The Big Wigs Speak: Trust Is the Word of the Day for Sebastian Coe; Ashton Eaton Explains Why He Prefers Indoors to Outdoors

March 17, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — The 2016 World Indoor Championships kick of tonight with the pole-vaults and opening ceremonies. The IAAF held its pre-meet press conference for the 2016 World Indoor Championships at a special setup at Pioneer Courthouse Square this afternoon. After days of rain in the buildup to the meet, the sun came out for the arrival of bigwigs such as IAAF president Sebastian Coe, USATF CEO Max Siegel and local organizing committee head Vin Lananna. We’ve got four big takeaways as the U.S. kicks off the first World Indoors on home soil since 1987.

1. The Pioneer Courthouse Square setup is cool

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A mile and a half west of the competition venue (the Oregon Convention Center) and across the Willamette River lies Pioneer Courthouse Square, an outdoor space in downtown Portland that the IAAF has taken over for the week. It’s a cool place. There’s a neat water feature, above which sits an elevated platform where medal ceremonies will be conducted. There’s a faux track, a merchandise shop and a series of brick steps that will double as seating for fans who want to watch the meet on the big screen (all sessions of the meet will be streamed on it). It’s a nice way of bringing Worlds downtown, but it does make it difficult for fans attending the meet to see medal ceremonies as some will overlap with live action.

Given the rain that has pelted the city since we arrived last week, this seemed as if it might have been a bad idea, but the forecast calls for sunny weather and temps in the 60s the next two days. Sunday might be a bit of an issue though — it’s supposed to be rainy with a high of 55 degrees.

Coe delivers his opening remarks in Portland on Thursday afternoon. © Getty Images for IAAF

Coe delivers his opening remarks in Portland on Thursday afternoon. © Getty Images for IAAF

2. IAAF President Sebastian Coe acknowledged that trust is extremely important right now and that the sport must change but was short on specifics

Coe said he feels the sport is strong at the moment, but acknowledged that the sport is in a state of change. Strong is not the word we would have picked to describe track and field right given the fact that one of the biggest countries in the world is currently banned from competing, several powerful track countries (Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya) have been warned by the IAAF to take their anti-doping programs more seriously, and the former head of the IAAF has been arrested in France on corruption charges.

Coe offered little in the way of specific solutions but said his main priority is to reestablish trust across the sport.

“My responsibility is in two key areas really, but it coalesces around the word trust,” Coe said. “We’ve got to make sure that people trust the federations and also that the clean athletes trust the systems that they’re in, wherever they reside, that we create opportunities for them that are fair and protected.”

When asked about the status of Russia’s ban and possible reintegration, Coe had this to say:

“The criteria is clear. It’s not ambiguous. It’s not arcane maritime law. We have asked for five major changes and we will wait for the task force to report back to us in May. Some progress, as the task force told us last week, has been made. They’d like to see more.”

We wanted to ask Coe what those five major changes were, but Coe was being mobbed by reporters as he gave those remarks and we weren’t able to get in a question. It’s great that Coe and the IAAF are demanding change, but if he’s looking to reestablish trust in the sport, it’s vital that he offer transparency regarding those changes.

3. Coe wants more stars to do World Indoors but said that indoors “doesn’t suit all physicalities and all shapes and sizes and stride lengths”

From left to right: Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Gianmarco Tamberi, USATF CEO Max Siegel, IAAF President Sebastian Coe, Ajee Wilson, LOC head Vin Lananna, Kim Collins. © Getty Images for IAAF

From left to right: Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Gianmarco Tamberi, USATF CEO Max Siegel, IAAF President Sebastian Coe, Ajee Wilson, LOC head Vin Lananna, Kim Collins. © Getty Images for IAAF

We did get a chance to ask Coe one question in the press conference (the comments about Russia came during a separate media session in the mixed zone) and wondered if he wanted to see more of the world’s top athletes competing at World Indoors. He said yes, but said that he believes some opt out because they’re not well-suited for the indoor track.

“It’s the dream of any meet director, any championship director to get the best athletes that you can but one thing you must remember about indoor running is that it doesn’t shape all physicalities and all shapes and sizes and stride lengths,” Coe said.

Coe specifically referenced David Rudisha and his long stride as someone who would not adjust well to the shorter indoor track. Overall, however, Coe did not suggest that the IAAF do more to attract top talent to World Indoors.

“The [athletes] are going to do what they think is the right set of building bricks through the championships and indoor athletics don’t suit everybody…Ultimately we are there to give the athletes opportunities but the athletes have to make judgments about their own programs.”

4. Vin Lananna and Sebastian Coe both view World Indoors as new start for track and field in the United States

Coe admitted that track and field isn’t hugely popular in the U.S. but hopes this week’s meet will change that:

“The United States, given its great economic power, is still a country where the general perception of track and field is low. It is great that that regeneration should be taking place here in the state of Oregon and in this city of Portland. I genuinely believe this will be the re-awakening of track and field in this country. The World Indoor Athletics Championships, the World Junior Championships two years ago, and of course segwaying nicely into the World Outdoor Championships in Eugene in 2021.”

Lananna, in his opening remarks, echoed Coe’s comments and said that the local organizing committee is specifically targeting the youth community and hoping that they can grow the sport by connecting them with the planet’s top athletes. Several groups of youth athletes will have the chance to race on the track this weekend between sessions of World Indoors.

“We do plan to make this be the new world for track and field,” Lananna said.

© Getty Images for IAAF

© Getty Images for IAAF

5. Ashton Eaton prefers indoor track to outdoor track

Eaton, the world record holder and reigning world champ in both the indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon, is a master of all environments, but said that he prefers indoors to outdoors.

“From my very first indoor competition, I’ve kind of liked indoor a little bit more than outdoor. That’s for multiple reasons…Indoor is a lot easier. It’s seven events, heptathlon, no 400 meters, no 1500. I have energy for days in this event. And It’s more built for my body type, speed and power.

Eaton also said he loves the intimate nature of indoor track, and reflected on running a 4×400 relay during his first indoor meet and the fans were so close to him on the inside of the track that he could almost slap their hands as he ran by. He also noted that the proximity will allow him to be close to his wife, pentathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, during the competition on Friday as he will be long jumping at the exact same time as she will be high jumping.

Video Clips From Press Conference

Seb Coe Talks About Status Of Russian Doping Scandal

40-Year-Old Kim Collins Says He’ll Quit When The Young Guys Start Beating Him

Seb Coe On What Needs To Be Done To Get More Top Athletes To Do World Indoors

Ajee Wilson Talks About The Pressure At A World Championships

Kim Collins On What He Likes About Racing Indoors

Brianne Theisen-Eaton On Why She Likes Indoor

More Coe On Doping

*All of the World Indoor Coverage Can Be Found Here
*On the go? Listen to the World Indoor Preview Podcast
*Want to be entertained? Play in the Running Warehouse World Indoor Fantasy Track Contest