Seb Coe on Sydney & Athing, the Diamond League, & a New Global Event in 2026
By Jonathan Gault
December 16, 2022
Which track & field athlete featured in the most articles in 2022?
A clue: it was a male field eventer.
Another clue: he won a silver medal at this year’s World Championships.
If you said Neeraj Chopra, congratulations. According to German media firm Unicepta, the javelin thrower was the subject of 812 articles this year, ahead of a trio of Jamaican sprinters, Elaine Thompson-Herah (751), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (698), and Shericka Jackson (679). It’s not hard to figure out why: Chopra, who last year became the first Indian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in any sport since 2008, is one of the best athletes in a nation of 1.3 billion people.
The #5 athlete on the list, with 574 articles: Usain Bolt. What’s interesting is that Bolt was not higher. According to World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who shared the Unicepta data on a call with track & field writers on Thursday, this was the first time in many years Bolt had not topped the list. Reminder: Bolt retired in 2017.
“The question that you were asking yourselves and you were certainly asking me on occasion in the last few years is, what are we all going to do when Usain Bolt retires?” Coe said. “Well actually the focus is now moving onto a cohort of athletes that are really getting a lot of support, a lot of coverage.”
Track & field has never had much of a problem producing supremely talented athletes. Between Mondo Duplantis, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, and Athing Mu — all of whom are 23 or younger — the sport already has a core of stars to build around in the 2020s. The issue in recent years has been getting those stars to break into the worldwide sporting consciousness. Duplantis and Ingebrigtsen are adored in their Scandinavian home nations but have yet to transcend the track bubble like Bolt. Meanwhile McLaughlin-Levrone admits she is “on the bottom of the pile” when it comes to stars in her training base of Los Angeles.
“No one is looking at me, which is honestly how I like it,” McLaughlin-Levrone told World Athletics earlier this month.
That’s not an entirely bad thing. It’s surely better, from a mental health perspective, for McLaughlin-Levrone to be able to live her everyday life outside of the spotlight. But it’s not a great sign for the health of the sport when the reigning World Athlete of the Year, coming off a season in which she produced one of the greatest performances in track & field history, can stay largely unrecognized in the second-most populous city in America.
“I would love to see Sydney and Mu competing as often as they can in the Diamond League”
This is not a new issue. Coe has, on a few occasions, told the story of flying into LA after last year’s Olympics in Tokyo. A number of medal-winning American athletes were on that flight, and Coe was stunned by the lack of reception for them. Coe’s ambitious goal is for track & field to become one of the five most popular sports in America by the time of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. And in that respect, it wouldn’t hurt to see some of America’s top stars competing more on the circuit.
With Allyson Felix‘s retirement, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu are the shining stars of American track & field. They have a lot in common. Both are New Jersey natives. Both now train in LA under Bobby Kersee. Both have been in the spotlight since their teenage years, and while they’ve been professionals for just five full years combined, the two have already exceeded the sky-high expectations that accompanied them as high schoolers. Both own Olympic titles and American records in their specialty events, and they were the only two US women to win individual gold medals on the track at this summer’s World Championships in Eugene.
And one more thing: neither has shown much interest in racing in track & field’s top professional series, the Diamond League. Mu has run just two Diamond Leagues in her career: last year’s Pre Classic (a contractual obligation for Nike athletes) and this year’s Golden Gala in Rome. McLaughlin-Levrone hasn’t run on the DL circuit since 2019. After this year’s Worlds wrapped on July 24, McLaughlin ran just one meet the rest of the year, the Gyulai Memorial in Hungary on August 8. Mu didn’t race at all after Worlds.
I put it to Coe: would he like to see McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu race more Diamond Leagues?
“I am a libertarian at heart,” Coe said. “I don’t try to prescribe where all our athletes compete. That has to be, ultimately, their judgment…There are lots of reasons why athletes choose [their specific schedules]. It may be coaching decisions, it may be commercial. It’s a multifaceted landscape.
“…I was a competing athlete. I know what the challenges are. What are the incentives? Well some of them are going to be creating the events in the right moment in the pathway to championships…For the top athletes, it’s possibly less about competition, it’s less about prize money and financial incentive than it is about how does it fit in with the training program.”
Coe’s not wrong. Athletes like McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu (and their coaches) don’t want to enter major championships over-raced, and it’s hard to argue with the results they’ve produced on the sport’s biggest stages over the past two years.
It’s also hard to criticize Mu at all for her pre-Worlds racing schedule in 2022. She went head-to-head against Ajee’ Wilson at the Penn Relays, ran a 400 on ESPN2 at the Puerto Rico Athletics Classic, ran the 800 at a Diamond League in Rome, and was supposed to run the Pre Classic but scratched due to COVID. That’s exactly what fans of the sport want to see.
But after Worlds, which Mu described as a tough race for her — “I just physically wasn’t where I would like to be, I just didn’t feel my best,” she said at the time — Mu completely disappeared. McLaughlin-Levrone ran once, and not at all in the DL. Their absence from the circuit in the late summer could have been for many reasons, but with Worlds behind them, fitting meets around their training program was not one of them.
Next year’s World Championship standards are the tightest yet, meaning there will be more importance than ever placed on an athlete’s world ranking. But the very best still don’t need to worry about their ranking; they’re good enough to hit the standards or, in the case of McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu, they have byes into Worlds as the defending champions. So how do you get those athletes to run on the DL circuit? That’s something Coe and the Diamond League are still working on.
“I would of course love to see Sydney and Mu and the athletes you referred to competing as often as they can in the Diamond League stage,” Coe said. “I know Diamond League meet directors, we did actually discuss that at the general assembly in Rome a few days ago, which I chaired.”
Coe says there will be a new global event in 2026
From 2021-2029, there will be either a World Championships or Olympics every year except 2026. But Coe says World Athletics is planning on creating a new global event to be held that year — not a World Championships, but some sort of in-stadium track event. He declined to share many details beyond that, but suggested it will offer significant prize money.
“I didn’t want the athletes to slide off the radar screen for one year in every four,” Coe said. “I wanted them to have the opportunity to really showcase. We’re still working on the format, much to be discussed, much to be agreed upon. But it is again totemic of the direction we want to take the sport, which is building profile for the athletes, providing competition opportunities, and unashamedly, putting more money in their pockets. So that will be a focus of the new format, particularly around prize money.”
Expect Coe to run for a third term as World Athletics president next year
Coe was elected World Athletics president in 2015, earning 115 votes from WA member federations to 92 for pole vault legend Sergey Bubka. He was re-elected unopposed in 2019 and is now in the final year of his second term, with another election to take place at next year’s World Championships in Budapest. Coe was asked whether he intended to seek a third term, and while he did not specifically say yes, he strongly suggested that he will stand for re-election once again.
“I enjoy my job,” Coe said. “Why wouldn’t I? I joined an athletics club at the age of 11, I’m now in a position to help shape [the sport] many years after my entrance to Hallamshire Harriers. It’s a sport I love and it’s a sport that’s been very kind to me.”
Coe took over the job at a low point for the sport in 2015, with track & field in the midst of a bribery and doping scandal involving the Russian federation and Coe’s predecessor as World Athletics president, the late Lamine Diack. Coe says it took a while to emerge from that chaos but says now he has never been more optimistic about the future of the sport.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Coe. “We’re in good shape. Probably better shape than I thought we’d be in a few weeks into the role. We went through the hard yards – actually the hard years where we redesigned the sport.
“…I’m keen to continue the work I’m doing, but ultimately that is a matter for my colleagues and also a matter, for, ultimately the [World Athletics] Congress.”