IAAF World Championships
Is Mo Farah the GOAT?
I wish more sites like The Ringer would cover Track and Field. They have the experience to do more than one-off coverage of only the largest events, and not force evaluation of track’s performers and performances into models developed for mainstream sports. Here, Associate Editor Zach Kram proposes the “but how many world records does Farah have?” argument.
Distance running, as a distinct sport, demands distinct criteria. One-time Canadian 1500 meter phenom and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell offers more for consideration. He proposes a nuanced counterpoint to WIRED editor and co-conversationalist Nicholas Thompson’s assertion that Farah’s greatness stems from an unblemished record:
Never lost? Never lost in championship 5K and 10K races. But he’s lost plenty of times outside those distances, and on the roads. Geoffrey Kamworor beat him last year in the half-marathon in Wales, and both Matt Centrowitz and Asbel Kiprop have beaten him over 1,500 meters. But in all three of those losses, he was second. And that’s my point: Even in races well outside his comfort zone, he’s still in the money.
Thompson later bemoans having to pay $69 to watch last week’s IAAF World Championships (I assume for the NBC Sports Gold offering; to view the replay costs the same). Writing for the NYTimes running newsletter, freelancer and author Jen A. Miller more broadly praises the recently inked eight year USATF/NBC broadcast contract:
Lucky for us, there are more opportunities to watch races live now. In December, NBC Sports and USA Track & Field signed an eight-year partnership to make major USATF races, and more events from the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games themselves, available on broadcast TV and streaming online.
To clarify, NBC contracts with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF, e.g. World Championships, Diamond League) and USATF (e.g. US Olympic Trials, Penn Relays) separately. Miller celebrates something technically different from what Thompson laments. Tomato. Tomato.
More opportunities to watch live track and field helps the sport; gating these opportunities with a $69 purchase or cable television subscription feels like a 1993 solution.
8 more years?!
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The Stravatization of endurance sports
Where are the runners going?
Road race finishes in the United States declined each of the past three years. From runningusa.org:
As the industry continues to look for ways to keep runners racing and their events growing, the decline is also being seen as a check on unhealthy races, seeing those with unsustainable structures leave the marketplace, allowing sound events to strengthen their foothold.
Some “unhealthy” races are, in fact, bad: inexperienced racer notices popularity of neighboring races and decides to organize one of her own; any number of things that could go wrong go wrong; word spreads; race dies.
Why wouldn’t the shuttered race participants find another race?
Attila the SwimRun
What I suspect has more to do with participant decline relates to the excerpt’s suspicious first clause: runners, ‘endurance athletes’ may more appropriately describe them, increasingly choose to race unorthodox events, i.e. marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k races bore them.
360 people competed in the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun August 13. Participants swim to an island, run across it, swim to the next island, run across it… It’s the only SwimRun in the United States, a fleeting distinction the sport’s growing popularity will quickly change.
Ötillö (pronounced ah ‘till ah) is Swedish for ‘island-to-island.’ You can read its origin story in this 2013 Outside Magazine piece. What started as a 2006 bar bet has grown into a global series of races.
It’s more than ötillö capturing runners’ interests. So many endurance races exist that event listing site Let’s Do This just this past week received £1 million ($1.3 million) in venture funding. From the Business Insider piece:
CEO Browne, 25, says: “There are now about 1.5 million endurance races globally that exist in a massively disorganised and fragmented mess. Let’s Do This is here to organise all these events into one comparison site and allow, through extensive personalisation, athletes to find their perfect race.” Browne told Business Insider that the company already has 35,000 regularly returning users and is growing at a rate of 150% each month. Let’s Do This currently has 15,000 races on its platform and is adding a further 30,000 this month alone.
Where do you draw the line?
Mo Farah, retired from the track, will follow the traditional arc of a long-distance runner’s career to marathon road racing. Usain Bolt retired after the World Championships. Two track and field icons we may never see the likes of again in personality nor performance, both of which attract fans.
A combination of technology and a culture of customization spurs the modern endurance athlete to test the boundaries of what and where it means to race. Track and field’s start and finish lines aren’t just being blurred, we’re drawing them any where.
Are the USATF and IAAF paying attention? The hearts and minds of the sport’s next generation will not be won through cable television.