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Sprint legend Michael Johnson launches Grand Slam Track League with first prizes of 0,000 – KLBK | KAMC

Sprint star Michael Johnson is founding a running league in which nearly 100 of the sport’s best athletes will compete four times a year for prize money of $12.6 million in the first season.

The league, Grand Slam Track, announced on Tuesday that it will start next April, with one event planned in Los Angeles, the host city of the 2028 Olympic Games, one in another American city and two more abroad.

The league also announced that it has signed world-record hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, giving the new facility new star status almost a year before it opens.

Johnson, who wore his famous gold spikes at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and set the 200-meter world record by running the 200-400-meter distance, has long agreed with the sport’s critics who complain that there are not enough high-profile head-to-head competitions. That’s in part because there aren’t enough financial incentives to bring the best to the same events.

“It gives the fans and athletes what they’ve been asking for,” Johnson said. “I think there’s a real opportunity here. They’ve been frustrated with the sport at the highest level because they haven’t been rewarded or recognized for their tremendous talent over the last few years.”

Athletics’ annual schedule is a moving target, with world championships in odd-numbered years and the Olympic Games every four years. In between are a series of individual competitions, culminating in the Diamond League, which hosts around 15 events each season and allows athletes to earn points and win a season title.

In a sign of the sport’s difficulties, NBC, which televises the Olympics, has not renewed its contract with the Diamond League. In the United States, the Diamond League will be broadcast by the subscription website FloTrack starting in 2025.

Johnson said television was a priority for his new league, which was in contact with “all the major networks, with a strong emphasis on the United States.”

“I’m very pleased with the great interest and enthusiasm for what we are building. It validates the idea to a certain extent,” said Johnson.

Grand Slam Track plans to sign 48 athletes, called “GST Racers,” and then use entry fees to bring another 48 athletes, called “GST Challengers,” to each meet. The athletes will be divided into categories – for example, a short sprint group will run 100 and 200 meters on one weekend – and they will compete for a top prize of $100,000, with cash awarded up to eighth place.

Johnson said organizers chose the “Grand Slam” title to give the league a similar feel to tennis or golf, which each have four majors set apart from a year-long schedule. The league has secured more than $30 million in financial commitments. A group called Winners Alliance, described by the league as Johnson’s operating partner, was the lead investor.

Although Johnson has long been critical of the way athletics is conducted around the world, he said he does not see the league as a disruptive factor but rather as an asset to a sport he believes is undervalued.

World Athletics, the governing body for track and field, recently made headlines with a unique plan to award $50,000 to all of this year’s Olympic champions. The federation will also launch an Ultimate Championship starting in 2026, bringing together the year’s best athletes and awarding first prizes worth $150,000.

Johnson, who has remained involved in the sport on many levels, including as an analyst for the BBC, wants to see athletics in the spotlight more often than just once or twice a year.

“I’m motivated by the fact that now is the right time to do this,” he said. “The world is waiting for something like this to fill that gap.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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