Thoughts and Concerns About the Track and Field World Championships

The past couple days I’ve been watching the Track and Field World Championships full-time and I have more than a few thoughts about the races and coverage. If you follow me on The Twitter, it’s possible you already heard some of these. And, also, you should be watching (and have your own thoughts). It’s good.

  • It would have been cool to see a back-in-form Tyson Gay v. Usain Bolt race. And, I know, I know, Gay cheated and doped and had to be axed, but it seems a little optimistically naive to think Gay and Asafa Powell were doping but Bolt isn’t. So, if we’re going to watch one doper win, I’d rather have seen them all go at it. (And, I know, I know, assuming everyone else is doping is a whole prisoner’s dilemma that just encourages more doping. But, if anyone is, don’t you think it’s Bolt? And, I can sort of understand why Gay would be tempted, would be coming back again from injury, be the old guy now, and here’s Bolt who just can’t be beat, who defies basic odds, and who probably is doping himself. Wouldn’t it just be so easy? I’m just saying, empathy is the first step to understanding and, then, understanding is the first step to finding solutions.)
  • If Jamaica is able to be the first-ever country to put four men in the 100m final — EVEN THOUGH their next two best after Bolt, including defending World Champ Yohan Blake, were out for injury or doping suspensions — don’t you think there ought to be a reason why the island nation of 2.6 million is defying basic statistical odds?
  • Speaking of doping, it was nice that NBC actually mentioned it instead of just ignoring the topic entirely and trying to erase people from historical footage like in their Tour de France coverage.
  • It was nice of NBC, also, to sort of mention the whole Russia banning being gay thing.
  • Except, you know, they didn’t exactly. Because mainstream media (not that I don’t loathe that term) keeps calling it a ban on “propaganda about alternative lifestyles aimed at kids.” That’s incredibly, what is the word, bullshit.
  • As everyone keeps arguing back and forth about boycotts and human rights — not that sport boycotts have virtually ever affected policy changes on human rights — no one is actually answering this question: Are gay athletes and coaches and fans being allowed to compete and spectate right now, without being harassed or manhandled by police, with the full freedom allowed by their competitors? That sort of seems like a main question before Sochi.
  • You know who seems like they all just get along? Decathletes. After 20-year-old Gunnar Nixon jumped a personal best in the long jump he came over to tell teammate (and Olympic champ) Ashton Eaton. You know what Eaton did? Even though the jump put Nixon in the lead over him. He got excited for the kid and gave him a high-five and slapped him on the back. You can see it in the background of the NBC coverage. It makes you feel good about people.
  • Though, on the other hand, I pretty much have heard the whole Eaton almost being hit by a javelin thrown by his fiancee story more times than I could possibly care about.
  • The 1500m in the decathlon is, like, the most amazing thing to watch ever.
  • Except for maybe the 50k race walk.
  • And, if you want to talk about cheating, let’s talk about race walking. There have been studies done showing that there’s simply no mathematical way to cover the distance they do with the leg length they have and NOT have both feet off the ground. Which is why the whole point is just not to get caught and the standard is ‘looks like walking to the naked eye.’ The British announcer explained it as a contest of ‘Who can whisper the loudest.’
  • You know what other coverage sucked? The 45″ summary of the women’s marathon.
  • But, they did, however, show all the prelims of the 100m. Naturally.
  • Watching those heats was actually informative, though, because it turns out that diversity bids, or wild cards or whatever they’re called, are quite numerous in the women’s 100m. The qualifying standard is 11.36, but there were women running in the high 12s in prelims. That’s weird. I understand that we want to encourage participation from underrepresented countries and groups. But, it never quite makes sense to me when there ends up being a swimmer at the Olympics who has never been in a pool. Not that I don’t think there should be development programs and wild cards, but in most countries everywhere there are people who know how to swim pretty well. (Though, it turns out the whole swimmer who’d never been in a pool thing worked out ok for him and he actually is the coach of Equitorial Guinea’s swim team and can swim a 55″ 100m now, so maybe I’m completely wrong.) Running is even more democratic than swimming. It’s not as expense-prohibitive as most sports. Hell, some of the fastest people come from countries that don’t have much money. So, when we put women in the 100m who are running in the high 12s and we congratulate ourselves for being inclusionary, are we mistakenly just trying to make ourselves feel good? Does the fact that they’re so far back feed into our notions of the good we’re doing, because if they were better it wouldn’t be as far a stretch for them to be there? I don’t know how I feel about it, but I know I just kept wondering why they couldn’t find one woman from those countries who ran the 100m faster.
  • You know what did make me feel good, though: Ryan Wilson. At 32, he finally made his first World Championship team for the U.S. That means he must have been close for years. It would have been easier to quit, probably. But, he made the team and then he got second. So there.
  • That 110m hurdles mens race, though, is probably the most competitive race.
  • Except maybe the women’s 400m.
  • Actually, there’s been a lot of good races.
  • Wait, where was David Rudisha?

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