By Conway Hill
Tuesday, July 31 2007 10:40:02 PM
The Golden League has the largest payout on the European Circuit - $1 Million to be split among those athletes that can win their event at six different competitions throughout the summer. The opportunity to take home the entire $1 Million if you are the only athlete to do so! Great idea, isn’t it?
In theory yes it is. But in practice it needs a lot of tweaking.
The great part of the idea is the large payout - and its in gold bars no less! Tremendous money if you can earn it. A great incentive sometimes - and for some people. And it is at that point where it starts to go downhill and in a hurry, in my estimation.
For starters, it’s only available to a select few athletes each year competing in a handful of events. So it’s really selective as to who has the potential to get paid. And really, how do you decide which events are “worth” the money and which events aren’t? The hottest event in track and field the past two seasons has been the men’s 200 meters, yet it has not been included in the running for the money. Last year three men ran the event in 19.6 seconds and yet none of them had a shot at the sports’ biggest prize!
What kind of system is that? I mean, if the sport is going to have a huge prize offering, shouldn’t all of its competitors have a shot at it? Look at this year’s Golden League, for example. The following athletes are NOT eligible based on the events they compete in: Jeremy Wariner, Usain Bolt, Wallace Spearmon, Kerron Clement, Bernard Jackson, Irving Saladino, Christian Cantwell, Louis Tsatoumas, Virgilius Alekna (whose current win streak is well over 30 right now), and Allyson Felix to name a few. Tough to have a centerpiece of your season and have the majority of your stars non-eligible!
Another problem that I have with the current system is that it has become, or attempted to become, the main show each season. By that I mean that it is assumed that the athletes will structure their seasons around the Golden League, instead of the Golden League structuring itself around the athletes’ complete season.
With there being two World Championships and an Olympic Games in every four-year cycle, the Major Championships are the true goal of the majority of the sports’ star athletes. Yet it has become the Major Championships that seem to have to schedule around the Golden League events. The “Majors” look to schedule around dates that the Golden League hasn’t already taken - which, I’m sorry, seems backwards to me.
Then there are the National Championships, which should be one of two focused periods for the athletes. But each year, the Golden League starts right before the Championships period. Which forces athletes to decide which is more important - being ready for their Nationals, or taking time out to compete for the money.
That had some harsh effects for some athletes this year, as Sanya Richards took time out to go to Oslo and win, only to come back to the US and run sub par in her pet event, missing making the US squad by one place as a result. Similarly Asafa Powell took time to go to Oslo, only to go back to Jamaica and re-aggravate his groin injury. Our top athletes should not be put in the position to have to make these kinds of decisions.
As a result we’re looking at a Golden League this year that lacks the hype and names of previous seasons. To date only three athletes are in the running for the $1 Million, and interest in the chase seems to have waned. When the prize of $1 Million dollars loses its sense of excitement, it’s time for a change - and I have a few in mind.
First of all, let’s get another sponsor or two and see if we can’t up the ante to a few Million dollars - because we know that inevitably its going to be split up between several athletes anyway. Perhaps we can get each of the shoe companies to kick in a Million a piece or even a telecommunication company or two. And I know the oil companies have a little extra money to play with. A pot of around $5 Million should be possible to raise.
Then let’s devise a points system. Award dollar amounts based on points. And then let the athletes accumulate points/money throughout the season. Say the top three finishers in an event earn money points - $50,000, $25,000, and $15,000. If you were able to win all seven events that would give you $350,000. Then perhaps add bonuses for reaching certain levels. Double the money if you reach the $350,000 plateau. Perhaps a 50% bonus if you can get over $200,000. Finally, pay out starting from the top earners downwards until you exhaust the fund! Which means there is pressure to perform every time out in every event, every meet, or you run the risk of earning - nothing! You therefore keep every event in the mix all season long until the very end.
Finally, let’s make the schedule more athlete friendly. For starters, we’ll schedule AROUND the Major and the bulk of the National Championships. We start two weeks after most Nationals are done to give the athletes a proper rest period. Then we run it every two weeks up to two weeks before the Major Championship. Then resume two weeks after the Championship, and run in 10-day blocks until the League is done. That way, the Golden League can be more easily integrated into the seasons of the athletes - and more importantly its biggest stars! This in turn would make the Golden League more relevant to the season and throughout the season.
These are just a few thoughts. Perhaps there are even better ones out there. But the idea has run its course in its current form and could stand to be tweaked for the better. If nothing else, perhaps this is simply food for thought.
Mr. Hill is based in the United States in Northern California and has been following the sport of Track and Field for 40 years. He can be reached at Chill@HellenicAthletes.com