As the world of athletics approaches its quadrennial off-year in 2014, the sport will be looking for ways to replace the anticipation of an international championship meet otherwise provided by the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships or the Olympics.
In the tradition of a once-popular Cold War classic, how about initiating a USA vs. Europe dual meet series?
Longtime track fans look back on the USA vs. USSR series of the 1960s and '70s as an annual staple in what is considered track and field's golden years.
The two super powers were near equals in terms of athletic performance during those years and the scored meets were a welcomed diversion from the tense political jousting of the times. Attendance at the alternately hosted meets often overshadowed pro baseball and college football.
And there was just something a little less threatening about settling the question of world dominion on the field and on the track.
So why Europe now?
The 2012 London Olympics and the recent 2013 World Championships in Moscow—when all the dust had settled—again showed the United States' overall track and field superiority (no bragging here, just stating the obvious, considering points scored and medals earned).
In the 2013 Worlds, Russia performed admirably on its home turf, especially in a very close race with the U.S. women (for those who were keeping score). The East Africans put a whipping on the rest of the world in the distance races and Jamaica absolutely ruled the sprints.
But the only entity which demonstrated an ability to compete head-to-head with the USA was a theoretical conglomerate of European nations—not to include Russia.
Great Britain, France, Germany, Ukraine and Poland in particular, have really stepped up their game in recent years. In an official IAAF scoring system, all five finished in the top 10 final standings at the Moscow World Championships.
In an effort to visualize how a USA vs. Europe dual meet might play out, I created a hypothetical scenario using the current world lists as a basis for order-of-finish and held my own private track meet at a neutral site. Maybe not the perfect test model, but good enough to get a "ballpark" result.
(As a practical method of determining Team Euro, the most recent European Championships might be used a qualifier, for example).
No athletes currently banned or out with season-long injuries were included. The standard dual meet 5-3-1 (5-0 for relays) scoring system was used. Only the usual dual meet events were contested.
My theoretical collective of European nations included all of classic Europe as well as Scandinavia, the former western Soviet states and Turkey.
As might be expected, the European men and women nailed the throws and the field events generally, while the USA men and women dominated the sprints and mid-distance races—except for a surprising European sweep in the men's 1,500 meters. Distance races and the steeplechase were basically a wash.
The USA won both the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays (both genders) to deliver a 20-0 combined-score skunking in those events. But, until the U.S. solves its recent relay inconsistencies, that outcome against strong British and French competition is little more than a crap shoot.
In my imaginary track meet, the European men won, 90-82, and the USA women prevailed, 100-72. Overall that's a 182-162 American victory. Given the wide margin for error in my test data, that is pretty good parity. Throw in the element of home-track advantage, and this meet could go either way.
It's a dual meet I think would draw much interest and provide the drama every sports fan looks for in an international competition.
Let's do it.
Testifying to the incredible talent and general interest in the USA vs. USSR dual meet series, the 1961 meet in Lenin Stadium produced four world records. For the first time ever, western cameras were permitted behind the Iron Curtain as ABC's Wide World of Sports recorded the action.
Then, in the 1962 meet, in Palo Alto's Stanford Stadium, two more world records fell as a packed house of 153, 500 fans watched in-person over two days.
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