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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Diamond League Changes Everything?

Today the IAAF released its Diamond League calendar for 2010.

The Diamond League format changes a lot of things, and almost all for the better. One of the big problems in getting the top athletes to compete against each other instead of ducking for the big money is that the most popular events are held far too often. Example: all 24 of the biggest invitationals have held or will hold the men's 100 meters. By contrast, next year's Diamond League will have the event maybe ten times in its fourteen meets.

When there are dozens of opportunities to compete, the talent pool spreads out and lining up deep races just doesn't happen very often. This isn't as big a problem in, say, the high hurdles, since hurdlers specialize in a single event. But sprinters generally run both the 100 and the 200, and between the two they're probably held 75 times on the World Athletics Tour. No wonder sprinters can duck each other. It's the exact same problem as when Seb Coe and Steve Ovett avoided each other: popular distances held all the time, and each ran multiple distances.

So finally the IAAF has figured out a way to control the problem: limit competitive opportunities in some events. At the same time, they've radically upped the profile of events that were virtually ignored in the Golden League setup by mandating they be held a minimum of eight times in those fourteen meets.

This is old news, though. What was really a big deal with today's announcement was the timing of the two US meets, the Reebok Grand Prix in New York and the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Respectively, they will be on June 19th and July 3rd, a radical departure from their traditional dates.

These two meets will bookend the USATF championships (June 23-26). There will be major international competition in the USA in the summer, after the national championships, for the first time in several generations.

Even more commonsense is the fact that these meet won't be swallowed up in the domestic college and high school seasons, when the natural fan base (coaches and athletes) are busy with other things. As much as I love the pros, I'll be at the state meet the first Saturday in June until I die (and I may require my casket to be brought down every year too). And where the major sports media is concerned, these meets are no longer up against the NBA and NHL playoffs--the only competition will be baseball and golf, which many will quite happily abandon in favor of something new.

Also, these meets are just the fifth and sixth in the Diamond League series. Unlike the Golden League, where competing in all the meets was mandatory if you wanted the payoff, it's not that way in the DL. So most domestic athletes will likely stay in home for just about the whole time until USATF/Pre...which should help out meets like Toronto's new Festival of Excellence and anything else someone decides to dream up.

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