When the concept of the Diamond League was presented in 2009, I found myself anticipating the 2010 season like an anxious child awaiting Christmas. After all there was much to look forward to based on the “previews”.
Gone was the “winner take all” concept of only undefeated athletes being eligible for the pot of gold at the end of the season – which meant that after the first meet only a handful of individuals were eligible for prize money. A concept that said there was no reason to compete after the first meet unless you wanted to stop the competition from winning the prize!
All events were going to be a part of the Diamond League, meaning that everyone would be eligible to win a Diamond League championship, not just a handful of athletes based on the luck of the draw when it came to determining the events that would be eligible to compete for the pot of gold.
The US was finally going to become part of the “summer circuit” with the inclusion of New York and Prefontaine as Diamond League fixtures. Which should ensure that we would get more international stars competing on our shores.
Then there was the biggest enticement of all – that the Diamond League was going to contract with the sport’s biggest stars to to make sure they would be competing in a large number of Diamond League competitions AND that they would be competing against each other! THAT alone was worth the wait.
Looking forward to 2010 in ‘09, I had “visions of sugar plums” dancing in my head. Giddy from the anticipation of a much improved European/Summer season this off season. But 2010 has come and gone and with it the first season of the Diamond League. Now that it’s over and in the books the question I have to ask is: were we any better off because there was a Diamond League this year? To wit I have to respond: I don’t think so.
Much was promised, but sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men, well they don’t always turn out how we envision. The big winner for the League was the elimination of the “winner take all” concept. This year’s league went down the the final two meets to determine “champions” in many of the events. With d with the caveat that you had to compete in the “finale” to win the prize money, almost all of the athletes in contention showed up to the finale events. And that is where the best laid plans begin to go awry for me – and continue from there.
You see, there wasn’t a single “finale”. Instead there were two finales that encompassed two different cities a week apart. This was due in large part to the fact that there was no single meet that contained all of the events! This was a league of “half” meets – with only half of the standard track and field events being run in any given meet. Now there was one exception, that being the meet in London. But even that in a manner was “two” competitions as the meet was separated into two different days. The half meet concept was carried throughout the season with half of the events being contested one week/meet, then the other half the next. Half the men’s events and half the women’s events, with both genders competing in different disciplines in each meet. For example, If you had the men’s 100 in Stockholm but no women; the women’s 1500 in Stockholm but no men. Very frustrating as a fan, and from what I hear, frustrating for the athletes as well. Because for the athletes only having their event on the docket half the time, cut their earning opportunities in half as well!
Then there was the matter of those two US entries in the league. The first (New York) was scheduled only two days after the Rome meeting! Needless to say the lineups in New York were not the most stellar. And when you factor in that the marketing surrounded a match up that was never really scheduled (Gay v Bolt), there was quite a let down for this meet. Prefontaine was Prefontaine – excellent as always. But having moved the meet to accommodate the “league” I would’ve expected a larger influx of foreign talent. Then again, Prefontaine has always done well with that – which makes me wonder why the need to be in the Diamond League?
Oh did I mention “match ups”? Because that was one of the biggest selling points of all for the Diamond League – we were going to get more top level match ups than ever before! The centerpiece being that nearly every meet was going to have at least one of the world’s top three sprinters contracted, with a majority having at least two of them going head to head and one or more featuring all three. FINALLY we were going to get something more than the 1 meeting a year when they all ran in a major! At least that was the hope. What we ended up with was Gay v Powell, once; Powell v Bolt, once; and Bolt v Gay, once. Powell losing to both his adversaries then dropping out due to “back trouble”. Bolt losing to Gay then dropping out due to “back trouble”. Then Gay left to compete against the up and comers – not what we saw in the previews. Again very frustrating for the fans.
Finally I thought the whole “season” was just way too long. The first meeting in Doha was on May 14th, the final finale was in Brussels on August 27th. By Brussels I had almost forgotten what had happened in Doha! So did the athlete’s bodies. Sprinters that were ailing and getting trying to get it together for Doha, were ready to role by Zurich and Brussels. Those that were looking good in Doha couldn’t even make it to the track by Brussels. Lolo Jones looked ready to rule the world in the first half of the Diamond League and no one knew who Sally Pearson was. By Brussels Pearson was in the hunt, Jones was struggling and Priscilla Lopes Sliep was in charge. Kara Patterson hit her stride in the middle of the season then slowly got tired by the final few meets. And there was a definite advantage for those athletes in the finals that had “peaked” during or late in the season! To be honest, I’m not sure how it will play during the three years where there are major championships, with athletes focusing on the major and looking to all peak late in the year. It could make the first half of the Diamond League fairly irrelevant.
Having said all of that, I do think that some things can be “fixed”. For example, why not simply offer all the events in each meet, but alternate the events that have Diamond designation – half this meet half the next. And while everyone is trying to hold on to the traditional dates that they held their meets, if this “league” is going to work there may have to be some compromises. The schedule needs to be condensed, with perhaps two meetings per week, and running for two months during July and August – starting after most national championships and ending before the start of a major championship. I also think that having a shorter, more condensed series will aid in getting match ups on the track as it would give the top athletes a condensed set of competitive opportunities as they are preparing for the upcoming major – at a time when they should be most fit. Because it seems asking today’s athletes to stay fit and healthy for four months is more than most can handle – a topic that I intent to expound more upon soon.
I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but I was just expecting MORE from the Diamond League. After the season was done I went back through my meet archives and watched earlier versions of the Weltklasse, and Ivo Van Damme and Bislett from the 80’s and 90’s. And all the “missing” components were there. They had the stars like Steve Ovett,Roger Kingdom, Colin Jackson, Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene, Allen Johnson, Stefka Kostadinova, Gail Devers, Evelyn Ashford, and on and on. There were full meets, and plenty of top level match ups. After all, that’s how these meets got to be as big as they are – they put the best in the world on the track. In many ways that’s what the Diamond League is going to have to do, get back to the future to bring the excitement back to the sport.