Bislett Impossible Games setting new reality for athletics

The Oslo event in June will see competitors taking part in different countries, linked by technology.

By ZK Goh

When the "Impossible Games" takes place at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo on 11 June, we may be getting a glimpse of athletics' "new normal".

For the first time, a major international meet – the Impossible Games is being organised as a replacement for Norway's regular Diamond League event – will take place with athletes competing in different countries and even continents, and not a single fan in the stands.

The coronavirus situation means the Oslo Diamond League cannot take place as originally scheduled, and the Impossible Games aims to bridge the gap between providing top-class sport and respecting social distancing rules.

As such, there will be innovations at the event, with new formats in an exhibition style.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen will be one of the stars on show at Oslo's Impossible Games exhibition in June. (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for European Athletics)

Virtual competition

A team of five Norwegian athletes, named Team Ingebrigtsen and featuring Henrik, Filip, and Jakob, will virtually race a team of five Kenyans led by 1500m world champion Timothy Cheruiyot in a 2000-metre race.

Cheruiyot will be joined by his predecessor as world champion, Elijah Manongoi, as the two teams compete to see which team can clock the best overall 2000m time from its top three runners.

The Norwegians will run in the Bislett Stadium, the Olympic Stadium of the 1952 Winter Olympics, while Team Cheruiyot will race in Nairobi, with the race broadcast on a split screen.

While the race is being held as a team event, individual performances will also count, with the three Ingebrigtsen brothers aiming to break Steve Cram's European record of four minutes 51.39 seconds.

The youngest of the three, Jakob, goes into the event in good form, having won the Norwegian 5 km road championship in a national record time last week.

The 2000m team event will not be the only showcase involving athletes in different countries.

In the pole vault, world record holder Mondo Duplantis and previous record holder Renaud Lavillenie will reprise their "Ultimate Garden Clash" from early May.

Duplantis, who broke Lavillenie's record in the early-season World Indoor Tour, is expected to compete in Oslo. Lavillenie will vault from his backyard in France.

Record attempts

There will also be record attempts, with 400m hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm running a solo time trial in an attempt to beat the 300m hurdles outdoor world fastest time.

That mark currently stands at 34.48 seconds, set by Chris Rawlinson in 2002. Warholm currently holds the indoor best time of 34.26, which he recorded in 2018.

Filip Ingebrigtsen will also attempt to break the Norwegian national record over 1000m in addition to his exploits in the 2000m team event.

Other highlights include cross-country skiing World Cup champion Therese Johaug, the Norwegian national 10,000m champion on the track, swapping her skis for running spikes.

World champion Daniel Ståhl of Sweden will also take part in an all-Scandinavian affair in the men's discus.

Future of athletics?

With many international travel restrictions and social distancing measures still in place, this may be what the immediate future looks like for top-level track and field.

Athletes stuck at home can still compete against each other. Although there is no true replacement for direct head-to-head in-person competition, with a lot of the sports world currently at a standstill, this "virtual" format will fill a void.

"Serious racing within a safe environment whilst also entertainment for avid athletics fans the world over is to be welcomed," Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei said in response to Team Cheruiyot's involvement in the event.

Technological aids, such as those used in Eliud Kipchoge's sub-two-hour marathon run, will also be seen at the Impossible Games. European bronze medallist Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal will attempt a new 3000m Norwegian national record with help from wave-light technology.

With the Diamond League season not scheduled to start until August at the earliest, fans will be watching the Impossible Games eagerly to see what works and what doesn't.