By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Sebastian Coe says this record-laden athletics season has convinced him that next month’s world championships could be the best of all time in terms of performance, and he is confident there will be big crowds in Budapest to witness the action.
Because of COVID, the sport is hosting back-to-back editions of the usually biennial world championships, with the Aug 19-27 event following last year’s postponed worlds in Eugene, Oregon.
“You have to say that this has been the best start I can remember to any track and field season,” World Athletics president Coe told reporters on Monday.
“I was very lucky. I saw the first of Faith Kipyegon’s (three) world records when she won the 1500 metres in Florence and then in Paris we had three world records. There have just been some outstanding performances. We keep our fingers crossed for some of the head-to-heads but these have the potential to be the best world championships performance-wise of all time.
“You have all the ingredients – 2000 athletes from over 200 countries. There can’t be too many sports commentating on gold medals for Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. These are a genuine world championships.”
The event is being held in a purpose-built stadium in an area of Budapest that Coe hopes will benefit economically just as parts of east London did from the 2012 Olympics. Though Budapest, or just about anywhere else, is never going to match the 50,000 who turned up two weeks ago to watch the Diamond League meeting in the London’s Olympic Stadium, World Athletics says ticket sales have been strong.
“In the first few days we have finals, straight away, it’s not a slow burn,” Coe said.
“Morning sessions are always tough (for ticket sales) but for a few hours every day people recognise that the morning sessions are when schools and kids can get to see the same heroes who are just navigating their way through to some of those finals.
“It’s all part of what I want the world championships to ultimately start heading towards – a tighter, faster rhythm. We also need to make sure that we’ve got events that really matter in some parts of the world that are being shown at times where people are going to consume them within their own lifestyles, rather than asking people to get up at unearthly hours.”
It is of course not all sunshine in the sport, with the latest and probably least surprising anti-doping violation seeing Nigerian world record sprint hurdler Tobi Amusan facing a ban after missing three whereabouts appointments.
Amusan stunned fans and opponents alike when she broke the world record in the 100m hurdles semi-finals in Eugene — with a time that was the largest improvement for a world record in the event in 42 years. She then ran a faster time in the final 90 minutes later, only for an illegal wind to make it illegible.
In recent years a string of high-profile athletes including Brianna McNeal, Christian Coleman, Salwa Eid Naser, Elijah Manangoi, Wilson Kipsang and Raven Saunders have been suspended for falling foul of the system three times within 12 months where they have to notify testers where they will be for an hour of their choice each day.
Coe has little sympathy for those who complain the system is flawed or unfair – usually those who have been on the wrong side of it.
“The vast majority of athletes who are not cheating have no problem with the whereabouts system,” he said.
“The issue is very simple. They’re asked to identify for one hour a day where they’re going to be and I really don’t think that that is brain surgery.
“The same athletes who are complaining about whereabouts are posting every hour of the day. I accept that things can change but you have the opportunity to go online and explain where you will be. Every athlete I know takes this seriously. I’m sorry it really isn’t that complicated.
“I think that it lends confidence. Our sport has improved its reputation more than any other sport in the last two years by a distance and our reputation has come back because we’ve been prepared to tackle the issues around doping.
“Making the Athletics Integrity Unit independent, taking the politics out, has created systems that are doing what they were supposed to do.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Pritha Sarkar)