Despite success at the World Championships, the track’s popularity in the US has lagged behind.

Behind sprint sweeps, breakthrough throwing medals and indomitable talent hurdler Sidney McLaughlinThe United States spent 10 days emphatically reminding that it is still what Sebastian Coe, leader of athletics’ global governing body, has called the sport’s “powerhouse”.

However, during the 10 days that the world’s best competed to a small sell-out crowd, questions remained about how much action was seen outside of the green seats of Hayward Field, the first outdoor world championship held in the US, offered another reminder. , and fresh concerns that the country is “not gaining ground” as a market for the sport’s growth, Coe added.

To change it World Athleticsmanaged by Coe, and USA Athletics veins working on a joint plan with the goal of making athletics the fifth most played sport in the United States at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. This would be a three position improvement over the 2019 Nielsen study. The USATF has said it will introduce a five-city domestic circuit starting next year, with a stop in Los Angeles.

The initiative even has a working title: Project USA.

Eugene, Oregon, according to Coe, is an “absolutely obsessed athletics community.”

And the US as a whole?

“Die hard,” he said.

Awarding Eugene the 2014 World Junior Championships and Portland the 2016 World Indoor Championships, and then making Eugene the host of those outdoor championships through a surprise no-bid process, a 2015 decision by Coe’s predecessor, Lamine Diack, that was heavily criticized, and also being investigated by the US Department of Justice and reportedly by the FBI – World Athletics is sending a clear message that its path to significance requires a stronger presence in the US.

The attractiveness of the United States—50 million recreational runners, thousands of schoolchildren, and great sponsorship potential—would be reason enough. But it was especially important, said Coe, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 meters, because athletics’ inaction to promote itself gave way to other sports.

“I probably won’t be Mr. It’s Popular, but I don’t think the sport sold as well in years past as it could in the US,” Coe said. “I think there was a complacency over the years that thought it was enough to come back from the Olympics or the World Championships to the top of the medal table. I think there’s a lot more recognition now that this in itself is important, but it’s not enough.”

American runner Ating Moo celebrates her victory in Sunday's women's 800m race.

American runner Ating Moo celebrates her victory in Sunday’s women’s 800m race.

(David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

No city in the United States is as closely associated with sports as Eugene. This was the logical entry point. It was also their only option, Coe said – even after World Athletics relaxed the application process to allow its board to actively seek out potential host cities.

“There weren’t many options at the table,” Coe said. “There should have been, and we should have practiced earlier.”

Athletes praised the passionate and knowledgeable local fans.

“I feel like it showed in the performance of the athletes, especially in the medal count of the American athletes,” said American sprinter Christian Coleman. “I’m not sure when the next opportunity will come, but I’d love to have another big championship here on American soil. It’s pretty special.”

Coe acknowledged that Eugene’s choice comes with risks. Those who attended in person were most likely already fans of the tracks, rather than casual viewers they hope to convert by 2028.
Locals describe a feeling of athletic weariness after so many high-profile bouts this spring and summer, from the Pac-12 and Prefontaine Classics to the NCAA and US championships.

Hayward Field, which cost $270 million to renovate and was funded primarily by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, is eye-catching for its opulence but smaller than stadiums that have hosted past championships in places like London, Moscow, Beijing and Doha, Qatar.

According to the local organizing committee, in the first nine days, the average attendance of spectators with tickets was 14,540, and on the third day it was 21,065. This number does not take into account the total attendance, which includes athletes or certified individuals. World Athletics, describing the “economic hurdles” customers faced, said attendance was one of several metrics the company would later test, including media coverage consumption, stadium capacity and broadcast metrics, to gauge the success of the competition.

Other sports officials, not authorized to speak publicly on a sensitive subject, expressed strong disappointment with the crowd at Eugene.

Track’s ambitions depend on penetrating the saturated sports market beyond those watching in the stadium. On television, NBC stated that its coverage of the first three days reached 11.4 million viewers, more than its coverage of all previous World Championships, and that the opening weekend averaged 2.2 million viewers.

Those who watched saw Team USA put on a brilliant performance, winning a record 33 medals at the World Championships. Their 13 gold medals were one short of their record for singles championships, and the seven gold medals won by US women matched their championship record set in 2017. After three medals in the sprint at the Tokyo Olympics, the men’s 100m and 200m swings. It was also the first World Championships where an American won medals in the javelin throw, gold in the shot put and hammer throw.

It is important to note that the country’s youngest stars won a stormy audience. McLaughlin, 22, scored the lead by running 50.68 seconds to gold in the 400 hurdles, becoming the first woman to break 51 seconds. And 20-year-old Ating Moo defended her Olympic 800m title on Sunday, taking the world title.

Devon Allen competes in the 110m hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon.

Devon Allen competes in the 110m hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Spectators also saw American hurdler Devon Allen, a sentimental favorite given his fame in Oregon, disqualified ahead of the final 110m hurdles after leaving the starting blocks in 0.99 seconds – one thousandth of a second early. than permitted by the rules of World Athletics. The moment drew heavy criticism on social media from fans who asked why athletics were reducing their appeal by not allowing their top athletes to compete. Even Allen’s own competitors lobbied for his interests.

A 2009 World Athletics study recommended lowering the false start threshold to less than 0.1 second. The competition committee of the organization is empowered to recommend such changes. Coe rejected the suggestion that 0.1 be an arbitrary standard, but said of the competition committee, “I think they’ll look into that.”

One hurdle for World Athletics that will continue long after he leaves Willamette Valley is that he shares his highlights because he does not own his television content and is allowed to distribute three minutes of NBC reporting per day on social media.

“That’s the right direction,” said Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, a former USC star who ran the anchor leg of the gold medal-winning Canadian 4×100 relay team. “I know that athletics is a European sport. When I go to Europe, man, the fans go crazy there, but it’s hard here in the US. You have to compete with basketball, baseball, football and everything else.

“I think it’s moving in the right direction, if they just sell it a little better, try to put it on some of the top networks like ESPN or Fox or one of those, then maybe things will go in the right direction.”

Coe said World Athletics is also in the process of developing a docu-series modeled after the Netflix series Drive to Survive that catapulted F1’s popularity in the US. Other proposals that Coe is considering in hopes of attracting a wider audience include cutting the format from 10 days. The earliest shortened format could be introduced in 2027 as the organization has already signed contracts with Budapest, Hungary and Tokyo for 2023 and 2025.

The World Championships in their current form were first held in 1983. It took 39 years to get to the United States. Kou said it as if it wasn’t long before he returned.

“We want to come back here,” he said. It won’t be Eugene. I want to go back to Los Angeles, Miami or Chicago.”