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November 7, 2019

What is the Diamond League Doing?

The IAAF announced on Wednesday that they will be cutting the 200 meters, steeplechase, discus and triple jump were cut from the events on the circuit for 2020.

That doesn’t totally mean that we won’t be able to see the world’s best athletes competing on the Diamond League stage, they just won’t be counted toward the overall points total and the final at the end of the season. The 200 meters and the steeplechase will be a part of the meet program for 10 Diamond Leagues – five for men and five for women. The discus and triple jump will be held at two each.

So what’s behind the reasoning for this? “Representative online research carried out in China, France, South Africa and the USA; post event surveys in Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland and click-throughs on Diamond League social media videos during 2019 helped guide the Diamond League General Assembly, made up of all Meeting Directors, to decide which disciplines will be part of 2020 season. As a result of the research, and the decision taken earlier in the year that only 24 disciplines (12 male / 12 female) will form the core disciplines at all meetings, eight disciplines (4 male and 4 female) will not be contested during the 2020 Diamond League season. These disciplines are the discus throw, triple jump and 3000m steeplechase –three events that currently sit towards the bottom of the research conducted– and the 200m which DL organizers felt would be too congested alongside the 100m, particularly in an Olympic Games’ year.”

So here’s what we have out in 2020… 

The 200 meters

The IAAF decides not to count the event with arguably its most electrifying star at the moment with Noah Lyles. In 2019, he won the Lausanne, Paris and Brussels Diamond League meets. His only Diamond League loss of the season was his early-season duel against Michael Norman that was maybe the most talked about race of the meet. People watch Noah Lyles because he’s Noah Lyles.

3000-meter steeplechase

The steeplechase is one of the best events to watch because of the high-stakes drama that can come in the final few laps over water jumps or barriers. There was nothing like the 2019 IAAF World Championship men’s steeplechase final, where Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto just narrowly edged out Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma 8:01.35 to 8:01.36 for the gold medal.

You want to take that out of the Diamond League program? C’mon…

World champion and world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya spoke out against the IAAF’s decision to the Daily Nation.

“This is killing careers for athletes who had specialized in the event,” she said. “But for me, I can still switch to 1,500m and 3,000m flat and I can still do well. I can also run in the 10-kilometer road race.”

On the United States steeplechase spectrum, Evan Jager, Emma Coburn, Colleen Quigley and Courtney Frerichs are among the most popular stars and now their events won’t be part of the Diamond League set. Jager, Coburn and Quigley are all great 3,000 and 1,500 meter runners but we want to see our best in their best events.

We have now moved toward an era where the longest distance running event contested is the 3,000 meters and that’s not even in the Olympic program.

5000 meters

Okay, we get it. Watching a tactical 10,000 meters as a casual fan doesn’t always make for compelling TV. But removing the 5000 meters, the quintessential distance race, from the program while keeping the 3000 meters in the name of reducing TV windows is illogical on several levels. The dip in interest in a 13/15 minute race versus an 8/9 minute race cannot possibly outweigh the downside to featuring an event that overlaps more with the 1500 talent pool and doesn’t compete at the Olympics.

In recent years, the 5000 meters has been a thrilling event on both the men’s and women’s side and is a perfect showcase for mega-talents like Hellen Obiri, Selemon Berega, and Konstanze Klosterhalfen. But the shift to shorter distances, combined with the inability of athletes to achieve the Olympic standard in DL races, will essentially make world-class distance running at DL meets a relic of the past.

Triple Jump

In no other field event are the men’s and women’s world records so threatened as they are in the triple jump. Jonathan Edwards’s and Inessa Kravets’s records are both 24 years old, and the second-best marks on the all-time list by Christian Taylor and Yulimar Rojas are active and in their prime. Throw in Will Claye as the No. 3 all-time performer and Catherine Ibargüen at No. 5 and it’s highly likely that the 90s-era marks are about to meet the same fate as the Palm Pilot and the Montreal Expos.

Why wouldn’t Diamond League organizers want that record set at one of their meets rather than in Tokyo? Again, it is a missed opportunity to bring fans along for the ride for two exciting storylines in an event that has never been more relevant. 

The Discus Throw

Daniel Ståhl is a monster. He won four of five Diamond League meets and the World Championships to become the unquestioned top discus thrower is 2019. He does it often with a mind-boggling series of consistently-far throws in an event known for its inconsistency. On top of that, he’s only 27 years old and is entering his prime and along with Mondo Duplantis has rapidly become one of Sweden’s biggest stars in the sport.

That brings us to another point…

If the Diamond League is concerned with attracting more fans, why are they not promoting events that feature athletes that, in many cases, are their country’s only big stars? How many Venezuelan 100-meter runners or Swedish hurdlers can you name? Moroccans will surely show up or tune in when Soufiane El Bakkali races in Rabat and Cubans have a love affair with the women’s discus led by their two big stars Yaimé Pérez and Denia Caballero finishing 1-2 at Worlds. A big way to attract new fans is to be sure to include athletes that have a national following in countries that do not traditionally feature heavily in track & field.

So what should we do? A few pros have some interesting answers:

Nick Willis: “With the 5k and Steeple now removed from the @Diamond_League, what really needs to happen is a series of distance dual meets in Nairobi and Addis Ababa between Kenya and Ethiopia. I’d sign up to watch that on pay per view— But only if held in East Africa.”

Kyle Merber: “Very excited to announce my newest idea: The Platinum League! 200m, 5000m, Steeplechase, Triple Jump and Discus. Other events need not apply.”

And Joe Bosshard, coach of steeplers Emma Coburn and Aisha Praught-Leer, had some suggestions:

“Wooof way to alienate many of the current stars in the sport @iaaforg. Have we tried reducing meet dead time? How about a clear and concise Diamond League season, so that someone could actually follow this sport like they do any other? Ah, wait, the athletes are the problem.”

There are a few clear improvements that could be made. If it’s about TV time, there are plenty of ways to cut down on dead air in meets and networks are slowly improving their ability to offer coverage of simultaneous track and field events on split screen. If it’s about money, I’m sure that athletes would prefer the Diamond League’s generous prize structure to be scaled back rather than eliminating meets and events altogether. Cutting the $10,000 first prize in half is still more than you’d make in most events anywhere else.

Ultimately, it raises the fundamental question of what role we want the IAAF to play in our sport. This year’s headlines have been dominated by limit-setting – whether its Olympic standards, testosterone levels, or shoe technology. If they put half as much effort into its promotional, rather than punitive, mission, athletes and fans everywhere would be better off and, not for nothing, it’d make for better press coverage too. The sport’s governing body can and should be first and foremost an advocate for athletes, and we should be expanding, rather than limiting, opportunities to show the greatness and excitement that can come from elite track and field.

Photo by Kevin Morris.

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