Chanman's Blog

The Visa Championship Series

Visa is a proud sponsor of United States of America Track & Field (USATF). If you’ve ever tried to become a USATF member or buy something on their website, you know that the only credit card that USATF accepts is Visa. Forget “Don’t leave home without it.” “Priceless?” Not to USATF!

Part of this exclusivity is because Visa provides sponsorship money for things like the 2010 Indoor Visa Championships Series. The top male and top female each won $30,000. The respective runners-up earned $15,000 and the second runners-up earned $5,000. That’s $100,000 in prize money and that’s just for the indoor season.

The top American male finisher and top American female finisher in each event at Visa Championship Series meets have their performances assigned a point total based on the IAAF Scoring Tables of Athletics. The meets that made up the 2010 indoor series were the Millrose Games, the Boston Indoor Games and the USATF Indoor Championships. One caveat is that, although the winning performance can come from any one of the three meets, to be named the Visa Champion you must compete at the USA Indoor Championships. Because the indoor championships took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico at nearly 5,000 feet of elevation there was controversy over how the altitude could handicap the distance runners and put the sprinters at an advantage.

I don’t want to be too critical of anything that brings prize money and media attention to track & field athletes. However, the shortness of the series (just three meets) and the fact that you could win the prize by attending just the indoor championships, did take away some of the validity of naming a season champion. Not every event was contested at all three meets so in some cases an athlete’s only chance to compete and score in the series was at the indoor championships; other athletes had up to three chances to score in their event.

Also, a close examination of the results shows that the majority of the top performances came at the indoor championships. This makes sense in that a championship meet will usually bring out top performances.

The 2010 Visa Champions were Christian Cantwell (men’s shot put) and Amber Campbell (women’s weight throw). Cantwell’s winning mark in the shot put was his throw of 21.95 meters at the Millrose Games. Campbell’s winning of 24.70 meters at the indoor championships was a new meet record. Her event, the twenty pound weight throw was only contested at that meet. The top six scores in the women’s competition took place at the indoor championships. Six of the men’s top eight scores were from the championships. Certainly the majority of the top scoring performances happened in Albuquerque. The only distance runner to earn prize money was Bernard Lagat for his 5000 meter time from the Boston Indoor Games (which was an American record). The only distance runner to score a performance at the indoor championships that ranked in the top 10 was Anna (Willard) Pierce in ninth place for her 800 (2:00.84 for 1166 points).

This is the sixth year of the Visa Championships Series and the list of winners and their events is not very diverse, suggesting that the scoring system favors certain events. Of the twelve champions, five come from throwing events, six come from a sprint or hurdle event that takes between 7.06 and 7.88 seconds (60 meters or 60 meter hurdles), and only one is a distance runner (3000 meters). No jumper (high or long), no pole vaulter, no 400, 800, or 1500 meter runner has ever won. The six men’s champions have all been either shot putters or 60 meter hurdlers. Here is the list of champions:

Year Men’s Winner Event Mark Points   Women’s Winner Event Mark Points
2010 Christian Cantwell SP 21.95m 1238   Amber Campbell WT 24.70m 1213
2009 Terrence Trammell 60H 7.37 1259   Lolo Jones 60H 7.84 1202
2008 Adam Nelson SP 21.51m 1265   Lolo Jones 60H 7.88 1194
2007 Christian Cantwell SP 21.72m 1224   Shalane Flanagan 3000 8:33.25 1243
2006 Terrence Trammell 60H 7.46 1223   Lisa Barber 60 7.06 1212
2005 John Godina SP 21.83m 1230   Angela Diagle 60 7.09 1203

Flanagan, the only distance runner on the list of champions, recorded an American record in the 3000 to claim the Visa Series championship in 2007. Campbell’s 24.70 (2010), Trammell’s 7.37 (2009), and Godina’s 21.83 (2005) are all championship meet records.

Again, I don’t want to be too critical of the Visa Championships Series because it is great that Visa is paying out that kind of prize money. It’s great to see the excitement that it generates from the athletes. Campbell, who took the lead on day one of the championship series, was quoted on the USATF live blog that her “stomach is in knots waiting to find out if she will keep the lead.” That same USATF live blog said that Cantwell, known to be a funny guy, was mock cheering against the runners in the final race, the 60 meters, hoping to preserve his win. Apparently the announcer introduced him as the “official timekeeper” for the race. Having this kind of energy and excitement (with $30,000 at stake there is certainly going to be energy and excitement) is good for the sport.

Visa also sponsors the USATF Pick-N-Win game. Pick-N-Win participants pick one athlete per event and score points based on how their athletes places. Visa offers prizes ($2,500 in Visa gift cards) to these competitors too. I even saw a list of the leading Pick-N-Win players on television during the ESPN2 broadcast of the indoor championships. If you are wondering, the Track Widow edged out Chanman’s Irish 210-207 at the indoor championships.

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