Usain Bolt brings success of cricket’s high-octane T20 to the track
His Nitro Athletics concept features an all-star team, unusual distances and an elimination mile, in a bid to bring crowds back to the sport
Melbourne — The athletics world is hoping to cash in on the success of cricket’s high-octane Twenty20 format with a new team event spearheaded by Usain Bolt that starts in Australia on Saturday. The inaugural Nitro Athletics in Melbourne, which will also be held on February 9 and 11, features non-traditional events such as middle-distance and hurdles relays.
Bolt, the world 100m record holder, said on Friday, "We just want to make it more exciting so I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd reaction to what we are doing." Twelve events each evening will include an elimination mile, where the slowest runners are knocked out after each lap until three competitors contest the final circuit. Male and female runners will also accumulate team points in a 60m sprint, the 150m, and a mixed 2x300m relay.
Bolt will be supported by US Olympic hurdle champion Kerron Clement and sprinter Asafa Powell to try to draw in the crowds. "I think it’s going to be great, it’s going to be like cricket, but Twenty20," Bolt said on Thursday.
The format sees an "all-stars team" captained by Bolt compete against teams from Australia, China, Japan, England and New Zealand. "Hats off to you guys for being brave enough to step out of the box that athletics has found itself in for donkey’s years," England’s captain and 2008 Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu said.
Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash League smashed spectator and television viewership records this season pulling in families and younger spectators. Crowds averaged 30,114 a game, Cricket Australia said.
Athletics Australia head Phil Jones said there was a need to lift spectator and sponsorship interest in athletics outside of the Olympics and World Championships. "We have a number of backers," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The concept is supported by International Association of Athletics Federations president Sebastian Coe.