Rating the 14th Edition of the World Championships of Track & Field on a Scale of 1 to 10
by ELLIOTT DENMAN
MOSCOW – Asked to rate the 14th edition of the World Championships of Track and Field, on a scale of 1 to 10, Usain Bolt gave it a 7.
Wasn’t really warm and fuzzy, as his three previous Worlds – Osaka in 2007, Berlin in 2009, Daegu in 2011, he said.
The fans didn’t really come out in the profusion the Lightning Bolt expected, notably in the early days of the goings-on, and pointedly on the day of his 100-meter final. He noticed that.
And, once there to see him run, they didn’t really yell and scream in a volume up to his lofty standards. Of course, they did set decibel records just about every time a Team Russia athlete stepped on that blue Luzhniki Stadium track, but that’s always to be expected.
But, know what? I’ve been to all of them, in the last 30 years, and I give the 14th Worlds a loftier number. I’d give this edition an 8 or 9. It will go down as “pretty darn good,” even without a single world record to put in the books, even without a single most-memorable performance you can hang your hat on.
It was steady and solid. Give credit to the organizers. They got an aging stadium spruced up to modern standards. They recruited an army of smiling-faced volunteers. They ran the meet right on the dot. They got it done, with the many successes of the home team surely building morale every step of the way.
The next two editions of the Worlds return to familiar venues, the sites of the last two Olympic Games. It’s the “Birds Nest” of Beijing in 2015 and London Olympic Stadium in 2017. That’s very clever planning by the movers and shakers of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Who cannot remember the notable deeds of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the 2012 London Games? Well, let us hope some things equally notable transpire at these classic sites as they get their chance to host the world, second time around.
Know what also? The format of the World Championships really needs some fixing.
A few points:
(a) Nine days is too long, even for the hardest-core fans, even for those who can clear two weekends, and all the weekdays between, to pay proper attention to all this running-jumping-throwing-walking business going on in their hometowns.
(b) Cut the schedule to six or seven days. Keep two weekends, but skip maybe two or three weekdays.
Give Beijingers a few days off in 2015, Londoners in 2017. And use these days to schedule some alternative activities, clever participation things. You know, in the wars against lethargy and obesity, and all bad things.
The first World Championships, at Helsinki in 1983, scheduled a day off away from the big stadium, and used that day to stage the Helsinki Marathon and Half-Marathon. I remember it well. Got about 30Ks in it before I wrecked my chances of doing a respectable job of coverage when championship action resumed.
(c) Get away from those morning sessions, wherever possible. If morning action opens around 9 am, and runs to about 1 pm; then evening competition resumes about 6 pm and goes to about 10, that won’t leave very much time to attend to real-world things, will it?
(d) Cut down on the number of rounds, as they now do in the men’s 100.
Do some clever seeding, based on past performances, giving the top performers in all events byes straight into the quarter-finals of the sprints and hurdles, and semifinals of virtually everything else. Sure would help the chances of seeing more record-breaking performances, wouldn’t it?
(e) And when we can think of a few more improvements, we’ll get right back to you.
Now, to backtrack:
The Worlds was a superb event, again, staged by Moscow’s and Russia’s hosts in generally impeccable fashion. It cost them zillions of rubles, for sure. They did the job expected of them. Oh, the sound system could have used some improvement and stadium access could have been eased. But, by and large, those hosts did come through for us.
It was the biggest track and field show hereabouts in 33 years; you know, since the 1980 Olympic Games; you know the event that USA skipped at the polite request of its president, whose tactics in combatting the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghanistan were so effective they got him voted out of office months later. Yes, Afghanistan, where it’s now another American president’s job finding a way to get USA out of the place.
Afghanistan, a nation of some 31 million people, was represented by a single athlete at these World Championships at Luzhniki Stadium. His name was Massoud Azizi, a 100-meter sprinter who came to Moscow with a career best time of 11.11 seconds. But he wasn’t up to that kind of form.
Competing in the preliminary round the 100, Mr. Azizi got off to an excellent start. His “reaction time” out of the starting blocks was outstanding, just 0.196 seconds. But it was the remaining 99 meters that proved troublesome. He crossed the finish line in 11.78 seconds. Given the state of everyday existence in Afghanistan, it was a big-big wonder that Mr. Azizi could find a way to run and train for World Championships competition at all.
The four preliminary-round 100-meter sections attracted 30 runners. Afghanistan’s representative ranked 28th.
He did outleg Christopher Lima DaCosta of Sao Tome and Principe (who ran 11.79), and Mccaffrey Gilmete of the Federated States of Micronesia (11.80.) It took a 10.75 to advance to the quarter-finals.
But at least he carried the flag, of a nation beset by the problems it’s endured through the ages, with pride and nobility.
And yes. there was pride and nobility on display everyday, everywhere at Luzhniki Stadium, by the delegates of 206 nations
Its man may have placed 28th of 30th in his preliminary round, but, alphabetically anyway, Afghanistan still ran first here, passing the baton to Anguilla, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola and Antigua and Barbuda,,,all the way to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There was glory in it for all of these representatives, of nations large, small and mini, even those knocked out by decisive margins in the prelims. That, of course, is why they can fly all those flags and rightfully call it the World Championships.
Usain Bolt may be the last word in human footracing, but he’s not the last word in all things. Muscovites deserved far better report cards than Mr. Bolt’s 7. Guess he was too busy speeding around his own world to see the much bigger picture.