Friday, 26 August 2011

World Championships Look Short Of Stardust

By Shane Thomas

The World Athletics Championships begin in South Korea tomorrow, but you'd be forgiven for having no idea about it. The London Olympics is drawing ever closer, and the hype has become a millstone around the neck of the World Championships. While the pinnacle of track & field is undoubtedly the Olympics, I look on with sadness at the decreased relevance of an event that at one stage was one of the biggest occasions in the sporting calendar. It's a meet where Mike Powell broke Bob Beamon's world record in the long jump, where Sergei Bubka won 6 gold medals in a row, and a place that bore witness to the incredible consistency of Merlene Ottey. The standard of competition was generally equivalent to the Olympics. Had it not been a biannual event, you could make a case for the World Championships being just as significant as its more celebrated sister.

I have fond memories of being glued to the television as a 9 year old, watching the World Championships in Stuttgart, as Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell & Colin Jackson all won gold medals for Great Britain - Jackson setting a world record in the 110 metres hurdles that would last for 13 years.

And it'd be remiss of me not to mention Jonathan Edwards taking the triple-jump to unfathomable heights in 1995, as well as Michael Johnson cementing his legacy as the greatest sprinter of his generation throughout the nineties and noughties (is "noughties" the correct term?).

But the relationship between the championships and the Olympics is no longer symbiotic. As the Olympics bubble inflates, the world championships looks to be punctured. Yesterday, Asafa Powell pulled out of the 100 metres with injury, joining Tyson Gay on the sidelines. With Usain Bolt below-par and looking distinctly beatable this season, the blue riband event of the meet has lost much of its sheen. Teddy Tamgho is also absent with injury, depriving us of a potentially enthralling battle between him and Phillips Idowu in the triple-jump.

While injuries are an unfortunate occurrence of the sport, you wonder how many absentees there would be if the Olympics weren't in a year's time. No-one wants to take the slightest risk of disrupting their preparations for London 2012, which has resulted in a distinct lack of star power in Daegu. It's understandable but also disheartening.

The one potential silver lining - for British fans at least - is Mo Farah. The long distance runner has been a revelation this season. His showed his ever improving quality when he won both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at last year's European Championships. He then took the bold career decision to leave London, and relocate his family to Oregen to train under Alberto Salazar. This change has only made Farah an exponentially better runner; he has stormed past all-comers this year. Farah is no longer just a European force in the long-distance events, but now a world one. In an event that has been a fiefdom for African runners for generations, he goes to the South Korea with a genuine chance of beating the great Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele.

It's not that there won't be some world class track & field on display, but the must-see factor that athletics had after the Beijing Olympics seems to be conspicuous by its absence. Hopefully, I'm mistaken, but the sport desperately needs a memorable meet to keep the World Championships relevant. Otherwise, they'll end up like the Pan-American Games or the European Championships, and those occasions have the increasingly enervating feel of a school sports-day.

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