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Professional Track and Field

JUNE 2, 2011

Hi everyone. Continuing where we left off in learning about Olympic javelin throwing, here’s what we’ve learned about the mysterious world of professional track and field so far:

  1. The Olympics are every four years, and you qualify for them by hitting a standard and placing top 3 at the Olympic Trials.
  2. World Championships are every other year (aka, each year that ends with an odd number), and you make this team by hitting a standard and placing top 3 at USATF Outdoor National Championships.
  3. USATF Outdoor National Championships are every year, in June.

As professional track and field athletes, we need to compete to make money.  Some people compete A LOT to make their living, while others pick and choose a little bit more.  There are lots of different options for competition at lots of different times of the year.  Here a just a few of the options:

  • Pan-American Games and Continental Cup

Every four years, the Pan-American Games happen.  These are run with the same concept as the Olympics, but only North American, South American and Caribbean countries compete.  The sports contested are a little different than the Olympic sports.  For example, Rugby is not an Olympic sport, but they do send a team to the Pan-Am Games.  Similarly, women’s softball was removed from the Olympics for the 2012 Games, but will still be contested at Pan-Ams.  The last Pan-Am Games was in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2007.

There used to be a competition that was a big deal called the World Cup.  I wasn’t competing internationally yet when it was around, so that’s all I can really tell you about it.  Sorry!  Last year, the first inaugural IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup was held in September in Split, Croatia.  The top two athletes in each event from each of four continent groups (Americas, Asia/Pacific Islands, Africa, and Europe) were sent to compete for big prize money and combined team scores.  There could only be one athlete in each event from each country (not two Cuban women’s triple jumpers, for example), so it was pretty neat to be a part of such a diverse team!

  • Diamond League:

I returned from Rome on Friday night.  On Thursday, I competed in the Compeed Golden Gala, the firstIAAF/Samsung Diamond League event this year for the women’s javelin.  The Diamond League began last year; for the 2010 outdoor season.  It is a series of 7 meets per track and field event in which top placers earn points.  Those points are added up throughout the series of 7 meets and the person with the most points at the end earns the Diamond Trophy and $40,000.  In the first six meets, the point distribution is as follows: First place gets four points, second place gets two, and third place gets one.  No one else gets any points.  In the Diamond League Final (the seventh meet in the series), the points are doubled: First place gets eight points, second place gets four, and third gets two.  There is also prize money for all places at each of the seven Diamond League meets. 

placed fourth on Thursday in Rome.  I threw 62.76m, or 1.76m over the World A Standard for my event!  You’ll remember what that is from my last post.  I’m pretty happy about it, but I really wanted one of those valuable Diamond Points!  I was in third place until the sixth round, when World Record Holder Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic passed me.  I had a chance to pass her again, but didn’t pull it off that day.  Maria Abakumova of Russia won, Christina Obergfoell of Germany was second, and Barbora came in third.  These three were the Olympic medalists in Beijing in 2008.  At the end of last year’s Diamond League series of meets, I was second overall in points behind Barbora, so I’m really looking to duplicate or better that consistency and success this year.

  • World Challenge:

I competed in Berlin, Germany last year in the ISTAF Berlin World Challenge meet in Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium.  World Challenge meets might be bigger (more events) than Diamond League ones, or they might be smaller (less events), but they typically offer great competition and great atmosphere for a track meet.  In Berlin last year, there was a fabulous crowd and David Rudisha of Kenya set a World Record in the men’s 800m.  The event distribution across all the World Challenge meets isn’t as even as in the Diamond League, and prize money varies at each one, depending on what the meet organizers have set up.  There is somewhat of a focus on the hammer in World Challenge meets since that event is, sadly, not contested in the Diamond League.

  • U.S. meets:
Kara Pattersonblogvert

Most track and field competitions in the United States (excluding nationals) are based around the college system.  That being said,USA Track and Field has what they call “High Performance Meets” for different events throughout the early season, across the country.  These meets are still based around the college system, but USATF pays for qualified professional athletes (and amateur ones that meet the same requirements) to go, and oftentimes provides those competitors with biomechanical feedback after they’ve performed.  The payment is the trip to the meet and the biomechanical analysis.  For the women’s javelin, the two High Performance Meets this year were Mt. SAC Relays in mid-April and the Tucson Elite Throwers Classic on May 19th and 21st.  The Tucson meet is a throws-only, two-day, mock-qualification-round-and-then-final meet that has loud music and good weather every year.  I love it.  I’ve only been once, and I missed out this year because I went to Rome shortly after Tucson was contested.  I didn’t go to Mt. SAC either, because Drake Relays, which ASICSsponsors, was a week later.  ASICS also sponsors me, so I threw at their meet

  • Other:
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Apparently there used to be a men’s javelin-only meet in Finland each summer.  I’ve heard stories of crowds and crowds of people on either side of the runway, and the country’s biggest javelin star being flown in on a helicopter to the delight of the local fans.  There are pole vault street meets that happen all over Europe, complete with adult beverage service for spectators throughout each competition.  We had a Mall Vault here in Chula Vista, California at the Otay Ranch Town Center on Sunday; see the picture for a view from the second story of REI.  Russ competed in the Kostritzer Werfertag (“Thrower Day” in German) last season.  It was a combination Highland Games and track and field thrower’s day, and it was a total blast to watch!  The Werfertag was sponsored by the local brewery, and the victorious athlete in each event was presented with a gigantic mug of Kostritzer Schwarzbier, their award-winning adult beverage (see the other picture for a look at the podium).  Sometimes 200m straights are set up in streets of certain cities, and sprints events are contested in the middle of town.  Shot put can have street events too; Russ went to one in Dakar, Senegal in 2009 that was set in a square on the island that slave ships used to sail out of on the North side of Africa.  Wow.

To sum up, there are tons of track meets, all the time.  Asian Championships are sometimes contested in December, Australian meets start outdoor in January (since it’s their summer at that time), and this year, Pan-Am Games are being held in Mexico at the end of October.  I have a whole lot to do in the years between Olympic Years, and it’s a whole lot of fun to travel the world and see so many different venues available for world-class track and field competition.

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