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Coe: The world championships are a very important market for us

The 18th edition of the World Championships in Athletics kicks off Friday in Eugene, Oregon, and while this is, remarkably, the first time the event has been staged in the United States, sports executives are banking on it to make a splash in the host country.

One of the big anomalies in athletics is that the United States has been its dominant superpower for over a century, but has never really taken the sport to heart in terms of live attendance, TV ratings or of media coverage.

This year’s event – postponed from 2021 due to COVID – is being held in the only city where unwavering support can be expected – “Tracktown USA”, the home of Nike and the host many of the major meetings in the country.

Yet even here thousands of tickets have yet to be sold for the rebuilt Hayward Field. While that’s not terribly unusual for the event – aside from London 2017 where there was barely an empty seat to be had on any day – it won’t be a great look for the newly built 12,650-seat venue. .

With nearby Autzen Stadium, home of the University of Oregon football team, regularly filling its 54,000 seats, it’s a stark reminder of where even elite international athletics sits in the fan pecking order nationwide.

World Athletics is of course fully aware of this issue and is placing great importance on the next two weeks to make a difference.

“It’s a very important market for us, it’s the biggest sports market in the world and we need to be more visible there,” said chairman Seb Coe.

“We don’t want to come out of the world championships in Oregon without a clear footprint for our sport in that country.”

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon added: “We have great live TV slots every night on NBC and Team USA should perform spectacularly and I think that alone will really help grow the audience. and our fan base in America.”

Dalilah Muhammad, defending 400 meters hurdles champion, told Reuters this week: “It’s really crazy to me that the world championships have never been held on American soil. It will bring more fans for the sport and will grow it. We’re producing such amazing athletes in the United States, so I think it’s about time we got some fan support.”

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The United States have won 170 gold medals since the first championship in 1983 – 110 more than second-best Kenya – and certainly look well equipped to top the medal table for the 14th time in 16 events.

In the men’s 100 meters blue ribbon, they have high hopes of making it a third in a row following the disappointment of the Tokyo Olympics where Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs won a shock gold medal.

Tokyo silver medalist Fred Kerley has been in fabulous form this season and could well be part of a podium sweep at home alongside defending champion Christian Coleman and Trayvon Bromell.

If that’s exactly what US TV executives hope, they suffered a blow when social media favorite Sha’Carri Richardson failed to qualify for the 100m or 200m. feminine.

Jamaica look set to dominate the women’s sprints again, with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce raging against her 35th birthday as she seeks a fifth 100m title under considerable threat from fellow two-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and in-form Shericka Jackson.

US Trials and Collegiate Championships have suggested that the bouncy track at Hayward Field is another lightning-fast track, potentially even faster than the Tokyo Olympics.

The combination of that surface, carbon-soled spikes now universally worn at all distances, and potentially good weather means world records should be on the cards.