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Sprint great Michael Johnson launching 'Grand Slam Track' league with $100K first prizes

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Sprint great Michael Johnson launching 'Grand Slam Track' league with $100K first prizes
News

News

Sprint great Michael Johnson launching 'Grand Slam Track' league with $100K first prizes

2024-06-19 04:29 Last Updated At:04:30

Sprinting great Michael Johnson is launching a track league that looks to assemble nearly 100 of the sport's top performers four times a year to compete for $12.6 million in prize money over its first season.

The league, Grand Slam Track, announced Tuesday that it will launch next April with plans for one event in Los Angeles, the home of the 2028 Olympics, one in another American city and two more overseas.

The league also announced it had signed world-record hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, lending star power to the new operation almost a year before it opens.

Johnson, who wore his famous golden spikes at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics while setting the world record at 200 meters to complete the 200-400 sweep, has long echoed critics in the sport who complain they don't see enough marquee head-to-head matchups. That's in part because there's not enough financial incentive to bring the best to the same meets.

"It's providing the fans and the athletes what they've been asking for,” Johnson said. “I think there's a real opportunity here. They're frustrated at an all-time level with the sport, at the elite level, the way it's been over the last couple of years where they're not compensated and recognized for their tremendous talent.”

Track's yearly schedule is a moving target, highlighted by world championships in odd years and the Olympics every four seasons. In between, the sport is a series of individual meets highlighted by the Diamond League, which conducts around 15 competitions each season and allows athletes to earn points and win a season-long title.

As a sign of the sport's struggles to grab a consistent audience in the U.S., NBC, which televises the Olympics, did not renew its contract with the Diamond League; which will be carried by the subscription website FloTrack in the U.S. beginning in 2025.

Johnson said television is a priority for his new league, which has been in contact with “all the major broadcasters, with a heavy emphasis for us on the U.S."

“I’ve been very pleased with the level of interest and excitement about what we’re building., which sort of validates the idea to some degree,” Johnson said.

Grand Slam Track plans to sign 48 athletes, known as “GST Racers,” to contracts, then to use appearance fees to bring another 48 athletes — “GST Challengers” — to each meet. The athletes will be divided into categories — for instance a short-sprint group will run 100 and 200 meters over the course of a weekend — and they will compete for a $100,000 top prize, with cash being awarded down to eighth place.

“Michael has done a great job putting this together, and just knowing that the future of track and field can grow exponentially and that athletes will have the opportunity to grow the sport and it’s in a place that’s ready to do that,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “I’m excited to be a part of that in whatever capacity I can be.”

Johnson said organizers chose the “Grand Slam” title to give the league the same feel as, say, tennis or golf, which each have four majors that stand out among a yearlong schedule. Instead of focusing on times, organizers hope the spotlight will shine on the matchups between top athletes.

“I think this will kind of normalize seeing people through training cycles and in different parts of their training, but still seeing the best of the best compete to the point where they’re just enjoying the fact that get to race one another and seeing a good race,” McLaughlin-Levrone said.

The league has secured more than $30 million in financial commitment. A group called Winners Alliance, described by the league as Johnson's operating partner, was the lead investor.

Though Johnson has long been critical of the way track is run on a global level, he said he does not see the league as a disruptor but rather as a vehicle to add to a sport he feels is undervalued.

World Athletics, the governing body for track, recently made news with a first-of-its-kind plan to award $50,000 to all of this year's Olympic gold medalists. The federation also will start an Ultimate Championship beginning in 2026 that will bring the year's top performers together and award $150,000 first prizes.

Johnson, who has stayed in the sport on a number of levels, including as an analyst for BBC, wants to see track in the spotlight more than once or twice a year.

“I'm motivated by the fact that this is the opportune time to do it,” he said. “The world is looking for something like this that we can step into that void.”

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

FILE - Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone waves to the crowd after winning the women's 400 meters during the U.S. track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., July 8, 2023. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone plans on defending her title in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympics, and has scratched from the 200 and 400-meter flat races that she had originally signed up for. The world-record holder had been entered in all three races for this month's U.S. Olympic trials, but as of Tuesday, June 18, 2024, she was listed as a “scratch” in the 200 and 400. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

FILE - Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone waves to the crowd after winning the women's 400 meters during the U.S. track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., July 8, 2023. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone plans on defending her title in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympics, and has scratched from the 200 and 400-meter flat races that she had originally signed up for. The world-record holder had been entered in all three races for this month's U.S. Olympic trials, but as of Tuesday, June 18, 2024, she was listed as a “scratch” in the 200 and 400. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

FILE - Former U.S. athlete Michael Johnson, left, and wife Armine Shamiryan arrive at the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Madrid, Monday, April 22, 2024. Sprinting great Michael Johnson is launching a track league that looks to assemble nearly 100 of the sport's top performers four times a year to compete for $12.6 million in prize money over its first season. The league, Grand Slam Track, announced Tuesday, June 18, that it will launch next April with plans for one event in Los Angeles, the home of the 2028 Olympics, one in another American city and two more overseas. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)

FILE - Former U.S. athlete Michael Johnson, left, and wife Armine Shamiryan arrive at the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Madrid, Monday, April 22, 2024. Sprinting great Michael Johnson is launching a track league that looks to assemble nearly 100 of the sport's top performers four times a year to compete for $12.6 million in prize money over its first season. The league, Grand Slam Track, announced Tuesday, June 18, that it will launch next April with plans for one event in Los Angeles, the home of the 2028 Olympics, one in another American city and two more overseas. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)

FILE - Michael Johnson, of the United States, celebrates after he won the men's 200-meter final in a world record time of 19.32 at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Aug. 1, 1996. Sprinting great Michael Johnson is launching a track league that looks to assemble nearly 100 of the sport's top performers four times a year to compete for $12.6 million in prize money over its first season. The league, Grand Slam Track, announced Tuesday, June 18, 2024, that it will launch next April with plans for one event in Los Angeles, the home of the 2028 Olympics, one in another American city and two more overseas. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

FILE - Michael Johnson, of the United States, celebrates after he won the men's 200-meter final in a world record time of 19.32 at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Aug. 1, 1996. Sprinting great Michael Johnson is launching a track league that looks to assemble nearly 100 of the sport's top performers four times a year to compete for $12.6 million in prize money over its first season. The league, Grand Slam Track, announced Tuesday, June 18, 2024, that it will launch next April with plans for one event in Los Angeles, the home of the 2028 Olympics, one in another American city and two more overseas. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

HONG KONG (AP) — A top Chinese university fired a professor on Monday, a day after a graduate student accused him of sexual harassment on social media in a rare public allegation and posted recordings as evidence, drawing widespread support.

The woman, who identified herself as Wang Di, said she is studying in a doctoral program at Renmin University of China’s School of Liberal Arts. She posted a 59-minute video on Sunday on the Weibo social media platform in which she said the professor, an ex-vice dean and former Communist Party representative at the school, physically and verbally abused her.

She also said that for more than two years after she rejected him, he assigned her many tasks, scolded her and threatened that she would not graduate.

She included audio clips which she said were evidence of the harassment. In one, a man could be heard trying to kiss a woman, who kept saying, “No, no, teacher.”

“At this moment, I can no longer endure it and have nowhere to retreat, so I am speaking out,” she wrote. She demanded that the professor be punished and a new supervisor be appointed for her. She wore a mask in the video, but held up an identification card.

In China, public accusations of sexual harassment have become rare in recent years following an uptick during a brief #MeToo movement that was swiftly snuffed out by the government. The ruling Communist Party views powerful social movements as a potential threat to stability and its hold on power.

Her post drew 2.2 million likes as of Monday evening, with many users leaving comments in support of the student.

The professor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Renmin University said Monday it concluded that the complaints against the professor were true following an investigation. In addition to sacking him, it also revoked his party membership and reported the incident to authorities in accordance with the law, it said in a statement on Weibo.

It said the academic had “seriously betrayed the original mission of teaching and educating” and that his acts violated party discipline and school rules.

After the university announced its decision, the woman's post on Weibo disappeared.

The Associated Press does not generally name people who say they are victims of sexual harassment unless they publicly identify themselves.

In June, a Chinese journalist who promoted women’s rights as part of the #MeToo movement was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of incitement to subvert state authority, according to her supporters.

In one of the most high-profile cases, former Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public view after accusing former high-level official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in 2021. Her accusation was quickly scrubbed from the internet and discussion of it remains heavily censored.

People past near the logo for Renmin University outside the main campus in Beijing, Monday, July 22, 2024. A PhD student at Renmin University, one of the top universities in the country, accused her supervisor, also party secretary and vice dean of School of Liberal Arts of molesting her and taking revenge after being rejected, and threatening not to let her graduate. The university has responded saying it will launch an investigation. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

People past near the logo for Renmin University outside the main campus in Beijing, Monday, July 22, 2024. A PhD student at Renmin University, one of the top universities in the country, accused her supervisor, also party secretary and vice dean of School of Liberal Arts of molesting her and taking revenge after being rejected, and threatening not to let her graduate. The university has responded saying it will launch an investigation. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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