The inaugural Athletics World Cup will be staged in London this weekend with the IAAF and British organisers hoping the concept will find a permanent slot in the calendar, despite clashing with other major sports events.
The competition comes from the stated drive of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Sebastian Coe to attract new audiences with fresh ideas, utilising a format which provides non-stop action. There will be eight competing nations, with one entrant per team in every male and female track and field event up to the 1500 metres.
Points tallied up at the close of two days at the London Stadium will determine which country lifts the platinum winners’ trophy.
Great Britain, the United States, Jamaica, South Africa, China, Germany, France and Poland all qualified as the top eight in the medal standings at the 2017 IAAF world championships, also in London, and will share the USD 2 million (GBP 1.42m) prize fund.
“Each event is going to be filled with high-level athletes and high-level competition,” U.S. shot putter Darrell Hill said. “It won't be super-long and drawn out. So it will be short and quick and very elite. That's probably the best format, so that it's not over-flowing.”
And yet some argue the clash of dates with Sunday’s football World Cup final in Moscow, and the concluding day nearby of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, has left the new competition toiling to gain traction out of the starting blocks. As has the absence of a number of leading performers, including the current top three in the men's 100 metres world rankings, Americans Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker and Michael Rodgers, and British favourites Dina Asher-Smith and Laura Muir, with Germany and China also fielding weakened teams.
Additionally, a sponsorship row involving a number of shoe companies removed some potential competitors from the fray.
‘It will take time’
Nevertheless, optimism remains. It is understood firm interest has already been expressed by possible hosts for the next scheduled edition in 2020 with a willingness from the IAAF to give the event an opportunity to grow. “We know it will take time to establish itself,” said UK Athletics major events director Cherry Alexander.
“The response from other federations has been enthusiastic and they've really bought into it as a long-term fixture. The athletes from the eight teams competing at Athletics World Cup have around 150 Olympic and world medals between them. There are 28 Olympic and world champions, with 43 Olympic and world titles between them, so we know there is a huge appetite to compete from the top athletes.”
All eyes on Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya is primed to run three races in three days with the Olympic 800 metres champion appearing at Friday's Diamond League meeting in Rabat before undertaking a 800-1500m double for South Africa. She may be the favourite to triumph in London.
Double Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist Elaine Thompson spearheads Jamaica's challenge with host Great Britain and Northern Ireland captained by current long jump rankings leader Lorraine Ugen. It might not carry the status of the other World Cup reaching its finale this weekend, but with prestige and money on offer, the battle for international supremacy will be intense, U.S. captain Queen Harrison promised.
“Team USA always rally as a team and have fun,” the 100m hurdler said. “But most importantly, (we) end up on top.”
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