In a track and field season almost entirely wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, athletes and organizers are setting new marks in creativity. The famed Weltklasse meet did—meet, that is. But not all together in Zurich, Switzerland’s Letzigund Stadium as it has in the past. Only a few of the 30 athletes participating were actually there. Others started and competed simultaneously in one of six empty stadiums scattered across Europe and the United States.
Olympic sprint champion Allyson Felix raced in California, while world 200-meter champion Noah Lyles and Olympic triple jump gold medalist Christian Taylor were in Florida. Though the athletes were under pressure, it likely didn’t exceed the pressure felt by the staff members who were in charge of timing and broadcasting results accurately.
Technicians in Zurich received images transmitted on a slight delay from the United States, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden. All had to be synchronized within two minutes for broadcast during the 90-minute show.
“This is something that has never been done before,” Swiss Timing executive Alain Zobrist said.
Zobrist's team monitored for false starts and photo finishes—all from Zurich.
“I was totally on board with the concept,” says Felix, who has gotten back into competitive running after taking a short break when her daughter was born in November 2018. She lined up in the 150 meters against Olympic 400-meter champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo in Florida and Mujinga Kambundji in Zurich—and won.
Of the multi-site competition, Felix says she “thought it was super creative just adapting to what’s going on in the world right now.”
Taylor was equally enthusiastic during a news conference held online from the athletes’ homes and training bases. “If this is what the new normal is for this period then let’s attack it full on,” the Olympic and world champion said.
Weltklasse director Andreas Hediger spent four months planning this most complete track meet of the outdoor season. But he does not expect the event to be a template for others to follow in the near future. It was, however the “only possibility we have now to bring the best athletes together,” Hediger says.
(Allyson Felix competes in the women’s 150-meter dash in the Weltklasse Zürich Inspiration Games. She ran her race at Mt. San Antonio College on July 9, 2020, in Walnut, California. Athletes competed from seven different locations around the world. AP Photo/Ashley Landis)