IOL Sport's athletics writer Ockert de Villiers.
IOL Sport's athletics writer Ockert de Villiers.

Much more to athletics than the 'next Bolt'

By Ockert De Villiers Time of article published Jul 7, 2018

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Athletics is coming out of the Usain Bolt era where his aura and incredible feats on the track for so long cast a shadow over other equally impressive performances.

We have entered a time where every second athlete is asked whether they believe they can be the “next Bolt”. The question was put to Wayde van Niekerk at the World Championships in London and this year it has been directed at American sprinter Noah Lyles.

World 400m record holder Van Niekerk already has an impressive list of accolades while Lyles has the potential to become one of the greats over both the 100m and 200m sprint distances.

But I would argue that the Bolt era was somewhat damaging to the sport as too much of the marketing of the sport relied on the iconic Jamaican. Attending the recent Paris Diamond League meeting courtesy of the IAAF, athletics in all its glory was on display.

It was a smörgåsbord of delectable action where the Parisian spectators were treated to world-class performances across the board. Caster Semenya posted the fourth fastest 800m ever, Qatari athlete Abderrahman Samba became only the second man to break the 47-second barrier in the 400m hurdles while Russian Mariya Lasitskene won her 45th consecutive high jump competition.

The men’s sprint events are no longer a question of who will finish second behind Bolt, but are now anyone’s for the taking. Athletics has always been about enticing rivalries and although we also need our undisputed champions, a real fight is often more appealing.

Akani Simbine, left, Christian Coleman of the US, centre, and Usain Bolt of Jamaica compete in the men’s 100m final at the London 2017 IAAF World Championships. Photo: Franck Robichon/EPA

Having spent time with the athletes in the dining rooms in Paris and Lausanne, it is clear athletics has some great personalities that need to be promoted. Not all the athletes enjoy the limelight but we should at least try and highlight the beautiful diversity the sport has to offer.

Globally, athletics administrators have a way of shooting themselves in the foot which should at least provide some comfort to the local federation when they get criticised for dropping the baton.

There should be a desperation by athletics administrators to revive the sport and make it a real competitor in the fight for a piece of the sponsorship pie. But in its attempt to be more attractive in the jostle for attention, the sport’s administration has made some strange decisions.

The men’s long jump only features four times in this year’s Diamond League competition, yet long jump contains possibly some of the most appealing personalities participating on the world stage.

The horizontal jumps event is on the cusp of breaking new ground with Luvo Manyonga and Cuban phenom Juan Miguel Echevarria edging closer to the world record mark of 8.95m.

They both have dynamic personalities that could wrest some of the attention away from the track and towards the field. There also seems to be a push to separate distance events like the 5000m and 10000m from the main track and field programmes.

While I personally may not be a fan of the longer distance events, many purists are and it also feeds back into the diversity of the sport. The IAAF has also introduced a new rule reducing the amount of time given for attempts in the vertical jump from 60 to 30 seconds. This only undermines the field events which are coming under increasing threat, though they provide for some of the most intriguing rivalries.

To add further evidence about the sport’s self-inflicted foot wound, they have scheduled the Diamond League meetings in Zurich and Brussels just a day after each other. Athletes like Semenya looking to win double Diamond Trophies will have only a few hours of rest to get from Germany to Belgium in order to compete.


Saturday Star

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