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Diamond League Primer

With apologies to Mo Farah, the signature race of the 2012 track and field season was David Rudisha‘s victory in the 800m finals on Aug. 9 at the Olympics in a world record time of 1:40.91. Rudisha’s stunning display of front-running was made all the more impressive by a game field, as second place finisher Nijel Amos of Botswana tied the prior world record of 1:41.73 and the last place runner finished in 1:43.77.

Fewer were paying attention at the end of August when Mohammed Aman, who finished 6th in the Olympic finals in 1:43.20, ran down Rudisha in the final straightaway of a wet track in the Diamond League meet at Zurich to claim a victory in the series. It was a smaller scale, but riveting nonetheless. It wasn’t as if Rudisha didn’t want to win that one, also.

The haphazard state of professional running is the subject of much hand-wringing in the running media and among the runners themselves. There’s far less money in track and field than in the NFL, NBA, or the individual and international pro sports golf and tennis, and there are no “majors” akin to the Masters, Wimbledon, etc., but what there is, even in a non-Olympic year, isn’t all bad.

Today, the fourth season of the global Diamond League series gets underway, with a meet in Doha that includes an 800m race with Rudisha, Aman, and Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Kitum. Allyson Felix will be racing in the 400m. The world’s best runners are not at all of the Diamond League events – Galen Rupp and Mo Farah aren’t racing today, neither is Usain Bolt for that matter – but make no mistake, these are not JV races. By the end of the season, all of the best runners show up.

Since we have a vested interest in increasing interest in the sport, we’d like to explain in a nutshell exactly how the Diamond League works, to enable fans to understand it and follow it as they would, say, an MLB or NFL  season.

There are 14 track meets, spanning from today until the final two in Zurich (Aug. 29) and Brussels (Sept. 6), which are counted twice in terms of year-end scoring. These occur in stadiums large and small around the world (the two smallest stadiums are those in the U.S., the May 25 meet at Ichan Stadium in NYC and the June 1 meet at Hayward Field in Eugene, OR). There are 16 distinct Diamond League events for men and 16 for women. Nine of these are on the track, ranging from 100m to 5,000m and including hurdles and steeplechase, and seven are field events. Each of the fourteen meets features half of the events, and at the end of the season whoever does best cumulatively in the seven scored races (in each of the 32 total events) wins a $40,000 prize. In addition, the athlete takes home, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), a “spectacular diamond trophy,” and “the unchallenged honour of being the World Number 1.” There is also prize money awarded at each individual meet, from $10,000 for first place in an event through $1,000 for 8th.

Got it? There are other details, but that’s the gist. The USATF Outdoor Championships from June 20-23 in Des Moines, Iowa and the World Championships in Moscow from Aug. 10-18 are the other obvious highlights of the track season.


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