Six Feet? Try Seven Separate Tracks

At the final summer season Olympics, Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo dueled down the ultimate stretch of the 400 meters. In a photograph end, Miller sprawled throughout the end line to win the gold medal by seven-hundredths of a second.

They will race once more on Thursday at a a lot higher distance within the Inspiration Games, the most recent and most elaborate try to stage a digital monitor and discipline meet through the coronavirus outbreak. Organizers of the Weltklasse Zurich, a prestigious one-day meet that has been canceled this 12 months due to the pandemic, are staging the occasion.

Separated by two lanes in Rio in 2016, Felix and Miller-Uibo will now be 1000’s of miles aside for his or her 150-meter race, which additionally contains Mujinga Kambundji of Switzerland. When Felix traces up in Walnut, Calif., Miller-Uibo will achieve this in Bradenton, Fla., and Kambundji will toe the road in Zurich.

Twenty-eight athletes will compete in eight disciplines at seven completely different tracks in Europe and the United States. Some of the occasions are seldom-contested distances — together with the 300-meter hurdles, 100 yards, and 3×100 meter relay — chosen to take the stress off athletes who is likely to be removed from their prime kind of their standard occasions.

Call it excessive social distancing.

“I’m the type of athlete who does better in a situation where I’m racing against someone,” Felix, a six-time Olympic gold medalist from the United States, stated in a teleconference this week.

“I feel like I rise to that occasion and feed off that so I think this will definitely be challenging to be out there by myself. Essentially it’s a time trial, but I love challenges and am always looking for a new goal, so this will be something different to accomplish.”

Using satellites and synchronizing technology, organizers will start each of the three participants simultaneously with digitally controlled starting guns. Races will be broadcast with a two-minute delay to account for the lag in transmission to the broadcast center in Zurich, which will synchronize the television images from all three venues and use a triple split screen.

No spectators will be allowed at most of the sites, but 300 officials and volunteers are expected to attend at Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich.

“One choice you have is to stick your head in the sand, but the other is to ask what is possible,” said Stefan Koch, an executive with the host broadcaster, SRF. “We can do something, so let’s do whatever is possible right now.”

But the split-screen television images of them running in a downpour while the Norwegians raced on a clear night in Oslo made for quite a contrast.

More disparities could surface during the Inspiration Games. Of the eight events, only the 100-yard race will have all three competitors in the same location with Andre De Grasse, Jimmy Vicaut and Omar McLeod running directly against each other in Bradenton, Fla.

The other events could offer up a wide range of wind and weather conditions across the different locations as runners compete for $10,000 for first place, $6,000 for second and $4,000 for third.

“It will not be really 100 percent comparable of course,” said Andreas Hediger, one of the meet directors. “In one stadium there probably will be a tailwind and in another venue maybe a headwind. But it will give a lot of topics to discuss for commentators and other experts. We will have Swiss timing in every venue, and there will be a ratifiable result for each athlete at the venue. We have photo finish and wind gauges.”

What remains unclear is whether virtual events like these will have a future in a post-pandemic world.

Hopefully, Thursday’s event will all function more seamlessly than Tuesday’s teleconference call in which De Grasse and the sprinter Noah Lyles were unable to connect.

“Nothing will ever replace the magic of live athletics in a crowded arena,” Coe said. “But I hope that some of the unique formats we have tried in the last few months will offer meeting directors and our member federations some alternative ways of holding competition in challenging times, and even in times of greater normalcy.”

For the time being, normalcy remains very elusive.

“Athletes need to stay healthy,” Koch said. “Even if they are allowed to travel, I’m afraid many of them may not want to.”

Matthew Futterman contributed reporting.

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