In these dark days of professional track and field when doping suspicions hang over the World Championships like the pollutant-heavy atmosphere hangs over Beijing, what I’m about to suggest might be the worst possible advice for everyone involved. But I’d like to recommend that if you haven’t done so yet, enter the LetsRun/Running Warehouse World Championships Prediction Contest.
Setting aside all the purer motives for following a major championship in our sport, the prediction contest has added a great deal to my enjoyment of these meets. Not only that, having to fill out predictions for non-marquee events forces me to pay more attention to those events, both before and during the competition. In fact, one of my only complaints with the folks at LetsRun is that they always leave out field events from their form (where are the throwing events this year?). But even with its flaws, the prediction contest keeps me on the edge of my seat following all the action to see how it affects my chances of winning fame and fortune by correctly guessing which favorites will take care of business or flame out, and which newcomers will earn podium finishes.
Entering the prediction contest is only one way to spice up track spectating. There have been attempts to set up track “fantasy” leagues, where you draft runners for your team and earn points depending on how they finish in Diamond League events. Given that fantasy football has become a 70-billion dollar industry (source: Forbes), it’s not surprising that track and field would try to get in on the same game, but it hasn’t taken off — probably there’s not enough chance and volatility in track and field to lend itself to fantasy play.
And then there’s the somewhat scandalous idea of allowing actual betting on runners. Let me say for the record, that this is probably a terrible idea that would totally corrupt the sport and lead to more, not less, cheating — both PED-based and otherwise. Also, there’s something that feels morally abhorrent about allowing human athletes to be the subject to the same kind of wagering as horses and dogs. The possibilities for abuse are fearful to contemplate.
So consider all that, don’t think too harshly of me when I say that allowing betting would also guarantee that a lot more people would develop an interest and pay attention to professional track and field. I’m guessing there would be a lot of new fans, and live broadcasts would become a much bigger deal. I suppose we could even rehabilitate the much-maligned (on this blog) Tom Hammond, who has always called track races like horse races anyway.
Would such activity benefit athletes? Maybe, or maybe it would introduce a whole new level of exploitation and corruption, with the mob getting involved to bribe officials, and pay off athletes to lose races on purpose.
Oh well, we won’t go there yet, but still, do consider participating in the prediction contest for Beijing. It requires no money to enter, and will not destroy civilization as we know it, just a willingness to pick gold, silver, and bronze medalists for most of the events. You’ll immediately begin poring over the form chart, trying to gauge the chances of this year’s 400m hurdlers (and other athletes you’ve been taking for granted), weighing experience vs. recent performances, as you try to select a winning trifecta.
And I suppose if you make a few side wagers with your friends, that’s still all in good fun, right?