Track goes far afield to provide competition for Oslo meet

Elijah Motonei Manangoi of Kenya celebrates winning the men's mile race at the 2018 Bislett Games on June 7, 2018 in Oslo, Norway.
(Cornelius Poppe / Getty Images)

For a sport based largely on running away from others, it makes sense that track and field has taken social distancing to a new level.

A Norwegian promoter announced Thursday that he will proceed with plans for a major meet in June by modifying several events to accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions.

That means keeping two pole vaulters safely apart as they take turns, with a third competing by video from his backyard in France.


It means no more than two or three runners per race, leaving room for empty lanes between them.

Several competitors will go it alone, one of them aided by lights flickering along the inside of the track. Picture a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit.

“You have two options,” meet director Steinar Hoen said in a statement. “You can resign or look at the possibilities.”

Postponing the Summer Games until 2021 because of the coronavirus could cost as much as $6 billion. It is unclear who will foot the bill.

April 21, 2020

The Bislett Games are part of the Diamond League circuit — the NFL of international track and field — which has postponed eight meets through the first three months of the season. Hoen refused to become the ninth, changing the framework of his June 11 event in Oslo and changing its name, temporarily, to the Impossible Games.

The international track federation has dubbed it “alternative athletics,” pledging to contribute $50,000 toward prize money.


“This is really positive news for athletes and fans,” said Sebastian Coe, the federation’s president. “Congratulations to the Oslo Bislett Games for dreaming this up and following it through, working within the pandemic guidelines set out in Norway.”

The Scandinavian country has reported 7,361 cases and 193 deaths related to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. One of the first in Europe to institute a lockdown, it has also announced plans to ease restrictions “little by little.”

Hoen devised his unusual meet after consulting with local and national officials and agreeing to bar spectators from the stadium.

“We have … confirmed a concept well within the government’s infection-control requirements,” he said.

Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who grew up in her parents’ restaurant in Arcadia, is determined not to let the coronavirus close the family business.

April 22, 2020

The scaled-down lineup of seven or so events will feature a trio of throwers in discus and three pole vaulters, including world record-holder Mondo Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie in his yard in Perignat-les-Sarlieve.

“A great initiative,” Lavillenie said on social media.

Solo races will include Norwegian star Karsten Warholm in the rarely run 300-meter hurdles and Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal accompanied by technology that has lights advancing along the inside of the track at record pace in the 3,000 meters.

Other events might be added between now and June.

“The athletes are hungry for competitions,” Hoen stated. “And we want to give them a high-class event.”