Is There A Better Alternative For Lane Draws? Some Fun Ideas

By Paul Snyder

June 5, 2024

After winning the 200m at the Oslo Diamond League in a season’s best of 22.32, Brittany Brown shared a series of Instagram stories and tweets expressing her frustration over her lane assignment. That’s because she managed to claim the win despite starting all the way out in lane eight. 

Brittany Brown TweetBrittany Brown Tweet

Brown placed second at Worlds in the 200m in 2019 and remains among the event’s top competitors today, so she was understandably upset over being relegated to the edge of the track. Sometimes a poor lane can be seen as a disadvantage, ask Noah Lyles running from lane 3 in the Tokyo Olympic 200m Final. But it can be used to an athlete's advantage, just ask Wayde Van Niekerk in 2016 or Sha’Carri Richardson in 2023, both winning Gold medals from the outside lane 8. Nonetheless, Oslo is a long way to travel only to wind up in a race where you’re not set up to do your very best.

It was pointed out to Brown that the lane assignments likely had to do with athletes’ World Athletics rankings coming in. If that’s been communicated to athletes ahead of time, then that’s a pretty reasonable, albeit complicated approach. But Brown in turn noted that the rankings tend to favor European-based athletes: ultimately that’s where the majority of ranking-eligible, higher category meets are held. And hey – if we’re going to rely on rankings more and more in championship selections to come, it’s important that we continually assess the impact they have on the sport today.

No matter how you feel about the current fairness of Diamond League lane draws, and regardless of your feelings about the ranking system, it’s easy to see there’s room for improvement. Namely, let’s make lane selection both entertaining for fans and more incentivizing for athletes, without having to inspect the Rube Goldberg machine that churns out WA rankings.

What if we made lane selection into a draft? People love drafts.

The Lane Draft would work best in a championship setting – instead of a draft lottery, selection order would be based on seed time from the semi-final. You run the fastest in your prelim heat? Sweet. You get to pick your lane first. At Diamond Leagues, you could base draft order on points in the DL standings, creating another small but non-negligible incentive to race the circuit all year.

You’d expect the middle lanes to go in the first several rounds – you have people to chase but a slightly less tight curve to run – but there will of course be outliers in terms of preference, a rare instance of track athletes being able to clearly showcase a strategic decision that fans can understand.

Perhaps a taller sprinter opts for an outer lane so they can really open up their stride at 50m. Maybe an absolute scoundrel goes for lane one with the first pick because they love to hunt down their competitors. Or some deliriously confident youngster bets on themself and chooses lane eight after a blistering prelim – “make them catch me.”

We’ve seen stranger things! What if we had each athlete pick a number from 1-8 out of a hat? The number you pick will determine your lane draw in the race. Fair, equitable, random, and fun! Do not forget that at the 2022 World Indoor Championships, Shusei Nomoto of Japan and David King of Great Britain tied with the exact same time of 7.565 in the 60mH semi-finals. Who went to the final? A name was drawn at random from a bag to pick which athlete advanced. Strange? Yes! Exciting? Yes!

It’s a small change up, but one that could infuse the sport with a tad more personality, and ultimately, fairness.

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Paul Snyder

Meme-disparager, avid jogger, MS Paint artist, friend of Scott Olberding, Citius Mag staff writer based in Flagstaff. Supplying baseless opinions, lukewarm takes, and vaguely running-related content. Once witnessed televison's Michael Rapaport cut a line of 30 people to get a slice of pizza at John's on Bleeker at 4am. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @DanielDingus.