I had the opportunity to attend a whole bunch of track meets in 2015. I often get asked what my favorite cities were? Favorite track meets? This is difficult to answer. To me it’s apples and oranges. Cities are unique for very different reasons. You can’t compare New York City to a city like Marrakech. Other than being called a city, there is nothing similar between the two. They are two totally different things.
Ranking a track meet is an equally difficult task. What does a great track meet mean? One meet can produce incredible performances but have little in terms of atmosphere and excitement. Another meet may have large crowds and a great atmosphere but the performances are lackluster. Which one is better? Is it too hard to pick?
No one likes the person that says, “They were all great in their own special way.”
So, I ranked my favorites. I didn’t make it to every track meet in the world this year. Maybe next year! So I might have missed one of your favorites.
If you are a track nerd like me, put these on the bucket list.
Top 5 track meets I attended in 2015
1.Meeting Herculis, Monaco
Nope, not the World Championships. The Meeting Herculis in Monaco was the best track & field meet I attended in 2015. No other meet came close.
The stadium, Stade Louis II, feels dated (the scenery isn’t terrible though). Concessions? I don’t think there were any, at least that I could find.
Monaco itself is a weird place. The country (if you want to call it that) sports the worlds highest number of billionaires and millionaires per capita. It’s a bubble – a bubble of exuberance and wealth. The official currency is gold bars (actually it’s the euro). Cars worth over million dollars cruise the streets.
There is no place to run when you are in Monaco. I’m a believer that you can run anywhere, but this place tested that theory. There really isn’t much room for anything in Monaco.
At the stadium, the warm up area for the athlete consists of a turf soccer field on top of a building.
So, why Monaco?
There is no reason that a track meet should be here (well the IAAF headquarters are in Monaco…go figure). But there is a track meet and it’s a seriously good one. The performances in Monaco are like the yachts in the harbor – ridiculous, outrageous, silly. It’s a place for all things fast – fast cars, fast boats, fast money. So maybe it does make sense that this is the best meet in the world.
The stadium was sold out. 18,000+ people. The fans were loud. Prince Albert II was there. I saw a guy in a tuxedo.
However, this meet doesn’t make the list because of the atmosphere – although that was still better than any US meet. Meeting Herculis is #1 for one reason – Fast times. It is the place for video game like times. This year was no exception. In the span of 25 minutes we saw:
-The 3rd male ever to break 3:27 for 1500m and 5th fastest performance ever – 3:26.69 – Asbel Kiprop. 6 guys broke 3:30.
-3 guys broke 1:43 for the 800.
-A world record. 3:50.07 for 1500m – Genzebe Dibaba
There was also a meet record for men’s 100m, a 22.03 women’s 200m, a women’s American Record in the 1500 and countless other world leading marks at the time.
If you want your mind blown go to the Meeting Herculis in Monaco.
2. IAAF World Championships – Beijing, China
Every sport has a pinnacle event. The event that means a little (or a lot) more than the others. The event that garners the most attention and fanfare. The moment that athletes work towards each year.
In track & field, that event is either the World Championships or the Olympics. Within the global championship meet there is one race that tends to get more attention than the rest. It’s a race non-track fans tune into and ask about. It’s the very peak of popularity for track and field.
The men’s 100m final.
Since 2007 especially, the 100m final has been the race where tickets are actually hard to buy. Why? Usain Bolt. The guy sells tickets. He turns quiet, reserved stadiums into a Justin Bieber concert with 30,000 screaming high school kids. There is nothing like it in track & field at the moment.
I don’t care what your attitude towards Bolt is. It doesn’t matter. If you straight up want to experience an incredibly cool sports moment. This is it. Take any person who enjoys sports and place them in the stadium during the 100m final. They will walk away feeling like they witnessed something special.
That’s how I felt at least. It helped that the Chinese sprint sensation, Su Bingtian, made the final. The Chinese crowd was in a full-blown frenzy.
You only have 2 more years to catch Bolt.
Obviously, there were other great events at the World Championships. Every night had something great. It’s hard to keep up momentum during a 2-week long event but Beijing delivered.
The Bird’s Nest is a great stadium. The evening sessions had 40,000 people. If the fans recognized someone or a Chinese athlete was participating they would get excited.
It’s the World Championships!
*Note: Go to The Great Wall. It lives up to the hype.
3. U.S. Championships – Eugene, Oregon
The U.S. team is the most difficult track & field team to make in the world. Evey event features gold medalists and record holders. Because of that, the competition is world class. Making the World or Olympic team is the goal at the meet. Seasons are made or lost here. Contract bonuses are on the line. Top 3 or bust. There is a whole lot of tension throughout the week.
Most years Eugene hosts 2 big professional meets. The Prefontaine Classic and the U.S. Championships (Olympic Trials during Olympic years). The Pre Classic is a fantastic meet but didn’t make my top 5. The crowd in Eugene is knowledgeable. Hayward Field is a great place for a track meet. There is nothing special about the stadium itself. It’s dated. The bleachers aren’t comfortable. But there is something special about the place and athletes tend to perform well there.
Eugene hosts the 2016 Olympic Trials, if it’s anything like the 2012 trials it will make a run at the best meet of 2016.
4. Weltklasse Zurich – Zurich, Switzerland
The Zurich Diamond League meet is one of two Swiss meets on the list. I don’t know if the Swiss are just really into track & field or if they just like an excuse to drink beer and forget about how expensive everything is for a few hours. Maybe both. What I do know is the Swiss know how to put on one hell of a track meet. The only comparable meet in the U.S., in terms of overall atmosphere, is the Prefontaine Classic.
Many European meets serve alcohol, just like a normal sports competition. Now obviously beer alone does not make a for a great track meet. But it sets up the right vibes. People buy tickets and attend the meet to enjoy themselves. I couldn’t really tell if anyone actually knew any of the athletes. They obviously cheered louder when a Swiss athlete was announced, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was to go out for an evening with the friends and family, enjoy good food (the food at the Swiss meets is really good) and drink a few beers. Just like going to a concert. It’s entertainment and it’s enjoyable.
Okay, so why did Zurich make the top 5?
If I could take a non-track fan to any track & field meet in the world this is the meet I’d take them to.
The stadium is new and modern (super Swiss), the food is great, AND you can try to make a little money by betting on the races. Yes…betting..with real money. Each athlete is given odds at winning. Go ahead and put your money where your mouth is. If you want to crank up the stakes on anything, put some money on it. You will be incredibly interested in the outcome.
As far as the actual competition went, most of the events were underwhelming. That’s the only reason I didn’t rank this meet higher. It was understandable though, as the meet was a week after the World Championships. With slightly better performances this meet could easily have been #1. The atmosphere was that cool. The crowd was fired up. The stadium was sold out – 25,000 seats filled.
5. Athletissima – Lausanne, Switzerland
Swiss meet number two on the list.
Like Zurich, this one makes the list for the atmosphere. The events were nothing special. It was a windy night and a bit on the cold side. For many of the U.S. athletes this was the first meet after the U.S. Championships. Jet lag seemed to be an issue.
The stadium – Stade Olympique de la Pontaise – is old…really old. It was built in 1904 with a major renovation in 1954. Michael Jackson performed here 3 times. You can feel the history.
There was a ridiculous amount of food outside the stadium. I had paella. It cost like $30 dollars, but that’s how Switzerland works. The beer was flowing, albeit in little cups. The crowd of nearly 16,000 was into it the entire time. The place was packed. Totally sold out. I was stuck behind a pole. It didn’t matter. This was how track & field was supposed to be. People cared! I couldn’t believe it. Go Track!
Lausanne also made the list because of the city itself. The city sits on Lake Geneva, surrounded by the Swiss Alps. While it’s a difficult place to run (except along the lake which obviously isn’t terrible), enjoying a few days on the Lake can’t be beat. It’s the home of the International Olympic Committee – the center of the Olympic movement – and the Olympic museum is awesome.
Go to one of these meets
If you want to really experience track & field you have to attend one of these meets. Many feel like track & field is dying. That it isn’t popular. That no one cares. If you go to a meet like one of the 5 listed you might feel differently.
We are always looking for the best meets and races! What was your favorite track & field meet? Comment below. Have a favorite race? Give us a race report.