Inspiring athletes – and a successful world premiere
The project was an experiment, and no one could really tell, how things might work out. The athletes were quickly on board, grateful to be able to compete on an international level. Grateful for the nervousness, the excitement, and the adrenaline that come with pinning a bib number to their uniform. After all, athletes are competitors – fierce competitors, according to triple jumper Christian Taylor. And so, they were more than happy to treat viewers to a number of passionate competitions.
150m women: Allyson Felix’s first feat
It was a historic moment, a world premiere, when Mujinga Kambundji (SUI), Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH), and Allyson Felix (USA) went to their starting blocks in Zurich, Bradenton, FL, and Walnut, CA at 8.10pm CET. Despite a time difference of nine hours, the starting signal went off at the exact same time. 150m and 16.81 seconds later, Felix was the first to cross the finish line. Within less than two minutes, the TV images were synchronised and presented to viewers around the globe on split screens. “This was fun. I can’t wait until we can do it in person,” the six-time Olympic and twelve-time world champion commented after looking at the races of her two opponents on the screen. Switzerland’s world championship bronze medallist Mujinga Kambundji (17.28) was supported by the largest crowd. “The spectators really made a lot of noise. But I missed having opponents next to me. It was my first race since the world championship in Doha.”
100 yards men: Andre De Grasse prevails in competition against team mates
The 100 yards are not often run. But the race was also exceptional for the Inspiration Games, because the competitors, Andre De Grasse (CAN), Jimmy Vicaut (FRA), and Omar McLeod (JAM), are actually team mates when it comes to training. And they were the only ones to race each other on one track. Multiple Olympic and world championship medallist De Grasse clocked 9.68, still feeling a little “rusty”. “The last months were hard. We had to be inventive.“ The trio had to use various tracks for training and was sometimes sent away. At times, they resorted to train on soccer fields together with local kids.
200m men: Noah Lyles running an unusual distance
There were some gasps, when Noah Lyles flew across the finish line of the blue track at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. The clock had stopped at 18.90. World record! Or was it? After a few minutes, things were clarified: The 200m world champion had been sent into the race from the wrong start line and had run only 186 of the required 200m. Another unusual distance. Lyles laughed the mishap off: “The race actually felt great, technically, despite the strong headwind.” Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) inherited the win (20.65). He had been the only international competitor running at Letzigrund Stadium.
300m h women: Georganne Moline defeats Lea Sprunger
In contrast to Georganne Moline (USA) and Zuzana Hejnová (CZE), Lea Sprunger (SUI) already had some experience in running the 300m h this season. She had competed in Oslo’s Impossible Games earlier this year. So, she also knew what it would be like to run in an empty arena. The welcome she received when turning into the home straight was therefore a pleasant surprise. “The fans were really loud. They helped me get into competition mode.” She placed second in 39.25, a progress for the Swiss national record holder. In Oslo, she had clocked 39.68. Two-time Diamond League meeting winner Georganne Moline won the race in 39.08.
Pole vault women: Sandi Morris’ creativity
The Inspiration Games offered the first competition for Sandi Morris (USA) since the lockdown had been put in place earlier this year. And the pole vaulter enjoyed it to the full. She entered the competition at a height of 4.56m and won it in that very first attempt. After clearing 4.66m, she ended the competition with three failed attempts at 4.76m. “It's harder than I thought it would be, but I think one of my strengths is that I'm very creative.” A strength that clearly proved useful during the last months.
Pole vault men: Sam Kendricks getting rid of the rust
“The first jump is always nerve-wracking,” Sam Kendricks (USA) explained. “But it's also the closest to your heart. The one you train for the most.” The two-time world champion quite obviously trained well in recent weeks. And he was able to get rid of the “rust”, as he put it. In Bradenton, he entered the competition at 5.36m and ended up clearing 5.81m. To the 2019 Diamond League champion, the Inspiration Games represented an opportunity to overcome obstacles. They did not come in the form of distance only. To him, the competition was also about leaving comfort zones.
Triple jump men: Pedro Pablo Pichardo the best of three 17-metre jumpers
In a virtual media conference prior to the Inspiration Games, Christian Taylor had stressed the importance of the athletes’ sending a message about how to make the best of a difficult situation. In Bradenton, the two-time Olympic and four-time world champion had to do just that. Despite struggling with windy conditions, he improved the season’s best (16.75m) he had set in a test competition a week earlier and jumped 17.27m. Omar Craddock (USA/17.04m) in Walnut and Pedro Pablo Pichardo (POR/17.40m) in Lisbon followed suit. The Cuban-born Portuguese athlete, too, somewhat missed the emotions in this unusual, “distanced” competition, but was very happy to meet his two colleagues via screen at least.
3x100m women: Allyson Felix’ second and third feats
The most successful athletics star of all times was also the most successful participant at the Weltklasse Zürich Inspiration Games. After winning the 150m, Allyson Felix managed to shine again in the 3x100 m (32.25), together with her relay team mates Candace Hill and Tianna Bartoletta, a three-time Olympic champion. On top of that, the mother of a two-year-old daughter, and her team North America also won the team competition. To Felix, the event was all about showing just how positive a force sports can be and how important it is to bring people together.
Never stop getting better
The event did all that and more: The Weltklasse Zürich Inspiration Games created links – between a sprint icon and record world champion in California, Switzerland’s athlete of the year Mujinga Kambundji in Zurich, and young talents of the sport, for instance. Athletics stars were able to demonstrate that it pays off to keep on training, even if circumstances are not ideal, that it is important to have dreams and to never stop getting better. Their maxim is also in Weltklasse Zürich’s DNA.
Weltklasse Zürich to be hosting the Wanda Diamond League finals in 2021 and 2022
Instead of giving up when confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, Weltklasse Zürich decided to inspire. In 2021 and 2022, when hosting the Wanda Diamond League finals, the Zurich promoters intend to inspire people again during a three-day athletics festival. The groundbreaking spectacle will include 24 final events at three different venues – Sechseläutenplatz, Zurich Main Station, and Letzigrund Stadium (Friday, 10 September 2021). By then, there will hopefully be cheering crowds in sold-out arenas again. May the Inspiration Games enter the sport’s history books as a onetime event, as a meeting, now 24-year-old Sandi Morris can share fond memories of when she is “80 years old”. What a “souvenir”!