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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Superfan Daily: Olympic Sprint Brouhaha

The big overnight news is in relation to just-released London Olympic scheduling and ticket prices.  In the track and field world, it's not the prices (up to $1168 for prime seats for the sessions which includes the men's 100 meters final).  Rather, it's the scheduling. From Britain's Daily Mail:
Spectators at London 2012 will be left short-changed by a revolutionary rule that sees Usain Bolt and the world’s other leading sprinters handed a bye into the second round of the 100 metres for the first time in Olympic history.
The household names will miss what would have been the first round — but is being rebranded the ‘classification’ stage — before competing in the old second round, which will now be called the first round.
And in what is apparently news to everyone, this will also be done at the Worlds in South Korea this year.

Never at a loss for words or short on an opinion, Ato Boldon thinks it's a terrible idea. He doesn't think it's good for the Olympics or for track and field.

He wonders why anyone would want less exposure for track's biggest stars instead of more. He challenged anyone to "name the other sport that auto-advances its biggest names to the 2nd round....Tennis? Soccer? NBA? Swimming? Golf? Baseball? Gymnastics?"

I can do that with ease: NCAA basketball and the NFL. But that doesn't mean I think it's a good idea here, or that it's going to be executed in a way that could be good for everyone.

Let me start by saying that I can see why the IAAF bigwigs wanted to do this. Top spinters tend to be worn down after a Worlds or Olympics and skip a lot of post-championship invitational meets, just at the point when the sport can most benefit from them. So the idea may be to save a bit of wear and tear.

The other thing that just occurred to me is the timing of this new bye round. It is being put into place at the first championships after the launch of the Diamond League. It would not surprise me at all if a small number of agents, possibly even just one, would only agree to have their sprinter(s) sign on to the DL's summer-long series contract if the IAAF gave them the championship bye in return. They'd have the pull to make it happen, as the Diamond League (and the IAAF by proxy) needs the big sprint stars much more than the stars need the DL.

The concerns of the British press mainly center on the people in attendance at the stadium and their being shortchanged of getting to see the best sprinters run. But in the big picture, the needs of 80,000 individuals are more or less meaningless.

Global TV is what really matters. And I wonder when the last time you made a special point to see the first round of the 100 on TV. I don't miss anything, and for me I think it was 1996. I don't think anyone will feel shortchanged there either.

Whatever the real reasons behind this move are, I don't like it for the same reasons Boldon doesn't like it. I don't like it just on principle. I don't think it sets a good precedent, and I don't think winning an Olympic gold medal should be made easier.

I also think the IAAF will screw up how to award the byes. They will almost assuredly hand them out to the top eight by seed time. I'd rather see them hand out the byes to the top eight in the Diamond League standings going into the Olympics.

Why? For one, I think competition rather than a stopwatch is the essence of sport. Who actually wins a race should be what matters the most. But also, I think the IAAF has the means to encourage the best sprinters to run on the biggest non-Olympic stage. It shouldn't waste that opportunity.

News Links
Runner's World's Racing News has all the headlines.

The USTFCCCA rounds up the weekend college action.

Top Aussie discus thrower Dani Samuels will face off against top American Becky Breisch at the Sydney Track Classic in March.

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