Mo Farah v Usain Bolt is the latest in a number of off-beat race ideas to fascinate the public
Last year there was talk of Usain Bolt racing David Rudisha over 400 or 500 metres. Now, the prospect of Bolt v Mo Farah has blown up into a big story.
With world 800m record-holder Rudisha recovering from injury, the in-form Farah has laid down the gauntlet to Bolt by challenging him to a charity race over a neutral distance of 600m. Rudisha v Bolt didn’t ever look close to coming off, but with Farah and Bolt being friends and part of the same PACE management agency, an end-of-season fun race looks far more likely.
If such showdowns have a bad reputation, it is mainly due to the infamous Donovan Bailey v Michael Johnson head-to-head in 1997. Around 30,000 fans packed into the Toronto SkyDome for the two-man race to decide the world’s fastest man and a reporter from AW was even flown over by a sponsor to watch it unfold.
It was a huge anti-climax, though, with Johnson pulling out at the halfway mark with a quadriceps injury, which meant the Canadian’s victory was a formality. “This is not sports as entertainment, but more like something out of a circus,” said IAAF president Lamine Diack.
Yet since then, UK Athletics has flirted with such races with decent success. Seven months ago 800m runners such as Duane Solomon and Andrew Osagie were pitted against 400m hurdler Dai Greene over 600m at an indoor international in Glasgow, with the American Solomon winning easily.
Keen track fans will also remember the hugely entertaining indoor 400m hurdles at Birmingham’s NIA in 2011. Chaos reigned as runners broke from their lanes after the first 200m lap and Felix Sanchez literally fell over the line to narrowly win a great three-way battle.
There was also the 4x100m “legends relay” at the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in 2010 when Roger Black, the 1996 Olympic 400m silver medallist, anchored his squad to victory over teams that included British sprinters John Regis, Jason Gardener and Iwan Thomas. A big success, it received virtually the loudest cheer of the day.
This topic has come up before in the pages of Athletics Weekly and ideas have included giving a bigger audience to relay teams of young athletes to attack world or British records over distances such as one mile or 10,000m.
Bolt is a popular figure in such discussions. In addition to races with Rudisha and Farah, how about taking on Olympic 400m champion Kirani James at 300m?
Elsewhere, TV commentator Tim Hutchings suggests matching someone like Farah against a top woman runner such as, for example, Allyson Felix over maybe 300m.
In the field, we could see Christian Taylor v Greg Rutherford in a standing long jump. It’s a bit corny and circus-like, but some fans might like to see throwers attack weird world records such as chucking a mobile phone.
On a more off-beat note, I’d love to see Jess Ennis and Ashton Eaton take on the self-billed “fittest on the planet” sportsmen and women like Rich Froning and Annie Thorisdottir from the world of CrossFit in a Superstars-style obstacle course.
The possibilities are endless.