I’ve said on the record that the two athletes right now who should be considered must-watch TV (or streaming) for every fan are Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker. They are electric on the track and their work with fan outreach should hopefully make them role models for many other athletes coming up in the sport. The pair gets it — they are professionals who are doing their job selling shoes and tickets. That’s why it’s not ideal to see the duo run a 5000m time trial in Stanford this weekend. It’s not their fault that they decided this would be their schedule, it’s the system’s.
What would normally be considered appointment viewing didn’t make its way onto my radar since their race overlapped with the World Indoor Championships. As we have come to expect, Teare and Hocker of course ran amazing, posting personal bests of 13:06.73 and 13:08.55, respectively. But in a world where I’m forced to direct my attention toward either international racing for global medals or running fast against no one, there’s no competition — well, except the one that I care about.
There are certain boxes that must be checked on the road to the World Championships in Oregon this summer. First and foremost, you’ve gotta hit the standard of 13:13.50. Unfortunately, the road to Eugene does not have to cut through Belgrade. Although Hocker qualified to compete in both the 1500m and 3000m, having won both events handily at the USATF Indoor Championships, it was ultimately decided that the trip didn’t fit into his long term plans. Teare had initially entered to run in Spokane as well, but he was forced to scratch due to a positive COVID test.
From a big picture perspective, it is not the athlete’s responsibility to decide what’s best for track and field — that’s for me to do! Their objective is to figure out how to best serve themselves throughout their own careers. However, it is up to the governing bodies to either incentivize or punish certain behaviors that are determined to be helpful or harmful for the sport.
World Athletics and USATF continue to throw more money into prize purses to act as a dangling carrot to convince star athletes to show up. The trope about runners not having a pot to piss in obviously isn’t true for everyone when an additional $30,000 seemingly doesn’t move the needle.
To fix this, the first suggestion that I always make is that World and Olympic standards should be allotted on a country-to-country basis, not individually. If three guys have run under 13:13.50 and someone with a 13:20 season’s best shows up and beats everyone at the qualifiers, then doesn’t that prove his fitness is good enough to deserve a spot on Team USA?
The counterargument is that athletes wouldn’t race as much. However, that’s not much different than the position Teare, Hocker and others currently find themselves. What if there was a league minimum of required races one must run to remain eligible? I’m just spit-balling here, but I am fairly certain there are a certain number of football games a team has to play to make the Super Bowl.
The less drastic option that doesn’t call for a system-wide overhaul is to create a blackout period. Similar to how baseball teams can’t make it to the World Series during winter months, maybe track and field athletes can’t run standards during the third week of March when the World Indoor Championships are happening?
One of the more confusing aspects of the sport is that there is no regular season, which makes it difficult for part-time followers. The majority of the year is a chaotic free-for-all with no rhyme or reason. If World Athletics throws up some guide posts as to when races “count” and when they don’t, then maybe it’ll be easier to steer star athletes towards the meets fans are watching — like the World Championships.
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