In Defense of 6 Attempts
The latest buzzword in athletics is innovation. Our sport seems to have taken on the Silicon Valley mantra “innovate or die”; if we keep the status quo we will become irrelevant. This is true to some extent, but if we look at how it is implemented our sport is often just changing for the sake of change and not necessarily making our sport better. The latest bright idea out of the establishment is a new change to the Diamond League:
In the horizontal jumps and throwing disciplines, all participants will now have three attempts, and only the top four at that stage will have a further three.
The Problem with How Field Events are Presented
Let’s all admit the sport has a problem: field events are not well presented. Ten years ago Track and Field News editor Garry Hill noted some of the issues: “Can you imagine watching any of the popular ball sports without a scoreboard? No indication of the score, no idea how much time is left in the game? Anybody who tried to sell a sport with that kind of spectator aid would be laughed off the planet . . . Yet that’s just what happens with field events.” Earlier this month Hill wrote that despite all the “innovations” in track and field, these simple problems have not been addressed. Even at the well-tun World Indoor Championships in Portland, for example, the one screen showing the distance of each throw was placed behind fans and barely viewable by the shot put supporters in the stadium. And that was a good situation. At many Diamond League meets the throws are held before the main program, and therefore contested without fans or television coverage.
→ RelTed content: Read more thoughts from Martin and Benn on how to improve the Diamond League’s presentation.
Searching for a Solution
So if we agree about the problem, we have to figure out how to fix it. I chatted with Benn Harradine this week and, as always, he is not one to mince words:
“Come on! It’s 2016! We have drones and snapchat, and all sorts of fantastic ways to get things out. The Diamond League can’t even facilitate an app that works efficiently when tiny organisations like Swimming Australia are innovating a sport on the NEXT LEVEL with so much amazing technology!”
Technology can definitely help, especially when you consider how antiquated their webpage is (background music in 2016, really?). But when we look at many of the innovations that made the recent World Indoor Championships so successful, it was more a matter of doing the simple things right than radically changing the presentation. As Kevin Sully wrote on the Daily Relay: “It’s the type of ‘innovation’ that isn’t really all that innovative compared with other sports.” Things like decreasing down time, letting fans know the standings, and more will go a long way in helping fans connect with the field events.Doing the simple things right is just as important as innovation in athletics. Click To Tweet
Reducing the Number of Throws/Jumps Will Not Fix Our Sport
This is not the first time this format has been tried. To my knowledge, a similar version was first introduced at the European Team Championships in 2010. The reasoning given for the change was that the format is more television-friendly and finishes faster. But if you watch coverage both before and after the change it’s doubtful you would notice any difference; in both cases the field events were barely shown on television. The same will be true in the Diamond League where we are lucky if we see the winning throw or jump on television currently. And, if you want to make the event run faster try reducing the downtime, intros, and interviews. At my club we have had throws competitions with twice as many throwers take half the time as the Diamond League.
Athletes take days out of their training, travel hundreds of miles, and most will just get a few throws. The main impact of the change has been that performances were reduced and the same will happen in the Diamond League. Already the Olympic standard was not at any meet in Diamond League last year. The standard was subsequently reduced, but still only four people surpassed that revised mark on the world’s biggest stage. What do you think will happen if the number of attempts is reduced by half for most throwers?
Simply making something shorter does not make it better. If that were the case, the smart marketing machine at the NFL would quickly cut out the fourth quarter. But no one says four quarters is too long, and I have yet to hear any fans complain that the current format is too long at the Diamond League. Four quarters in the NFL allows a story to be told. We need to tell stories; that is what is missing from the presentation of our sport. Even if a faster competition meant more airtime, that still wouldn’t necessarily benefit our sport. Benn told me that it is more a matter of how that airtime is used. If coverage does not show how the competition develops, the head-to-head rivalries, or other information then an extra minute on screen does little to help our sport grow.Simply making something shorter does not make it better. Better storytelling makes it better. Click To Tweet
New Minds Might Help More Than New Formats
In speaking with several athletes and coaches, the biggest frustration about this change comes from the fact that no one was consulted. This, and many changes like this, are made unilaterally without talking to those people best connected with the sport. Many of the decision makers in athletics are just out of touch with our sport. As the scandals of the past year have shown, we need some new ideas at the top, and we need skilled minds and creative people to bring about the changes our sport needs.
Decisions like this are not the solution. Neither are excluding some events, like the hammer throw, altogether. All they do is disenfranchise and frustrate more athletes and fans. In speaking with Benn that is all I could think about. So I’ll finish off this post with another quote from him that tells about his journey through the sport:
“When I was a kid and I watched VHS of my heroes competing in Golden League meets and I was able to see them in their element. The conquest. The competition. It really gave me inspiration to continue with sport and to compete internationally. When I arrived on the scene around those stars I was overwhelmed, not by the competition, but by the athletes. I was rubbing shoulders with them and had earned my place to compete against them. The competitions however didn’t live up to my expectations. I found out how they were treated, where “we” stood on the pecking order, how fast the sport was declining and that we just had to “accept it”. It has become part of sport. The pecking order. I think its disgusting the inequalities that exist and especially in a society where equal payment, equal rights and such are developing.
I’m disgusted honestly. That’s how I feel. I also feel helpless, like we have no voice. Have the organizations even consulted with the athletes, or does an athletes commission exist where the voice of all athletes across all disciplines be heard? I feel like instead of marketing the sport in a creative way, they just cut them out (hammer, walks, fewer attempts) instead of integrating a more spectator-friendly format. Look at darts for example, its boring to watch but the way it is marketed and appeals to the “punters” is something to be commended. Who is accountable?”
Do we need more than four in the 100m finals? I don’t care about the guys in the outer lanes, they had their chance but now their stories and introductions bore me.
I didn’t read any solutions offered. I have written about having a “take-off sector” for horizontal jumps in order to record the actual distance these athletes achieve. This would virtually eliminate all fouls because you’d have a 60 cm. “sector” where your plant would be recorded. Give everyone 4 attempts and “go for it” on every single one. In the throws and horiz. jumps, lose one of your attempts if you foul. It’s the fouls (40% in Int’Championship horiz. jump competitions) that slow things down and bore the spectators. Let’s hear some other ideas about how to improve things instead of grousing about what’s being proposed.
My old idea is to implant a chip in the throwing implements so that the instantaneous distance can be displayed. You would even see the distance count up as the implement is in flight like in the video games.
My main point here is that what difference does it make to eliminate more throwers if we don’t show it on TV or tell the story anyway. You should know more than anyone Dwight, if we only show the winning throw or jump the suspense is sucked out of the event. As far as ways to improve it, I didn’t go into much detail since I’ve written a lot about it before. Technology can be used to speed up the meet (look at how technology measured the long in Portland), but speed is rarely the issue, storytelling is. Garry’s article had many the biggest suggestion: let fans know what position athletes are in. Simple, but effective. Technology can help here for live fans (apps, better reader boards, etC.). For fans at home simple stuff like cutting I to the competition at different times for updates is fast and easy way to tell an evolving story, but rarely used as most people would rather hear talking heads listen to themselves or include a post-race interview with no depth. You’ve heard this all before I’m sure. Other ways to help is to improve the whole series structure as a whole, which I’ve written about in the below links. I’m more than happy to discuss ideas, but my point here is that I don’t see the new format helping their goals and all it does is further alienate athletes.
In Southern California we use transit units to measure the distances and we can post our marks in about 5 secs after the prism hits the mark. We are able to move the throws events very fast. We started this by listening to the athletes . At the Mt. Sac relays , Triton meet, Olympic training center, USC meets they have us come in so at the end of an event we are averaging around 60 throws in 30 min.
To find out where the problem is on time we first time how long it takes to get a mark from the time the prism hits the mark. Then we time how long it takes to get the official to the mark after it lands. Then we time the ring coordinator on the time it takes to get athletes in the ring. Once we are done with the three throws and go to finals that is where a lot of time is wasted,but with field lynx and a touch of the button we have finals ready in 2 sec.