World Championships Wrap-Up How did Moscow do?
by M. Nicole Nazzaro
Gold, silver, or bronze? That’s the question as we examine just how well Moscow did in hosting its first-ever IAAF world track and field championships which concluded on Sunday evening at Luzhniki Stadium. Let’s take a look at the event from a few perspectives: the venue, the experience for the fans, and the experience for the media.
The venue: The site of the 1980 Olympic track and field events overall did a very serviceable job as the host venue for this edition of the IAAF’s premier event. For Russians, this stadium holds happy memories (Russians think about the 1980 Moscow games the way Americans think of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics – as a stunning success). The stadium is dotted with plaques and monuments celebrating key achievements from 1980, and it was surely a treat for local fans to see the stadium attract the largest audience in 33 years for a track and field event over the past week and a half.
The one caveat is simple. The stadium was constructed in the 1950s, and there were moments when it felt a little rough around the edges. The strangest problem from the perspective of a modern-day world championship track event was that the acoustics in the stadium were terribly uneven. Those people sitting in or near the media tribunes simply could not hear the stadium announcers at all. I sat for a while in a fan section near the high jump and pole vault area, and the acoustics there were perfect. It’s a shame the organizers couldn’t figure out a way to improve the public address system so that everyone could hear it.
The fan experience: You know what? By the end of the nine days, we have to admit that we in the media may have pre-judged the apparent lack of enthusiasm for track among Russian fans a bit prematurely. As the competition progressed, the excitement grew as well. The seats got fuller and fuller day after day. The last weekend felt entirely like a world-championship event, as did the Tuesday evening session where Yelena Isinbaeva won her third world gold medal after no-heighting in the 2009 final in Berlin and coming in 6th in Daegu two years ago.
There was also a great fan-centric experience to be had outside the stadium, as an area called “Market Street” in English was set up for interviews with top athletes past and present; performances by folk dancers and a nifty team of Russian world champions in a sport called “freestyle ball” (think of a cross between hackysack and soccer with just the fancy foot moves); exhibits to demonstrate the height of the world-record high jump and the speed sprinters use to leave the blocks; and of course, sponsor tents with new cars and new sports gear for sale. Music, smiles, good times – it felt just like any other world-level sports event, and it was clear that everyone was having a great time.
Here’s our caveat: If you’re not a Russian speaker, the metro system in Moscow might have confounded you this week. The stadium is very conveniently situated just a bit south of the center of the city, a short walk from the Sportivnaya metro station – but the signage is only in Russian. Someone needs to hand Vladimir Putin (who presided over the opening ceremony here; wish I could have heard his remarks but for that wonky public-address system) a note: if you want to be an international capital city, you have to translate your signage. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, got that memo already – they’re miles (kilometers?) ahead of Moscow on this point.
The media experience: Relevant to you, the track fan, only because a happy press corps is a press corps that can get their interviews done quickly, file their stories on deadline, and be well-fed and well-rested over the course of a nine-day event where workdays can easily stretch to 16 hours or more. This is where Moscow did merely okay. The main media hotel was a full 45-minute subway or bus ride from the stadium – which is a lot when your workday ends at midnight. The main media center was beautiful but hardly used, because it was just too far away from the media tribune section of the stadium on the Luzhniki stadium grounds. Food was overpriced (I brought in my own open-faced salami and salmon sandwiches that I bought in the grocery stores near my hotel for less than half of what they were charging the media at the stadium). The “sub media center,” the small work area underneath the stadium seats, was just too small for all of us, so we had to do a lot of our work in the noisy stands during the competition.
The good news: the organizing committee made the visa process very simple and provided visas to us at no cost (unheard-of for Westerners going to Russia). The airport greeters were lovely and we had good transportation options to and from the three airports that service the metropolitan Moscow area. Wireless access in the stadium was spotty, but the organizing committee provided Ethernet cables at every workstation, which worked perfectly every time.
When it comes to recent world championships venues, there’s no question Russia is the one that most accurately still fits into the category of “developing country.” So I’m reluctant to be too critical of the experience here, even though my own experience was probably smoother than for non-Russian speakers. Overall, it was lovely to see track and field gain a new audience in a country that has long been mysterious to the West.
Usain Bolt was quoted in the New York Times Sunday night as ranking this event a 7 out of 10. We’ll give it a gold medal but with a caveat: no world or championship records were set this time around. It was just a nice event that went off smoothly in a place where all kinds of things could have gone wrong. And that’s enough for us to call this one a solid success.