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Diamond League in need of polish

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Published in Athletics
Monday, 27 November 2023 07:23
The Diamond League has sparkled this year, but there needs to be more continuity to take full advantage of this impressive product, writes Katharine Merry

The 2023 Diamond League Final has, with good reason, gone down as the best standalone two-day meeting ever in terms of quality. It was a fitting culmination to five months of competition across four continents and 13 events.

I was doing the in-stadium announcing at Hayward Field and I knew we were in for a good weekend when the first event, the mens 400m hurdles, saw Rai Benjamin break the Diamond League record and set a world lead of 46.39, beating Karsten Warholm into the bargain.

Before the event, I dont think Id have been alone in wondering if standards might slip a little, given that this final was coming at the end of a very long World Championships season, but the athletes were absolutely amazing. Again.

The world records of Gudaf Tsegay in the womens 5000m and Mondo Duplantis in the mens pole vault were, of course, outstanding, but the fact there were also five Diamond League records, one world under-20 record, nine area records, 14 meeting records and 14 world-leading marks tells its own story.

Gudaf Tsegay and Mondo Duplantis (Diamond League AG)

It was wonderful to see that so few athletes wanted to take their foot off the pedal and there definitely wasnt a last day of school feel to the performances. The majority of competitors seemed to want to wring every last drop out of the season.

A few athletes had points to prove and, for someone like the 200m Olympic champion Andre de Grasse, running his fastest time of the year (19.76) and landing such a high profile win right at the death will make a big difference to his winter.

He has not had the season he would have wanted but he now has confirmation again that he can run fast times and can beat quality opposition. It will have meant a lot to him psychologically. I dont think we can underestimate how important it was for some athletes to perform at that point in the season either, especially with the Olympics coming next year.

There have been some extraordinary moments over the course of this Diamond League season. There has been no shortage of stories across the events and it will be interesting now to see if there are any tweaks made to the format for next year.

There were rumblings from the distance runners when the 10,000m was dropped but, then, the 5000m has seen two world records on the womens side and been one of the most compelling events to watch.

The hammer is not part of the schedule, either, and I had a great conversation in Eugene with my fellow Birchfield athlete Bob Weir and his daughter Jillian, who won world bronze in the event last year, about this.

There is obviously a lot of unhappiness because certain events are not on the circuit, have been totally ousted and are not able to get any air time, competition or money. I wonder if, going forward, there will be plans to schedule them in?

ShaCarri Richardson beats Shericka Jackson (Getty)

One of the big features of the season has been the emergence of so many new names and one thing that heartens me is that there is still significance attached to an athlete being able to make it into a Diamond League meeting.

I do think that its one of the standards that a lot of athletes, younger athletes in particular, aspire to. The fact that they are making these start lines is hugely encouraging, too.

That certainly wont do any harm in trying to attract the younger audience which we keep being told is the key to the sports longevity. Another thing which would help, in my opinion, would be to ensure some continuity across the whole series of meetings. This is one area where I think some work really needs to be done.

I would love to see the Diamond Leagues all with the same format, with every meeting happening on the same day of the week and at the same time to get regularity for fans to know when the action is happening. It would be wonderful to know that Friday night is athletics night, for example, and that its obvious when every two or three weeks you can watch the best.

I spoke about this with a few people out in Eugene and they all said the same thing. Everybody needs to know that its on at a certain time, on a certain day. Every time.

Faith Kipyegon (Getty)

What you really want is a whole brand continuity across all of the meetings Ive seen it done and work well in netball, another sport in which Im heavily involved but unfortunately we are probably not going to get this with athletics because the meetings are still in the hands of individual countries and spread across the world in different time zones!

Its still the case that you have these individual events contributing towards the schedule and that can certainly be seen as one of the major problems.

From the fans point of view, we also have to be honest and admit that its still too hard for people to find and watch. We have to make it more accessible.

I know all these things are not that easy to do. But you have to try and, to be fair, I believe the sport is very much looking at how it might be able to do that.

Karsten Warholm (Diamond League AG)

I have heard a few athletes who bemoan how difficult it can be to get a lane in a Diamond League and that it is becoming more and more exclusive. I dont mind that, though.

You want the best athletes in the world at these events and I think a lot of Diamond Leagues do cater for the development of some events, albeit outside of the Diamond League programmes.

The popularity of the Continental Tour appears to be growing, and providing more opportunity for competition, but we just have to make sure thats up to scratch as well.

This past summer has provided further evidence of how just how good a product we have on our hands at the top level of athletics. Now weve got to get better at showing it off.

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