LANE ONE: Did World Athletics give the U.S. a golden gift with July dates for 2022 World Champs?

/Updated/ World Athletics announced on Wednesday that it had settled on dates of 15-24 July for its 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

That’s the earliest date in history for the track & field Worlds, two weeks before the 1-10 August dates of the 1997 World Championships in Athens, Greece.

It also solves the scheduling problem for two other important events, the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England (27 July-7 August) and the European Athletics Championships in Munich, Germany (11-21 August).

According to World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe (GBR), “This will be a bonanza for athletics fans around the world.

“They will be treated to six weeks of absolutely first-class athletics. More than 70 of our Member Federations are part of the Commonwealth and more than 50 of our Member Federations are European so our guiding principle in rescheduling the World Championships was to ensure enough space was created around the centrepiece World Athletics Championship for athletes to choose other major events to compete in. We were also very mindful that we did not want to damage the other major championships in 2022, because they are also very important to our sport.”

There is another question to be asked: whether the re-scheduling of the 2022 Worlds has created a potential bonanza for the U.S. team?

The likely answer is yes.

After all, the World Championships has always been held in mid-summer or later, with 11 of the prior 17 meets starting on 10 August or later. So those athletes – especially collegians – who were in strong form at the end of the traditional U.S. season in June had to peak again for the U.S. Nationals in July and then a third time for the Worlds in August.

No problem now. USA Track & Field hasn’t announced revised dates for its Olympic Trials in 2021 – also in Eugene – but now has to determine how it will handle the condensed time frame for the 2022 Nationals that will select the World Championships team.

All of this starts with the collegiate schedule, which has already been fixed for 2022:

26-28 May: NCAA Division I Regionals (in Bloomington and Fayetteville)
26-28 May: NCAA Division II and Division III Championships
08-11 June: NCAA Division I Championships

(Update: Garry Hill of Track & Field News notes that Eugene was announced as the venue for the 2021 and 2022 NCAA Division I meets in 2018, but the site is not listed on the current NCAA Championships calendar.)

The World Championships in Eugene come five weeks after the NCAA Division I meet … wherever it is. So the options for the USATF Nationals – assuming a three-day, Friday-Sunday meet – include:

17-19 June: Week after the NCAAs; not likely
24-26 June: Two weeks after NCAAs: most promising slot
01-03 July: Three weeks after NCAAs, but only two weeks to Worlds: no.
08-10 July: Too close to Worlds

In addition to the collegiate schedule, there is the matter of the Wanda Diamond League calendar, which offers significant earning opportunities for elite athletes. For 2019, those meets started early in May and the first six (of 14) were completed by 16 June, with a two-week break until the Prefontaine Classic on 30 June. So a U.S. Nationals from 24-26 June – two weeks after the NCAA meet – would work, based on the 2019 line-up.

But then there is the matter of the Pre Classic, usually held in early June, but which has been staged as late as early July. Perhaps it gets held the same weekend as the NCAAs; maybe on Sunday (12 June) as the NCAA meet will finish on Saturday? Maybe the next week?

But complicating matters further is the installation schedule for the World Championships, which is exceedingly complicated. The timing, scoring, scoreboard, warm-up, meet management, sponsorship, television and media requirements are major construction projects in their own right, even with a shiny new Hayward Field facility.

If I’m Jakob Larsen (DEN), the new World Athletics Director of Competition & Events, I’m already well aware of this, having run the highly-regarded World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus in March, 2019. The course included an iconic uphill section on the grass roof of the Moesgaard Museum, so he should be ready to plan just about anything. But he and his very experienced production team will need time to get Hayward Field ready.

For Doha in 2019, the technical installations for the meet itself – not including television broadcast needs – included 100 laser projectors and more than 500 sq. m (~ 5,400 sq. ft.!) of temporary LED screens for event production, scoreboards and decor, on top of what was already installed in the Khalifa International Stadium. The program for Eugene should be just as lavish … and will take time to install, test and program.

With all of this in mind, it may not even be possible to hold the USATF Championships – and Worlds selection meet – at Hayward Field. Certainly the top U.S. athletes will have some experience with the new facility from the 2021 Prefontaine Classic and 2021 Olympic Trials, so it may not be essential to hold the USATF meet there. But then another spot has to be found; in recent years, Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa has been a willing USATF host, and the Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas has been a good host for the NCAA Championships. Perhaps Sacramento once again? And in a year with the Worlds in the U.S. for the first time, there will likely be others interested.

All of this leaves American athletes with a cultural and experience advantage over their foreign counterparts. For generations, track & field has been a spring sport in the U.S., culminating in June with the NCAA meet on the first weekend and – for many years – the AAU Championships, then the nationals – on the weekend following.

The schedule runs a little later now, but if the American selection meet is just three weeks before the Worlds – that would be the 24-26 June slot – look for more of the collegians to be able to hold on to their form and challenge for a spot at the Worlds. And in the last Worlds held early – 4-13 August 2017 in London (GBR) – the U.S. dominated with 30 medals (10 gold) with no one else close, as Kenya was second with 11 medals (5 gold).

One cautionary note. In the only IAAF Worlds previously held in North America, in Edmonton (CAN) in 2001, the U.S. had its worst performance ever, with only 13 medals (5-5-3), second to Russia’s 18 (5-7-6)!

Since then, American track & field athletes have won 16-25-26-22-28-26-18-30-29 medals in the succeeding Worlds, topping the total medals table every time from 2005 onwards: eight times in a row.

Look for nine in Eugene, and perhaps a new medals record. The most ever won at a single IAAF Worlds is 31 by the chemically-enhanced East German team in Rome in 1987 (23 by the East German women), one ahead of the 30 the U.S. won in London in 2017. What are the odds for a new record at a World Championships not only held in the U.S. for the first time, but for the first time on a U.S.-style schedule?

Rich Perelman
Editor

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