Dafne Schippers dominates the 200m in Hengelo (© Getty Images)
‘Innovation’ is the key word at this year’s edition of the FBK Games, an IAAF World Challenge meeting in the Dutch city of Hengelo on Sunday (3). Fewer disciplines, more attention on individual athletes and a better entertainment package for the public: that’s the new concept.
World 200m champion Dafne Schippers and the other Dutch top stars will highlight this year’s edition of the biggest athletics meeting in the Netherlands, which dates back to 1981. But in a country where the mother of all sports is not “top of mind” in the heads of many sports fans, organisers are making extra efforts to attract people, especially young fans, to come to the stadium.
“When I was young, it was quite normal to sit in the stands for hours and watch all series, qualification rounds and finals,” said former Dutch distance star and manager Jos Hermens. “But for youngsters, even a football game of two 45-minute halves is already too much.”
Hermens’ Global Sports Communications took over the organisation of the FBK Games, named after the legendary Fanny Blankers-Koen, earlier this year. He, along with colleague Ellen van Langen, who has already served as meeting director for several years, admit that it’s a big challenge to redesign the concept of one-day meetings such as theirs.
“It’s not only the length of the programme,” van Langen said. “For people who are not familiar with our sport, an athletics meeting can be overwhelming chaos. At four or five spots in the stadium something is happening at the same time. It’s difficult to find the heroes that you want to see, and if you find them, you may miss other important performances.”
The first decision organisers made was to reduce the number of disciplines. Sunday’s programme will include 11: the 200m, 400m, 800m, 110m hurdles, long jump and pole vault for the men and the 200m, 400m, mile, 100m hurdles and high jump for the woman. The absence of distance races and throwing events is not set in stone, Hermens said. “We might make other choices in the future. But we are convinced that we have to make a change to make our sport more accessible for a wider public. We now have the opportunity to give attention to each of the disciplines and to almost all of our stars’ individual performances.”
Wavelength technology to illustrate the pace
There will also be a new technical dimension added. Wavelight technology will be used for the first time with lights lining the inside edge of the track functioning as a sort of pacesetter, moving around the track like in a wave-like motion. But will not only serve runners by designating a pace. The lights will also be used to show spectators record paces, with different coloured lights highlighting world, national or meeting records or season’s bests.
Additionally, the programme will be less than two hours in length, with off-track entertainment included at the start, middle and end. And some of the 11 disciplines will be announced as battles between a Dutch top athlete and a well-known international star.
A slew of head-to-heads
Take the women’s 200m for instance, where two-time world champion Dafne Schippers will be presented with Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguenor as her main contender. Okagbare is the 2018 world leader at 22.04. Schippers opened her Diamond League season at the distance with a 22.34 performance in Shanghai where she finished second.
‘May was a tough month for me, full of jetlag, running in Doha, Shanghai and Eugene,” Schippers said. “But I’m satisfied with my running until now and confident that I can perform well for the home-crowd. It’s always good and quiet to be at home.
“And I always need a couple of races before I can run really fast times. Especially this season, as I made some slight changes in my training. I want to get back the relaxed, smooth way of running. Last year there was more power, which is not bad. I became world champion for the second time in a row. But in training I already make longer runs now with more relaxation at the end and I think I can adopt that in my racing soon.”
Another battle will be the 100m hurdles, where Nadine Visser will face Cindy Roleder. Both ran 12.81 in Shanghai while Visser finished fourth in Rome. The strong field includes Olympic champion Brianna McNeal and Dawn Harper-Nelson.
Jenny Simpson is the favourite in the mile, after the withdrawal of Dutch star Sifan Hassan due to a slight knee injury. In the high jump world champion Mariya Lasitskene will be gunning for her 41st straight victory.
An interesting race will be the battle between Dutch favourite Liemarvin Bonevacia and world and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor. The two will meet in the 400m; Taylor clocked 45.17 over the full lap earlier this season.
There’s a solid field in the men’s 110m hurdles, featuring Orlando Ortega, Sergey Shubenkov and Balasz Baji. In the long jump, world champion Luvo Manyonga will take on Jeff Henderson, the Olympic champion. And in the pole vault, rising Dutch star Menno Vloon will battle it out with world champion Sam Kendricks.
And another innovation: a race between four professional long distance runners from the NN Running Team and several relay teams of three well-trained “amateurs” over 5000m. Will the amateurs be able to catch up with the pros who will be running the full distance?
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF