World track body creates biennial championships with bigger cash prizes as potential Olympics rival

Track and field announced a new global championships on Monday and promised $150,000 US prizes — three times its recent cash pledge to champions at the Paris Olympics — for gold medallists.

World Athletics said the first Ultimate Championships will be hosted in Budapest from Sept. 11-13, 2026 showcasing Olympic, world and Diamond League champions over three evening sessions.

Eight or 16 athletes in each event will compete for a total prize fund of $10 million that is the sport’s richest ever.

In what could directly challenge the Olympics, the Ultimate Championships are set to be staged every two years, dovetailing with world championships held every two years in odd-numbered years.

It sets up the second Ultimate edition to rival the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games held that July.

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“With only the best of the best on show and cutting straight to semifinals and finals, we will create an immediate pressure to perform for athletes aiming to claim the title of the ultimate champion,”World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

The continued promises by World Athletics and Coe to better reward their athletes is likely to be viewed with some wariness by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC and other Olympic sports leaders have pushed back on Coe’s pledge in April to break with tradition and commit to pay $50,000 for each of the gold medals in 48 track and field events in Paris in August.

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The $2.4 million fund for Paris is to come directly from the World Athletics share of the IOC’s billions of dollars in revenue from the Summer Games. That amount was almost $40 million from the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.

Now World Athletics wants to make its new Ultimate event even more valuable and let athletes promote their brands in ways they are unable to do during the Olympics, because of the IOC’s protection of its own sponsors.

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In only her 3rd meet this season, Canadian record holder Camryn Rogers took first place in hammer throw; setting a meet and a Diamond League record. And 6 athletes competed and earned 2 Paralympic quota spots at the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships. All that and more in Athletics North.

“Athletes will also benefit from greater promotional rights,” the track body said of the Budapest event, “allowing them to commercially activate and enhance their personal profiles.”

Coe has long been seen as a likely IOC presidential candidate in 2025 to succeed Thomas Bach, whose 12 years in office is set to expire. Bach has left open the possibility of the IOC changing its rules on term limits.

Still, the latest financial pledges suggest Coe’s focus is more on taking care of his own athletes with commitments that other less wealthy governing bodies in Olympic sports cannot match.

Some of those leaders of Olympic sports governing bodies, who criticized Coe in April, are also the IOC members who elect their president.

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