This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes an opinion for CBC Sports. For more information on CBC opinion sectionplease see the Frequently asked questions.

Athletes asked, fans amplified and the people who signed the checks at Diamond League Rabat, the athletics competition scheduled for this Sunday in Morocco, delivered the hottest matchup in sport.

Fred Kerley of the USA against Lamont Jacobs of Italy over 100 meters.

Jacobs is the long jumper turned sprint specialist turned shock Olympic champion: two summers ago he ran 9.80 to win gold in Tokyo. And Kerley is the quarter miler turned 100m runner turned world champion. Last summer in Oregon, he ran 9.86 to lead the USA’s medal sweep at the glam event of the world championships.

Sunday’s race, then, will determine the title of the fastest man in the world.


Until the next meeting of Jacobs and Kerley.

Scheduled for next Friday in Rome.

Lots of depth and talent.

We should probably also mention some of the other six sprinters hired to run in Rabat, because they are important.

Trayvon Bromell will be there. He won bronze in the 100m at the world championships last year. Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya will also line up. He ran a world-leading 9.84 seconds in the 100 meters earlier this month.

No, a full-field, eight-lane 100-meter race isn’t exactly the one-on-one rundown social media has been asking for, match races are the latest in a series of ideas that those interested in athletics They hope it will broaden and deepen the appeal of their sport. And they have a point. Most of us would rather see Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk than a battle royale with eight heavyweights. People wanted Bailey-Johnson 2.0, and the meet directors offered… a track meet.

But for all its parallels, including the never-ending search for a product that will consistently please both avid and casual fans, athletics is not boxing. The people promoting Diamond League Rabat didn’t need to ride the track equivalent of Ali-Frazier. They just spent a lot of money to make the most of the current format of the sport, which still doesn’t leave much room for match racing.

The risk for people looking for clear stories is that someone other than Kerley or Jacobs wins. But that possibility also adds intrigue to Sunday’s race. Whatever factors we think might help turn casual observers into engaged observers—personalities, storylines, social media presence—athletics’ power brokers continue to sell competition.

The men’s 100m race that is headlining the Diamond League Rabat has plenty of that. Eight sprinters, 16 world and Olympic medals between them.

With stakes this high, we may see Diamond League Rabat as the outdoor athletics equivalent of Christmas Day in the NBA. The season kicked off nearly eight weeks ago, but the unofficial kickoff is Sunday, when a critical mass of big names gather on a big stage, for big money and bragging rights.

Of course, the ongoing effort to expand the sport’s fan base is an evergreen subplot, leading decision makers to cut hours and tweak the rules. The one-time false start edict was designed to make broadcasts more TV-friendly by saving time. The length and pace of the events also prompted the decision, since reversed by World Athletics, to drop the 5,000 meters from Diamond League events.

These days, competing in track and field must feel a bit like boxing professionally or working in print. In all those shenanigans, talent is tasked with producing a top-tier product, while thinking deeply about how to save the business, with each big event doubling as a referendum on the health and future of the industry.

The stakes didn’t seem quite as high in the Usain Bolt era, when a single dominant sprinter held the sport’s highest-profile discipline in a hammerlock. Bolt won each of the six Olympic 100 and 200 meter finals he’s contested, and his unique display of speed and staying power simplified the sport’s branding process. When casual fans, tuning in to the Olympics and not much else, thought of athletics, they could always envision Bolt.

But now?

Four different gold medalists at the four world championships since Bolt’s last victory in 2016. Good news if you love parity, but a drag if you’re a casual fan who wants a quick and unequivocal answer to the question of who’s the man. fastest in the world. . Imagine explaining the NFL’s star hierarchy to a rookie without being able to reference quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. It is still possible, but much more complicated.

So thank the organizers of the Diamond League matches in Florence, Italy, and later in Rabat, for scheduling Jacobs and Kerley, and announcing that matchup first, as if it were one-on-one. They didn’t fool the audience; they simply presented a high-stakes regular race as the kind of extra-special occasion that resonates beyond the dedicated band of hardcore track and field fans.

the four favorites

The avid track followers among us recognize that, on paper, any one of four people is equipped to win this race.

Kerley, of course, has already run a 9.88 100 this season. On May 5 in Doha, he staggered into a world-class field to win a Diamond League 200m race in 19.92 seconds.

Those performances are current, making Jacobs the B-side of this main event. ran 6.41 to win a world indoor title in 2022, but we haven’t seen him healthy and full speed in the 100 since Tokyo in 2021.

As for Bromell, he is capable of setting a world leading time at any point in any season, and his personal best of 9.76 he is tied for the fastest in the field. But this is also his first 100m race of the season, so we can’t yet tell which direction he’s going.

And then there’s Omanyala, who might boast the most impressive combination of speed and muscle mass since bo jackson. If he didn’t already know he ran for a living, he might think he was a powerlifter, running to warm up for a 600-pound squat. It has a huge engine that burns a lot of fuel, witness its turned off late in the race in a 150 meter dash against Noah Lyles. But are you willing to discard it at 100 meters?

I am not.

Granted, none of these sprinters are the face of athletics, but none of them need to be. It’s not a drawback that men’s sprinting lacks the uniquely dominating figure it enjoyed during Usain Bolt’s reign. Seven of the eight sprinters confirmed for Sunday have run the 100 in 9.93 seconds or faster. So much depth is a blessing.

If any male sprinter becomes unbeatable between now and the Paris Olympics, it will increase the mainstream appeal of the sport. But until then, men’s sprinting boasts some of the most marketable assets in the sport.

Fast people, tight margins, and big egos.

The season starts now.

LOOK l Rob Pizzo, Morgan Campbell react to the first match of the Diamond League in Doha:

Diamond League 2023 Opener Match Recap: Sha’carri Richardson wins in the 100m in Doha

Host Rob Pizzo and court nerd Morgan Campbell react to the 2023 Diamond League opener in Doha. Americans Sha’carri Richardson and Fred Kerley stole the show. Aaron Brown placed third in the 200 m, while Andre De Grasse finished sixth.


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