WTW: My Simple Solution To Save The Sport of Track & Field

Here's a simple way to get track & field fans to pay attention to 14 meets a year instead of just one

Each week, I normally write a column where I put the last week’s worth of action in context. This week I’m not doing that. Last week there was really just one event of consequence — the first edition of the rebranded World Athletics Road Running Championships — and you can read our coverage of that here.

The event went off without a hitch and drew nice local crowd support in Riga, Latvia. And while there were some interesting races, I’m not really sure if I’m a fan of the new event.

Track & field doesn’t need more events — it needs more events that are compelling and truly matter. And I’m sorry, a race that bills itself as a world championship but only offers $10,000 for first place isn’t truly compelling. Plus anointing six world champions on a single day dilutes the importance of the accomplishment. Each world champion deserves more attention, focus, hype, and analysis than that. As a fan, I’d much rather see one truly compelling event than six so-so ones.

Moreover, the timing of the event made no sense. Do we really need to be crowning a road mile and road 5k champion a month after we crowned similar champions on the track? No, we do not. If anything, it just confuses the fans and dilutes the importance of other events. Which is supposed to be more important — the Wanda Diamond League final or this?

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But it’s easy to be a critic without offering solutions. So I’m going to offer solutions. Earlier this year, on our Track Talk podcast, I had an epiphany as to how Seb Coe and World Athletics can easily get track & field fans to pay attention to the sport for more than one week a year. A way for there to be meets that truly matter spread over six months, April to September, just like most other professional sports. The Road Running Championships reminded me that I haven’t shared the idea in print, so here we go.

Let me start with a question. When is track & field popular?

That’s easy — during the Olympics and outdoor World Championships.

Why? Because those meets provide high drama and matter a lot. The rest of the season is largely a preseason competition — the results don’t matter.

What track & field fans, coaches, athletes, and administrators have failed to do is figure out a way to have more meets that truly matter and to get fans to pay attention to athletics more than once a year when the Worlds/Olympics come around.

I’ve come up with the perfect, simple solution. In 2026 — that’s the next time there isn’t a 9-10 day World Championship or Olympic Games — World Athletics should still have a World Championship, but they should spread it out over the course of the 14 regular-season Diamond League events. At each of the 14 meets, you’d crown a world champion in three events (there are 21 events for each gender, 100 through 10k, counting field events and the multis) and you would tailor the events to the local crowd.

For example, in the high jump Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar is a big star as is Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy so it would make sense to hold the men’s World Championship in the high jump in either Doha or Rome. China has the 2022 world champion in the men’s long jump (Wang Jianan) and the 2021 Olympic champ in the women’s javelin (Liu Shiying) and they’re pretty good at the men’s 4 x 100, so those events might work there. Oslo could crown the men’s 5,000 world champ one cycle (Jakob Ingebrigtsen) and 400 hurdles the next (Karsten Warholm).

Under my system, you would also run the preliminary rounds at Diamond Leagues — or even World Athletics Tour events if you want even more than 14 events that matter during the course of the year.

One other thing that would be great about spreading the World Championships out over the season is that doubles and triples by star athletes would be much easier to do. It wouldn’t be much of an issue if a great like Ingebrigtsen, Gudaf Tsegay, or Sifan Hassan wanted to triple. Bobby Kersee would have no excuses for Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone not running the 400 hurdles and 400. Moreover, you’d probably want to purposely spread things out to entice the stars to be in shape from the start of the season to the end (so spread out the 1500, 5,000, and 10,000 and the 100, 200, and 4 x 100).

This format would instantly give track & field fans at least 14 meets that mattered instead of one. It also would give a reason for star athletes to be in shape and racing at the beginning and end of the season. And it would be easy for fans and commentators to know what to focus on at each meet — the World Championshp events.

The details would obviously still need to be worked out, but the 2026 schedule might look like this.

I much prefer this idea to what World Athletics appears to be planning for 2026, which is a super high-end 2-3 day meet. That’s the opposite of what track & field needs as all other meets will pale in comparison just like they do now. We need a way to get track fans to pay attention from the start of the season to the end and my proposal does just that.

If it proves to be a success, you could break out the Worlds over the DL season in the odd years (2027, 2029, etc) and then host a “regular” Worlds once every four years — 2030, 2034, etc.

What do you think of my idea? Do you have a better idea or a better way to organize the schedule? Email me or post it on our world-famoous messageboard: My simple solution to save the sport of track & field: Crown 3 world champions at each Diamond League event


PS. If you want to know my specific thoughts about the World Road Running Championshps, here they are.

1) The date must be changed. There’s no need to crown a road mile and road 5k champion a month after we crowned similar champions on the track. If the event is to stay, I’d look into moving the date. The World Half used to be held in March, but we already have two great events that are traditionally held in March — World Indoors and World XC. And if I’m being honest, I’d much rather tons of resources be put into those events than for a new half-baked event to be added to the calendar at the same time that just confuses fans.

It also makes no sense for the Road Running Champs to be an annual event while World XC/World Indoors is biennial. If anything, that should be reversed. With World XC and World Indoors going to even years (2024/2026/2028), I’d hold this event biennially in March in odd years.

The way the current calendar is set up does not make sense. Starting next year, you’ll have World XC and World Indoors at the end of the winter during even years but nothing on the calendar at that time in odd years (there will be a World Indoors in 2025 but that’s a one-time thing — it’s the rescheduled 2020 World Indoors that was supposed to be in China). If you are only going to hold the events every other year, shouldn’t you alternate them so fans know “Okay, every March, I’m all-in on Word XC/World Indoors?”

But I’ve heard a rumor that World XC will eventually be moving to a December date. If that’s the case and running wants to go with the “Four Majors” model, you could have World Indoors in February/March, the World Road Running Champs in May, Outdoor Worlds/Olympics in August, and World XC in December.

2) Prize money must be increased by a lot. I’m sorry, you can’t call sometihng a World Championship and then hand out $10,000 for first place — which was the purse for the miles and 5ks. That’s ridiculous. If this meet is to truly matter, the top people must show up, and they probably are only going to show up if there is a ton of money on the line (which I don’t think exists).

3) You shouldn’t hold six races on the same day. By holding six world championship races on a single day, you are diluting the importance of what a world title means. Fans and the press can’t get properly excited for six races on one day. And afterwards, is focus on the best race, worst race, etc? At a maximum, I’d run two races per day.

That’s why I liked having a singular race like the World Half. It was very clear what was the focus. Heck, the more I think about it, the more I’m for just going all-in on a singular great event. I’d rather World XC go to once every four years but make it a BIG deal with like a $500k first prize and big prize money all the way down. If you are going for World Indoors in the even years, then do World XC in the odd years. You could still hold World XC every two years, but make it single-gender to save on prize money — so have a men’s World XC in 2027 and 2031 and a women’s World XC in 2029 and 2033.

How do you fund the prize purse? I don’t know. Valencia wants to be the “Ciudad de Running.” Hold it there every four years and hope their billionaire benefactor Juan Roig will drop a few million every few years.

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