late 80′s our squads have looked like half these athletes have never seen that aluminum tube before in their lives! Yes I’m being harsh. But our national record stood from the early 90′s until last year when we showed three times (men twice, when once) just how easy it was to take it down when we moved the baton. Then we come back this year and get this mess we just witnessed. It’s beyond embarrassing.
That brings me to my final question today – what did Tyson Gay take that caused his ban? Normally it’s not that big a deal – a ban is a ban. However, this was a very important ban. It derailed the biggest pre match up of the meet – Bolt v Gay. It derailed the men’s sprints for the US and left us crippled – imagine Jamaica without Bolt. More importantly it left the sport with another black eye heading into the biggest meet of the year. And the question I have is why. Was this as big a deal as the ban suggests, or are we talking about some borderline substance which is more indicative of a doping/testing/banning system that needs serious revision? I would like to know.
I plan to talk more on the topics of the state of American sprinting and drug testing and the system later. Next however, I’ll continue looking back at the World Championships with a review of how I viewed events in terms of exciting, disappointing, and shocking. As well as a look at those youngsters I felt made significant impact.
Tags: World Championships