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

How to Create a True World Championships

Jan 13th, 2012
3:05 pm PDT

I was taken aback when reading the TFN Editorial for January, as it stated that the writer saw no way that there would ever be a “True” World Championships. It seems, among other reasons given, that the thought is the various member nations would never vote for a “True” World Championships because it would shut many out of the competition.

On the surface I would say that that’s probably correct. If we went to a World Championships where the “only” invitees were those that were among the top sixty four individuals (eight opening round heats of eight individuals in a system of heats / quarters/semis/finals), then yes many nations could be shut out as event powers would dominate. Countries like Kenya & Ethiopia in the distances; and the U.S. and Caribbean nations in the sprints, et al, would have the power to effectively shut out the majority of the rest of the world from participating in those events. But since every nation has only a single vote, the voting block does exist to stop any attempt at implementing THAT particular type of system.

That said I’m not ready to concede that we don’t have the potential to create a World Championships that is both inclusive of all the nations of the world, and includes the world’s best athletes. After all, Dr. King’s birthday is right around the corner and he had a dream, and so do I. Of course I think the answer to my dream is a bit simpler.

If we take a look at a potential “True” World Championships, what is it that we are looking for? The easy answer is that we want to see the best competing against the best. The ideal situation being that the 60 or so best athletes come to town and have it out, going toe to toe for four rounds on the track – two flights in the field – to see who the best athlete in the world is in each event. So, what’s the problem that we have with the current situation? Generally I think we could agree that too often we watch potential medalists watching from the stands or TV because of injury and/or failure to make a National squad because their country is just too deep in one or more events – being one of the best in the world doesn’t count if you’re not in the top three in your own country! So it would seem that the “best” answer to both situations would be to insure that, if we can’t watch the best fight it out for four rounds, we at least get a guarantee that all worthy “finalists” are able to line up – so that we can say at the end of the day that the best athletes in the world went toe to toe for the medals!

If we can agree that that scenario would satisfy the true fans of the sport, then it would seem that the solution is indeed easy – we ensure that the top 10 athletes per event get invited to the party! If we are to assume that the “power” nations were going to send their three athletes anyway – potentially four with a bye – AND assume that an event could only be dominated by no more than two nations under the current system, we’re then looking at a possible displacement of “other nation athletes” of no more than four athletes per event. This would mean that at the end of the day, we lose a maximum of four contestants per event that may have been “lesser athletes” from other nations. I think that’s reasonable collateral to ensure that the FINALS are populated by the world’s best athletes, or those competitors able to defeat them during the qualifying rounds.

The potential change is small enough in number to almost be negligible. It also would have little to no effect on the amount of money necessary for the IAAF to spend on sending teams to the World Championships. At the same time, however, having the 10 best guaranteed to attend means that in the two semi system there should be a fight among the best in the world in each semi to make that all important final – and that the eight best should be fighting it out for the medals. And THAT is what we all really want to see!

We still wouldn’t have our Utopian World Championships, but we would have one in which all the main players would be in attendance – and that would be a huge step in the right direction.

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