04 Jul Track & Field? This season we should be calling it Field and Track!
There has been a shift of focus in the world of track and field lately. You may not have noticed if you are a BBC viewer, but it is very clear within my own circle of friends and among the wider, online athletics community.
There is no denying that last year was the year of the high jump – despite the fact that Renaud Lavillenie broke the pole vault world record and was voted IAAF male athlete of the year! Renaud’s amazing season couldn’t detract from the fact that almost all athletics fans would agree that their highlight of 2014 was one of Barshim and Bondarenko’s fantastic showdowns. These impressive standards of high jumping look set to continue as we approach the World Championships in Beijing, and this year has also seen another event leap (or should I say ‘hop, skip and jump’) into the limelight with both Pichardo and Taylor jumping over 18 metres in the triple jump.
We as athletics fans have shifted out attention away from the traditional blue riband events such as the men’s 100m and instead are watching events like the high jump, pole vault and triple jump with much greater interest, particularly on the men’s side. But why? I have laid out a few possible reasons below:
1. Disillusionment and drugs in the sprints – events like the 100m have always been tainted by steroid abuse. This season has seen Gatlin (who has served two bans, one for testosterone) run new PBs in the 100m and 200m, at age 33. For real athletics fans, this is hugely suspicious. Some of us ignore him completely, some of us complain constantly, and some of us write angry limericks. And it’s not just him – not by a long way. 3 of the 4 members of Team USA at the World Relays have served doping bans. Asafa Powell (2015 Jamacian champion) has also served a ban. The men’s 100m in Beijing looks set to be dominated by returning drug cheats.
2. Disillusionment and drugs in longer events – Middle and longer distances have been rocked in the past few years by the Kenyan EPO scandal (still being investigated) the Russian “state-sponsored doping” scandal and the recent allegations made against Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. Every good distance performance at the moment is queried, and there have already been whispers in Paris about both Dibaba and Ayana as they talk about their intentions to break the world record in very hot, humid conditions.
3. Trust in more technical events – Steriods help sprinters and throwers and EPO helps middle and long distance runners but there is no drug (that I know of) that would almost instantly help Mutaz jump higher or Renuad vault better. In these technical events it is easier to believe the performances we are seeing. And to true fans this trust is hugely impotant.
4. Personalities – The distance events have never been famous for massive personalities, with the majority of the competitors preferring to do their talking with their feet. Sprinters have always been the most outgoing bunch but this season with Bolt not running well (and not competing often), Gatlin, Gay and Rodgers tarnished by drug bans, Kilty offending fans on Twitter and Gemili out injured there isn’t much to offer on their side either. The jumpers have stepped up to fill this void. Barshim and Bondarenko are great rivals and great contrasts – Barshim is the smiling, outgoing, snapback wearing fan favourite while Bondarenko is a much more quiet, media shy, unpredictable character – both are capable of greatness. Renuad Lavillenie is another fan favourite, capable of silencing 50,000 seater stadiums when he holds his pole aloft. Christian Taylor is doing his part for the reputation of horizontal jumpers too! He has recently made a name for himself as the nicest man in athletics by raking the sandpit for his competitors, and by generally being one of the nicest athletes on Twitter and on the circuit.
5. No avoidance on the circuit – Barshim vs Bondarendo, Ibarguen vs Koneva, Rutherford vs Menkov vs the Americans – the field eventers show up and compete against each other every chance they get. This is in stark contrast to the male sprinters and some distance events in which the big stars only see each other at major championships.
6. Other field stars to keep on eye on this season – Valerie Adams as she returns from injury today in Paris, Robert Harting who will return to face his brother in the discuss, Zhang Guowei in the high jump, the British girls (Ugen, Proctor, Irozuru and Sawyers) in the long jump and Yego in the javelin.
I’m sure I’ve missed loads of other reasons why we are more interested in field events than track at the moment. If you think of any leave them as a comment here or on Twitter. And on that note, I’m off to watch the men’s high jump in Paris!