Multiple head-to-heads between the world’s top two sprinters would be overkill
Fans have been disappointed to see Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in separate races during the end-of-season meetings such as the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels. There, Bolt ran the 100m and Blake the 200m and we were denied a mouth-watering clash.
The same happened a few days earlier when Bolt won the 200m and Blake the 100m at the Weltklasse in Zurich. Ricky Simms, Bolt’s manager, told the Independent: “The people who are always thinking there should be head-to-heads nine months of the year don’t really understand athletics. The athletes have to use races to get into shape for the major championships. They will very rarely have big head-to-heads before the major championships.”
Simms added: “It makes the major championships even more valuable. That’s why the Olympics is so special. If we do this every week it will devalue the big day.”
I would love to have seen Bolt race Blake in Zurich and Brussels, but ultimately I have to agree with Simms. Constant head-to-heads between the titans of athletics would potentially become dull, whereas one or two clashes per year means the showdowns remain special.
When this topic comes up, people always think of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett and the few occasions they raced. Their head-to-heads included the 1972 English Schools Cross Country Championships, when both were beaten by Kirk Dumpleton, the 1978 European 800m in Prague, when they lost to Olaf Beyer, the two clashes at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1984 LA Games, followed by the 1989 AAA 1500m final.
So only seven races in total and only two on home soil – but would their rivalry had held such mystique if they had raced almost every weekend? I doubt it.
When races or events are held too often, they become diluted. On a similar theme, the European Championships is in danger of losing its importance on the calendar now that it has become biennial event.
Quality almost always beats quantity – and this is never truer than in the case of high-profile head-to-heads. Good entertainers always leave the crowd wanting more – and next year’s clash in at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow will be all the richer for waiting.