As I start to look ahead at the season, one of the first things I’ve taken a look at is the new Diamond League. Of course, as has become the trend in the sport, the meets tend to be abbreviated versions of a “real” track meet – various events left out in an attempt to shorten/quicken the pace of the meet. While I fiercely am against that practice I will discuss it another time – it deserves its own attention.
However, one of the things that I DO think should be included in the Diamond League competitions are – relays! Relays are typically one of the most exciting events at meets where they are contested. From high school meets, to collegiate meets, to international majors, relays generate a great deal of excitement. Just watching this past weekends NCAA Champs and World Championships is illustration enough. And I’m not just talking about the 4×1 and 4×4, as both Distance Medley relays at the NCAA meet came down to last lap battles!
For the Diamond League I see relays serving a similar purpose to how they are used at the Penn Relays in their “USA vs the World’ competitions. For starters, there are few venues for international relay competition outside of the Olympics and World Championships. Yet one of the criteria for entry is recent competitive marks. Running relays at the Diamond League competitions would give national teams a chance to run some high level meets to prepare themselves for the majors.
It would also give us, the fans, an opportunity to see international relay competition with more regularity. Currently we only get to see US v Jamaica v Trinidad and others once a year at their best – because Penn is quite early and the squads while very good are usually short of the personnel that will be seen in a major. We’ve seen this happen with some regularity in Berlin and typically it is one of the most anticipated competitions of the meet.
But there are other great match ups out there that the fans are missing out on. Like the US v Russia v Jamaica in the women’s 4×4. Or, with the American female middle distance runners getting stronger, I would love to see a 4 x 1500 with Jenny Barringer, Anna Pierce, Christin Wurth Thomas and Shannon Rowbury take on teams from Russia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Or how about some Sprint Medley Squads from the US, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados going head to head? Or Kenya and Ethiopia going at it in a Distance Medley? The possibilities are extensive!
Running relays would also help get our best athletes in front of the fans more often. It’s been tough over the years to get the top sprinters to go head to head against each other. With relay competitions they can compete for the fans in between their head to heads. It also presents a method for an athlete who wants to “test” him or herself without having to run their primary event and, dare I say it, risk an individual loss. Or to compete and stay sharp in between major head to head meetings. Or to get up and comers a bit more seasoning.
Bottom line is that it’s a way to create excitement in the sport AND get the sport’s top athletes in front of the fans with a bit more regularity. Two things that I feel are critical if the sport is to grow and expand.