It was a strange sight to see 200-metre world champion American Noah Lyles race on a track in Florida while two opponents started simultaneously in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
It was stranger still to see the clock stop at 18.90 seconds when Lyles crossed the finish line – way ahead of Usain Bolt’s 19.19-second world record set 11 years ago.
Turns out that socially distanced, technologically challenging meets might not be track and field’s best plan beyond the pandemic.
Lyles had been mistakenly lined up to run only 185 metres of the Bradenton track for his star turn of this curious version of the storied Weltklasse meet in Zurich on Thursday.
“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this…. got me in the wrong lane smh,” Lyles tweeted minutes later.
No world record, just a good workout into a stiff headwind to start his outdoor season wrecked like everybody else’s by the global coronavirus crisis.
“That cannot be right? That cannot be right,” confused commentator said as Lyles crossed the finish line.
“18.91 – that cannot be right, can it?”
Weltklasse should have been the final meeting of the elite Diamond League series in September, reuniting many gold medalists from the Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, no Diamond League program has been been possible and the 2020 Olympics were postponed until after the 22-year-old Lyles turns 24 in July next year.
Swiss organizers of Weltklasse had to get creative to put on a shortened program: Eight events of three athletes or teams each competing across seven near-empty stadiums in Europe and the United States with variable weather.
The toughest challenge was thought to be for Swiss timing and television technicians to synchronise three performances from racers in different countries into their broadcast package within two minutes.
Instead, simply placing the world champion’s starting block in the wrong place undid the marquee race.
Sprint great Allyson Felix had a smoother time racing to victories at Walnut, California in a 150-meter sprint and anchoring an American trio in the 3×100 relay.
The six-time Olympic gold medalist timed 16.81 for the 150, also into a headwind, to be 0.34 faster than Shaunae Miller-Uibo racing in Florida. In Switzerland, Mujinga Kambundji was third despite some wind assistance.
“It was very strange and I feel like sort of practice,” Felix said, “but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything.”
Later in the 90-minute worldwide broadcast, a 100-yard dash in Florida brought three men to the same start line. Andre De Grasse won in 9.68, 0.04 ahead of Jimmy Vicaut. Omar McLeod, the 110 meter hurdles Olympic champion, was third in 9.87.
Both pole vault competitions were won in Florida, by Americans Sam Kendricks and Sandi Morris clearing 5.81 meters and 4.66 respectively.
The lack of quality training time and facilities during the lockdown showed in some performances.
Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi did not clear her opening height of 4.46 in California. Two-time Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor needed a sixth leap to get to 17.27 meters in Florida as the event was won in Portugal by Pedro Pablo Pichardo’s 17.40.
Still, the taking part seemed more important than winning.
“I think we see what a hardship everyone is going through,” Felix said, “and we just want to bring a little bit of joy, pause a moment and appreciate support.”