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World Athletics Announces Ultimate Championship In Response To New High-Paying Third-Party Meets

With a total prize pot of $10 million, each gold medalist will walk away with $150,000.

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World Athletics has unveiled the World Athletics Ultimate Championship, a new event set to conclude the 2026 track and field season in grand style. This new championship boasts a historic prize pot of $10 million, the largest ever in track and field history, with gold medallists each receiving $150,000.

Budapest, Hungary, has been chosen as the first host city for the event, which is scheduled to take place from Sept. 11 to 13, 2026. The city hosted the 2023 World Athletics Championships, so it’s a reliable and safe pick as a venue for this ambitious pilot project.

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Budapest was chosen through a reportedly competitive process, according to World Athletics, although it’s perhaps disappointing for American fans that this enhanced version of the World Championships will take place several time zones ahead of time, and not in a venue like, say, Hayward Field, which hosted the 2022 World Championships.

The inaugural meet is slated for 2026, and the World Athletics Ultimate Championship will take place every two years, serving as a finale to the track and field season. The compact, three-day event will feature semi-finals and finals for track disciplines and straight finals for field disciplines, with 8-16 of the world’s top-ranked athletes per discipline. Nearly 400 athletes from about 70 countries will compete, although the event is more than two years away, so who will show up remains uncertain.

World Athletics says that it is designing this revamped iteration of the Championships to be more fast-paced and alluring for fan consumption. The meet will span just three evening sessions, each under three hours, with events from sprints, middle and long-distance races, relays, jumps, and throws. Athletes will compete for their national teams rather than their clubs or professional teams.

World Athletics aims to provide greater financial rewards and earning opportunities for athletes through this event. All competitors will be financially rewarded (although exact compensation has yet to be announced), with the ultimate champions receiving $150,000 USD each. Additionally, athletes will have greater promotional rights to enhance their personal profiles.

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World Athletics President Seb Coe emphasized the event’s high stakes: “With only the best of the best on show and cutting straight to semi-finals and finals, we will create an immediate pressure to perform for athletes aiming to claim the title of the ultimate champion.”

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon highlighted the event’s innovative approach: “By embracing innovation and breaking away from traditional models, we are looking to reach a broader audience, particularly younger fans, and elevate the entire sport.”

Balázs Furjes, IOC member for Hungary, expressed pride in Budapest hosting the inaugural championship: “Budapest is truly honored to be the inaugural host city for the highly innovative World Athletics Ultimate Championship.”

Looking ahead, World Athletics says they will continue consulting with stakeholders, including athletes, coaches, shoe companies, and broadcast organizations, throughout the summer. The full event launch is scheduled for sometime this fall, after the summer outdoor track and field season wraps up.

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Why Is World Athletics Introducing This New Event?

Money talks. And that’s exactly what this new grand slam event is all about. 

With recent announcements of new professional track leagues and track meets, such as Michael Johnson’s new track league, aimed at bringing attention and money to the sport, World Athletics is beginning to feel the pressure to provide for their athletes as well.

With demand growing from athletes for greater professionalism and compensation, World Athletics may fear that top competitors choose the new third-party leagues and meets over World Athletics organized events, which generally offer lower compensation. However, with this mega-meet being held only every other year, will that be enough to keep athletes at World Athletics events?

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The announcement of this higher-paying track meet closely follows the sport body’s announcement that they will now be paying Olympic gold medalists from this year’s Paris Games, with plans on expanding this to all medalists in athletics for the 2028 Olympics. Each gold medalist in athletics this year will be awarded $50,000 from World Athletics.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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