There was some Interesting commentary from Superman (a.k.a. Michael Johnson) on Telegraph.co.uk last week. Let’s take a closer look at his suggestions:
- My three-point plan would be to shorten the competitions and limit the events to only those that most people, in particular young people, are interested in.
- Focus on the pure competition between the athletes which is too often overlooked amid too much focus on records.
- And lastly, relax the sponsorship regulations to make the sport as a whole more sponsor friendly.
Shorten the Track Meet Schedule
First, I agree on shortening some meets, or split the meet into 2 days. This is the format for Golden League meets, with a half schedule (100-400-1500 one year, 200-800-3000 another year). For a full meet, you will need 2 days on the weekend which very most common in North America. This makes sense if you want to double up (say, 100-200 or 400-200). Even the World Athletic Final is a two day affair.
How about separating Sprints and Distance events? We’ve seen this at HPC Sprint and Jump Training Camps in attitude? Stanford has distance carnivals with the occasional 400 meters thrown in (if lucky) with sometimes barely 3 athletes. McGill University in Montreal used to have Tuesday night All-Comers meets for 800 meters and up on an old beat up Mondo Track before it was converted to the Alouettes’ football stadium . And we’re talking over 10 sections for the 800m!
Forget World Records
It’s easy to ignore world record attempts and focus on the competition instead of the clock. However, non-track paying spectators want to see, in order:
- Usain Bolt. Toronto and Ostrava had record attendance, and I’ll bet Paris and London will be no different. I guarantee Berlin will be sold out for the 100 meters Finals.
- World Records including the Women’s Pole Vault and other reachable records. Remember when they booed Carl Lewis at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Long Jump after taking just 2 jumps? People want to take home something special which includes being an eye witness to a world record.
- Head to Head competition. This is another reason why boxing or more recently MMA mixed martial arts “Ultimate Fighting” has become hugely popular.
We miss the rivalry of Ben Johnson & Carl Lewis from 1986-88. Or Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett from 1980-1984. I loved head-to-head competitions because it brought out the best in me, usually in the form of PRs (Patrice Doucet – where are you now?) It’s no fun to beat your competitors by a mile (unless you’re setting a WR), or always lose to the same person. Imagine being a Masters sprinter born the same year as Bill Collins.
Is NASCAR the Answer?
This is where I disagree with MJ. Do you really think NASCAR and Formula One are successful because of the flashy ads on their cars and uniforms? Branding doesn’t stop at the track. There are several ways to brand outside the uniform, and that includes television, radio, billboards, magazines and old fashioned newspaper.
Or websites and Blogs.
Again, the average non-track paying spectators want to see high octane high offense action packed entertainment. It is sad that sports has to rely on the entertainment angle to sell. But if it brings in the money, who can complain?
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Is this Michael Johnson the same Johnson who once held the world record for 100M? I was a big fan of his and Lewis during their time…
It’s nice to hear their name again…
david goodger says
I agree with you in your above comments but on the commercial aspect if I were involved in the Golden League I think I’d explore franchised teams maybe sponsored by the kit manufacturers or as MJ said in the article some of the other big commercial names. This could cause a bit of a commercial storm at first but would settle maybe a bit radical or full of legal issues but could make for more money in the sport.
Jimson Lee says
@david – sadly, money will win at the end, and we will probably see a new trend in the next few year. Athletes have to eat.
Ed Callahan says
It really irritates me that in virtually every race above 400 meters the athlete with the courage to lead never wins. The reason is obvious: the leader is using 15% more energy than everyone else. Filbert Bayi was probably 15% better than everyone except John Walker; today’s top runners seem more closely bunched. Hence the race becomes one of postioning yourself for the final sprint. No wonder the fans are bored.
A proposal: Borrow a page from the cyclists and decathletes. Issue points. Points are awarded at the 200 and 400 meter marks on the track. In an 800 meter race the runners cross these marks four times; in the 10,000 meters 50 times. Whoever crosses the mark in 1st place gets zero points, 2nd gets 2 points, 3rd gets 3 and so on. At the end of the race the points are added up; low score wins the gold medal – unless a world record is set. Then the first runner across the finish line gets the gold.
Also, someone couldn’t just sprint for 600 meters and jog to the finish. Unless a world record is set, anyone finishing more than 5% slower than the runner who crosses the finish line first is ineligible for a medal.
Computer chips in the athletes’ shoes or in their bibs (depending on whether runners have to cross a pad or run past a sensor on the infield) allow their true placing to be instantly flashed to the scoreboard.
The entire race would be a race. Spectators would be more involved. Training, strategy and tactics would have to change. The coward who holds back might cross the finish line first but come in near the back.
In the 1960 Olympics Peter Snell won the 800 meters in 1:47; Herb Elliott won the 1500 in 3:35. Despite today’s lighter shoes and faster tracks, winning times in races without rabbits aren’t much different. Change who gets the gold and times may drop. At the least runners would have to show more courage.
And it would certainly be interesting for the fans.
Jimson Lee says
@Ed – Filbert Bayi’s 3.32.16 1500 meters in 1974 at Christchurch, NZ come to mind.
Bayi opened up a suicidal first lap 54.9 and ran from start to finish in first place, with John Walker closing in the final lap.
In the 1978 CWG, he tried that strategy AGAIN but lost. POP QUIZ – who won that race?
Jimson Lee says
@Ed – how about a pursuit 3000 or 5000m?
At every lap, the LAST PLACE runner gets a DNF, so you will see a mad sprint to the “finish line” on every lap!
For a 5K, or 12 laps, you will need at least 15 runners. By the bell lap, you will have 3 runners left.
This reminds me of Vladimir Kuts style in 1956 – sprint, jog, sprint, jog.
Ed Callahan says
There used to be a race called the “Devil Take The Hindmost Mile”. I never saw one, but I can imagine it would be fun to watch and a thing of horror for the runners.
I started thinking about “Who’s the real winner?” after the women’s 1500 in the Athens Olympics. The British woman who “won” (and celebrated like she’d accomplished something great) was in last place most of the race. Most of the race was a jog because nobody wanted to lead. The Greek woman who did lead most of the race finished last. That’s just wrong. It doesn’t show who was the best athlete, it was boring for the fans (except those in the stadium who got their hopes up for awhile), and it was the antithesis of an “Olympian” (majestic, exceptional, extraordinary) performance.
It seems that somebody at the IOC listens to new (not necessarily mine) ideas. Freestyle skiing is a recent and pretty popular addition to the Games. You know anybody I can call?
My initial response to your pop quiz was Steve Ovett, but Wikipedia tells me it was David Moorcroft. Wiki also says that Moorcroft was the last non-African to hold the 5000-meter world record. At 1982’s Bislett Games he ran 13:00.41, which broke the previous record by 5.79 seconds and was done without a rabbit.
A truly Olympian performance.
Jimson Lee says
@Ed – David Moorcroft was underrated during his time, and always overshadowed by the press.