World Athletics, between innovation and questions to answer

The pilot test to modify the rules of the long jump could increase the appeal of tournaments as much as it would have a dose of historical injustice

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Among a few virtues displayed in recent years by World Athletics, the historic IAAF, stand out those of having promoted its outdoor world championships as an agile and entertaining consumer product both for the public in the stands and for television audiences and having converted the Diamond League into one of the most prestigious international annual circuits, regardless of the sport.

Of course, the detail was not minor that, for almost a decade, athletics had a universal figure of those that mark a before and after. What Michael Jordan was to basketball, Michael Phelps to swimming or Tiger Woods to golf was Usain Bolt to the world of track. Let it be well understood: I am not comparing either the specific weight of one or the other or the popularity of one or the other sports. I am referring to the advent of one of those stars that raises the standard of discipline even higher than usual. One of those that cuts tickets. Someone who even those who care very little about athletics want to see running.

It is impossible to ignore the influence of a man who, precisely in the most explosive events, achieved an Olympic triple triple, a World triple triple and the most podiums in Daegu 2011 and London 2017 in addition to countless world records alone or accompanied. No one who has been sitting in the stadiums of Berlin, Beijing, Moscow, London or Rio de Janeiro can ignore the inexplicable electricity that produced every action of the Jamaican phenomenon.

However, even supported by the explosive campaign of the Jamaican phenomenon, World Athletics was able to enhance the product around it to turn women and men who have been able to make their superiority hegemonic into elements of daily consumption. In any sport, having figures that are easy to stereotype is highly communicative. From Yulimar Rojas or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to Armand Duplantis or Karsten Warholm, athletics has been promoting shows for a long time and making its stars shine beyond a great title or a record mark.

Athletics - World Athletics Championship - Women's Triple Jump Final - National Athletics Centre, Budapest, Hungary - August 25, 2023 Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas reacts during the final REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
Athletics - World Athletics Championship - Women's Triple Jump Final - National Athletics Centre, Budapest, Hungary - August 25, 2023 Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas reacts during the final REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

On the other hand, in order not to depend so much on names, they have been looking for shortcuts to boost competencies. This was the case with the project to eliminate a couple of specialties from the Diamond program, an attempt frustrated by the COVID pandemic. The idea was to limit the circuit’s official program to an hour and a half, which is usually just under two hours long, which some consider a friendly contribution to the attention of viewers around the world.

Another way to attract the public, that giant with hundreds of thousands of heads that are the raison d’être of sponsors who, in turn, are the raison d’être of every sporting competition, is through great performances.

Perhaps the main example in this regard is that of Duplantis, that Swede born in the United States for whom pole vaulting seems to have no roof. Some time ago, a wise athlete explained to me that a phenomenon like Sergei Bubka, probably with Mondo and the diva Yelena Isinbayeva, the most notable pole vaulters of all time, should not exceed their records by more than one centimeter or more than once per tournament. “He was probably able to jump higher that day. But by saving for the next one, he made sure that his specialty appeared in the media more frequently. That is, every time they beat a World Record,” said this true master of athletics.

Perhaps something similar inspired the people of World Athletics to modify the long jump regulations, both with regard to the jump area itself and with regard to the end-to-end measurement. To explain it in the rough, if an athlete takes off 10 centimeters from the null line and falls 8 meters from that reference, instead of the current 8m00, a record of 8m10 would be taken.

It may be reasonable to look for a variable so that finally someone would break the records of Galina Chistyakova and Mike Powell, which have been in existence for more than 30 years.

However, there are a couple of questions that will surely be asked by those who must define if, after the pilot test, this strong regulatory change will be attached to the main competencies.

The most important.

How many athletes would have been able to break those historic records without having the stigma of preventing the jump from being null and void and, at the same time, not giving away too many centimeters when attacking the board?