ATHLETICS Preview: Good match-ups at IAAF’s outdated Continental Cup

There was enormous excitement in 1977 when the then-International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) created its first “championship”-type competition, the World Cup, held in Dusseldorf (GER).

It paved the way for the first World Championships in 1983, but once that event took place, the World Cup, with its continental teams, the U.S. and a couple of other national teams from Europe, lost relevancy.

It was changed to the Continental Cup in 2008 and held under a new format in 2010, slotted into the “off year” between World Championships. It features four teams – Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe – with two entries each.

Yawn. Even the IAAF knows there’s no place for this meet now, so it introduced several format changes that make the event more “unique” and to be taken less seriously:

∙ Team scoring is 8-6-4-2 in each event, based on the combined point total (from 8 for first down to 1 for eighth) of the two athletes from each continent in each individual event.

∙ There are captains of each continental team and they will choose one “Joker” for each day’s men’s and women’s events. If the team wins the event (by combined points) in which the Joker participates, that team receives double points (+8).

∙ The 3,000 m and 3,000 m Steeple will include the “Devil Take the Hindmost” format. Everyone runs the first 1,400 m, but then the last competitor is eliminated at the end of each lap, leaving only four runners on the final lap. Too bad the IAAF hasn’t imported the Berlino mascot to escort the eliminated runners off the track, maybe driving an electric car to pick them up just past the finish line?

∙ The high jump and pole vault will be held under normal conditions. The rest of the field events will use a “knock-out” format. All eight jumpers receive three jumps and then the only the best from each team will continue to the fourth round. At the end of the fourth round, only the two best marks in that round will continue to round five and the third and fourth placers in round four will be placed 3-4 in the final standings.

The top two competitors in round four will compete in round five and their placement in that round will determine who wins and is second. No round six!

∙ There are 4x100m relays for men and women (mixed nationalities) and a Mixed 4×400 m at the end of the program.

Although this all smacks of having fun and making some money, but there are some tantalizing match-ups in most of the events:

∙ Men’s 100 m: Nice field, with Noah Lyles (USA: 9.88 in 2018) teaming with Yohan Blake (JAM: 9.94) against Bingtian Su (CHN: 9.91) and Akani Simbine (RSA: 9.93).

∙ Men’s 400 m: European champ Matthew Hudson-Smith (GBR: 44.63) takes on Qatar’s Asian Games winner Abdalelah Haroun (QAT: 44.07) and Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe (44.59).

∙ Men’s 800 m: World leader Emmanuel Korir (KEN: 1:42.05) is in, along with Nijel Amos (BOT: 1:42.14) and American Clayton Murphy (1:43.12 this year).

∙ Men’s 1,500 m: World Champion Elijah Manangoi (KEN: 3:29.64) faces Norway’s 17-year-old European champ Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:31.18). American Andrew Hunter (3:35.90) leads the Americas team in this event.

∙ Men’s 3,000 m: American Paul Chelimo is in the field, running against European 5,000 m silver winner Henrik Ingebrigtsen and Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew, no. 9 on the 5,000 world list at 13:01.09.

∙ Men’s 3,000 m Steeple: This will actually be one of the best events in the meet, with Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto (KEN: 8:08.40) running against world leader Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR: 7:58.15) and American Record holder Evan Jager (8:01.02)!

∙ Men’s 110 m Hurdles: The IAAF is allowing Russian Sergey Shubenkov to run here – that’s a mistake; he’s a “neutral” athlete and should not be part of any continental team – but he’s the world leader (12.92) and will face European champ Pascal Martinot-Largarde (FRA: 13.17), Commonwealth champ Ronald Levy (JAM: 13.13) and American Devon Allen (13.23).

∙ Men’s 400 m Hurdles: Another great field, with Qatar’s Asian Games champ Abderrahman Samba (46.98) back on the track against World Champion Karsten Warholm (47.64) and Kyron McMaster (IVB: 47.54) and Turkey’s 2017 Worlds silver winner Yasmani Copello (47.81)!

∙ Men’s Pole Vault: Most of the usual suspects are here: 2012 Olympic champ Renaud Lavillenie (FRA), World Champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S., 2015 World Champion Shawn Barber (CAN) and Russia’s hot Timor Morgunov, who cleared 6.00 (19-8 1/2) for second at the European Championships. Same complaint as for Shubenkov: how can a “neutral” athlete compete for a continental team?

∙ Men’s Triple Jump: Olympic and World Champion Christian Taylor of the U.S. is in – 17.81 m (58-5 1/4) – and no one else is close. With no pressure and a nice payday for a win, could this be the meet where he does something crazy?

∙ Men’s Shot Put: Nos. 1-2-4-5-6 on the world list are in, led by Tom Walsh (NZL: 22.67 m/74-4 1/2), with Ryan Crouser (USA: 22.53 m/73-11), European champ Michal Haratyk (POL: 22.08 m/72-5 1/4), Brazil’s Darlan Romani (21.95 m/72-0 1/4) and Czech Tomas Stanek (21.87 m/71-9). Nice.

∙ Men’s Discus: Top three on the world list are entered, starting with Daniel Stahl (SWE: 69.72 m/228-9), Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres (69.67 m/228-7) and Andrius Gudzius (LTU: 69.59 m/228-3).

∙ Women’s 100 m: Terrific showdown between world leaders Marie-Josee Ta Lou (CIV: 10.85) and Euro champ Dina Asher-Smith (GBR), plus Jenna Prandini of the U.S. (10.96) and Dutch star Dafne Schippers (10.99).

∙ Women’s 200 m: Ta Lou (22.34) and World Champion Schippers (22.14) face the best 200 and 400 m runner on the planet in Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH: 22.06) and Commonwealth Games runner-up Shericka Jackson (JAM: 22.05).

∙ Women’s 400 m: Interesting clash between Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser (49.08) and South African 800 m star Caster Semenya (50.06), plus American Shakima Wimbley (49.52) and Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson (50.31).

∙ Women’s 800 m: The 400 m final is on Saturday and the 800 is on Sunday, so Semenya is in again (1:54.25) and will be chased by familiar faces including Francine Niyonsaba (BDI: 1:55.86), Ajee Wilson of the U.S. (1:56.45) and Jamaica’s Natoya Goule (1:56.15).

∙ Women’s 1,500 m: Shelby Houlihan of the U.S. is the fastest in the field (3:57.34) and this figures to be a tactical race, with only Rababe Arafi (MAR: 3:59.15), Kenya’s Winny Chebet (4:00.60) and Australia’s Linden Hall (4:00.66) to challenge. How will Houlihan handle being the hunted instead of the hunter?

∙ Women’s 3,000 m: This devil-take-the-hindmost has the nos. 1-2-4 runners at 5,000 m this season: Kenya’s Hellen Obiri (14:21.75), Dutch star Sifan Hassan (14:22.34) and Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi (14:23.33). Will the elimination format keep the pace honest?

∙ Women’s 3,000 m Steeple: The new world-record holder, Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech (8:44.32) is in and doesn’t seem to care if there is a pacesetter or not. So American Record-setter Courtney Frerichs (9:00.85) is likely to try and hold on as best she can for as long as she can, chasing the 9:00 barrier.

∙ Women’s 100 m Hurdles: World Record holder Keni Harrison (12.36) is the class of the field, but could be beaten by Jamaica’s Danielle Williams (12.48) if she’s already thinking about how to spend the $30,000 first prize. Surprise European champ Elvira Herman (BLR: 12.64) should not be a factor, but will gave Euro runner-up Pam Dutkiewicz (GER: 12.67) again.

∙ Women’s 400 m Hurdles: Shamier Little’s season has had more ups and downs than the mountain stages of the Tour de France. She won the U.S. title, but has also failed spectacularly. Here’s another chance to claim a title. She (53.32) and Jamaica’s Janieve Russell (53.46) are the only ones in the field to run under 54 seconds this season.

∙ Women’s High Jump: How can an athlete who is not supposed to be representing a nation be allowed to represent a continent? But Russian “neutral” Mariya Lasitskene (world leader: 2.04/6-8 1/4) will compete and win. The only question is whether she will smile at any time of the day or night.

∙ Women’s Pole Vault: The cash is assembled, including Olympic and World Champion Katerina Stefanidi (GRE: 4.87 m’15-11 3/4), World Indoor Champion Sandi Morris (USA; 4.95 m/16-2 3/4), Commonwealth Games runner-up Eliza McCartney (NZL: 4.94 m/16-2 1/2) and “neutral” Anzhelika Sidorova (RUS: 4.85 m/15-11).

∙ Women’s Long Jump/Triple Jump: Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen will be going for a World Cup/Continental Cup first: winning both horizontal jumps! She’s the clear favorite in the TJ (where she is Olympic champ), but ranks only fifth in the long jump field, notably behind world leader and European champ Malaika Mihambo (GER: 6.99 m/22-11 1/4).

∙ Women’s Discus: This is one of the few events that Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic has not won, so she’ll be paying attention, especially with the shoot-out format in place. She’s the world leader (of course) at 71.38 m (234-2).

The complete entry list is here. The lane assignments were pre-drawn by team and you can see them here.

The venue is the 15,000-seat Mestsky Stadium, built in 1961 and site of the annual “Golden Spike” meet in Ostrava. Prize money is fairly substantial at $30,000-15,000-10,000-7,000-5,000-3,000-2,000-1,000 for individual events and $30,000-20,000-10,000-8,000 for relays.

Each athlete on the winning team will also receive a personal crystal baton as a trophy; how many of those will show up on eBay?

The meet runs from 2:30-6 p.m. local time on Saturday and Sunday, which is 8:30 a.m.-noon Eastern time. It’s not clear if NBC is televising the meet – it doesn’t shown on their listings – but check the NBC Olympic Channel. Because NBC has the rights to this meet, the live stream is not available to U.S. viewers.

The IAAF has blanket coverage of the event on its Web site here; look for results here.

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