Distance Runners and Fans Around the Globe React Negatively to Diamond League Cutting the 5,000

By LetsRun.com
March 14, 2019

On Monday, the IAAF announced that it will have a new streamlined version of the Diamond League next year, going from 32 events to 24, shortening its broadcast from 2 hours to 1.5 hours, and going from 14 meetings to 12 meetings plus a final.

While the IAAF did not announce which four men’s and women’s events it will completely drop from the Diamond League, it did announce that it will not have any event over 3,000m in the Diamond League.

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A subset of its fanbase, distance running fans, did not take the change positively on social media. The 5k is an event they all can relate to.

Many of the sport’s greatest stars over the years, from Emil Zátopek to Lasse Virén, Haile Gebrselassie, Tirunesh DibabaHicham El Guerrouj, and Mo Farah, have been fantastic 5,000 runners. Is removing 6 minutes of running from the program (a time when casual fans can get up, go the restroom, get a beer) worth alienating a core segment of your viewing audience (distance runners)?

Why contest one event — the flat 3,000 — at the Diamond League that is not a World Championship event? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Not many have people have realized the Diamond League may not even have a 3,000 next year. As we discussed at length on our podcast this week, the 3,000 could be dropped entirely from the program. The press release just says the longest event will be 3,000m. It seems probable the IAAF drops entirely the 3,000 (or the 3,000 steeple from the Diamond League) as distance fans themselves are not big fans of outdoor 3,000s.

We’ve got some athlete and fan reactions below (if you have reactions of other people for or against this move, we’d like to see them. Feel free to email us: letsrun@letsrun.com).

Olympic 5,000 silver medallist Paul Chelimo (who won a gold at the Continental Cup at 3,000 last year) isn’t a fan of the move and got the quote of the day on LetsRun.com.

Liz McColgan, former world 10,000m champ and an indoor silver medallist at 3,000m:

McColgan’s daughter Eilish:

American 5,000/10,000 star Molly Huddle:

Mike McManus, the HOKA ONE ONE Senior Sports Marketing Manager, texted us his thoughts:

“While I understand the continued challenge to evolve track & field to be relevant and vibrant to today’s ‘fan’, it seems we are losing a sense of history along the way. No more Dream Mile attempts in Oslo. No more Distance carnival extravaganzas in Zurich, or Brussels. The Diamond league means well, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve been reduced to a mini version (far less exciting) of the real deal. Not a good move in my book.”

When we wrote back asking Mike what he meant back about the Dream Mile — since it still exists — he texted more:

“Sure, the Dream mile is still hanging on, but not what it was ‘back in the day’…the older and more intimate facility in Oslo definitely made a difference, as well.

“My point is that we use to be able to point towards key annual meets and get excited about individual matchups and world records attempts. I was fortunate to follow the European track schedule in 1997 ( just after the Athens world champs). No less than 5 distance world records were produced in just over 2 weeks. The steeple, 800 and 5k in Zurich. The steeple and 800 again in Cologne and the 5k and 10k in Brussels. Haile, Komen, Kipketer, etc. The best athletes lined up against each other and against the clock that summer. What does it take to get back to that situation?”

(he continued in another text)

Believe it or not, there was a huge crowd for a 10,000m record attempt

“…just thinking about the European track tour in 1997. I stood in line a couple hours before the ‘same day’ seats were available for Weltklasse Zurich, as the meet was sold out well in advance. Three of the last four races were world records. Haile, Komen and Tergat closed the evening with the 5000WR…Haile kicking past Komen with 250m and finishing one of the most incredible distance meets.
The meet in Monaco offered a 3k…I believe this was Bob Kennedy’s PB, finishing 3rd, or 4th and taking a victory lap with the others…

“I paid roughly $50 bucks for a ticket to the sold out Van Damme meet in Brussels. Haile attempted to break Komen’s 3k record, but fell short (7:25 I want to say). Haile then watched helplessly, as Komen broke Haile’s short lived 5k record and Tergat concluding the evening, also breaking the 10k record (also from Haile). A sold out crowd of roughly 50,000 going crazy for Tergat…I recall he lapped Khalid Skah, the 1992 10k Olympic Champion towards the end and still seeing Skah break 28 minutes! Finally, we went to the now defunct Cologne meet and saw Kipketer break his own 800m WR and Barmasai run 7:55 for a new steeple WR. What a series of meets!”

We at LetsRun.com couldn’t believe a 10,000m (which is seldom held at DL meets) had a lot of fans cheering Tergat on, but the video confirms there were a ton of fans cheering for Tergat.

Agent Davor Savija:

Running Author Adharanand Finn:

As some noted, the biggest people to suffer from this change may be African distance runners:

The criticism on the exclusion of athletes from Africa has grown as the week went on:

Haile Gebrselassie, one of the greatest distance runners ever, spoke out, telling Reuters, “It is a sad decision that will disproportionately affect Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as East Africa as a whole. Some Asian countries have also been making strides in middle- and long-distance. At a time when the (governing) body needed to exert its maximum effort to boost athletics worldwide, it has taken a decision that is tragic and unfair. Its (Diamond League) prestige will also be affected. Middle- and long-distance competitions were among the main draws at the time myself, Kenenisa and others competed. It will deprive fans of the chance to watch some of the world’s best athletes.”

New York City Marathon champ and World Cross Country champ Gebre Gebremariam said, “First it was the 10,000m that was pushed off from the global stage, then the world cross country championship started to be staged biannually, changing from its original annual format, now it’s the 5000m which is barred from the sphere. One does not necessarily need to be an expert, to guess where this is heading towards; it is the World Championship and the Olympic Games, that we are going to hear the ban of these disciplines next,”

And there were distance running fans across the globe perplexed by the move:

James Howe, the head of Corporate Communications for BUPA Australia:

Meanwhile the same day the Diamond League announced it was cancelling the 5,000, it was running a poll about whether a 5,000-meter race was the best race in the Diamond League in 2011:

And many have pointed out one of the best races in the entire Diamond League was a 5,000 last year:

But distance fans weren’t the only ones perplexed by what the IAAF was doing. Noah Lyles, one of the top sprinters in the world, tweeted the following.

Kiwi 1,500m star Nick Willis deserves the most credit for seeing this coming over a year ago:

Not everyone is against the move, however. Lauren Fleshman, the American who actually won a Diamond League 5000 in 2011 (even if it was in just 15:00), had a long Twitter thread explaining her thoughts.

Oregonian track and field writer Ken Goe had similar thoughts, writing, “I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. I enjoy watching distance races, but they aren’t for everybody. It takes patience, concentration and some background knowledge to have a complete understanding of what you’re watching. Runners circling a 400-meter track over and over and over again doesn’t translate particularly well to television, especially when there are other events taking place on the infield.”

The LetsRun.com response would be that a full 5,000 is almost never shown uninterrupted on TV. The meets can talk about field events at this time, go to commercial for a few minutes, utilize split screen technology (almost never done), let fans buy beer, etc. The presentation of meets (starting the broadcast nearly universally with the 400m hurdlers on the track with no intro is not good TV) and irregular schedule of them is much more of a problem than one distance race being on the program. Universally deciding one of the favorite events of distance fans and of stars of the sport (Bekele, Gebrselassie, Tergat, Farah) shouldn’t exist in DL is not a good move. There also is nothing wrong with a little variety at meets.  We don’t think the DL is going to propose there are 12 men’s 1,500s in the series next year. If they are trying to standardize things, it seems they likely will have six 1,500s. But instead of having six 1,500s and six 800s, distance fans would much rather have a few 5,000s sprinkled in there. How about two 5,000s — one at the beginning of the season and one at the end? And even one 10,000? And since there are fewer distance races, maybe double the prize money.

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