SPLIT, Croatia - Most of us are familiar with the World Cup concept - nations competing against each other with some form of a winner-take-all prize.
I'm sure most of you are asking yourselves, "What exactly is the Continental Cup?"
Well, it's the same meet...sort of.
The IAAF World Cup was a meet that pitted eight separate men's and women's teams, five continental and three national, against each other. The winning men's and women's teams from the preceding European Team Championships qualified at the national teams together with the United States. The continental teams comprised the best of the rest of Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The meet began in 1977 and was held every two years until 1981 when it was then held every four years.
After the last World Cup meet in Athens in 2006, the IAAF blew up the format and came up with the Continental Cup, which will pit four mixed-gender teams - Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia/Oceania - against each other. It is now the only world cup-style event contested by teams representing entire continents rather than individual nations.
Two athletes from each region were selected per event, with the exception of the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m where teams may field three athletes with only the top two scoring. There will be 40 events contested over the course of two days, 20 for men and 20 for women. There will be no heats or rounds in any event so the format will be like a giant Diamond League meet. At the end of the two days, the team with the most combined points wins.
That's the format.
So, why should you care?
Well, in a non-Worlds, non-Olympic year this is the closest thing track and field will have to a global competition until the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea next August (sorry, the Commonwealth Games don't count).
And while the meet will be devoid of a number of elite names who are injured, have called it a season or didn't qualify - notable absentees include Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Allyson Felix, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Walter Dix, and Dayron Robles - there is enough star power in the field to insure that this is indeed a legitimate international event.
Here is a snapshot of what you will see this weekend from inside the opulent seashell-shaped Poljud stadium:
- American Wallace Spearmon looking to build off his sizzling 19.79 in the men's 200m in Zurich last month.
- World-leader Jeremy Wariner aiming to continue his mastery of the men's 400m.
- Kenya's David Rudisha, fresh off two world-record runs in the men's 800m, trying to become the first man to run 1:40 against American champion Nick Symmonds.
- A men's 1500m race that will feature Kenya's Asbel Kiprop and American Lopez Lomong.
- Ageless American Bernard Lagat, who will attempt a challenging 3000m/5000m double against the likes of Ethiopians Tariku Bekele and Imane Merga and Great Britain's Mo Farah.
- American David Oliver continuing his marvelous running with his next-to-last crack of 2010 at the world record of 12.87 in the 110m hurdles.
- The dynamic 400m hurdling duo of Bershawn "Batman" Jackson of the U.S. and Javier Culson of Puerto Rico.
- A continuation of the season-long pole vault duel between France's Renaud Lavellinie and Australia's Steve Hooker.
- World champion Dwight Phillips of the U.S. taking on South Africa's Godfrey Khotso Mokoena and Australia's Fabrice Lapierre in the men's long jump.
- World champion Phillips Idowu of Great Britain trying to snap out of a late-season funk against Cuba's Alexis Copello in the men's triple jump.
- World champion Christian Cantwell of the U.S. squaring off against European rivals Tomasz Majewski of Poland and Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus in the men's shot put.
- Norway's Andreas Thorkildsen looking to continue his recent dominance of the men's javelin.
- Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare, a UTEP grad, attempting a rare double in the women's 100m and long jump.
- How will U.S. champion Connie Moore fare in the 200m in her first major international competition?
- World Indoor champion Debbie Dunn of the U.S. takes on Olympic silver medalist Shericka Williams of Jamaica, European Champion Tatyana Firova of Russia and African champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana in the 400m.
- American Lolo Jones looking to return to winning ways in the 100m hurdles against Australia's Sally Pearson and Canada's Perdita Felicien.
- An incredible women's 800m field including Russia's Mariya Savinova, Diamond League Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya, Jamaica's Kenia Sinclair, and U.S. champion Alysia Johnson.
- An even better field in the women's 1500m, where Olympic champion Nancy Langat of Kenya will toe the line against Ethiopia's Gelete Burka, Morocco's Btissam Lakhouad, American Christin Wurth-Thomas, European silver medalist Hind Dehiba of France and World silver medalist Lisa Dobriskey of Great Britain.
- Three-time World Indoor champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia facing Turkey's Alemitu Bekele, American Shannon Rowbury, and Russia's Anna Alminova in the 3000m.
- A renewal of the Beijing Olympic 5000m final between gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia and runner-up Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey, with a challenge from Diamond League champion Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya.
- World, European, and Diamond League high jump champion Blanka Vlasic competing outdoors in her hometown for the first time as a professional.
- World Indoor and Diamond League champion Fabiana Murer of Brazil looking to continue recent mastery in the women's pole vault.
- Newly-crowned European Champion Ineta Radevica of Latvia taking on Naide Gomes of Portugal in the women's long jump.
- Cuba's Yargelis Savigne attempting to pull off the first long jump/triple jump double in meet history.
- Diamond League champion Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus renewing her rivalry with New Zealand's Valerie Adams in the women's shot put.
- Rising women's discus star Sandra Perkovic of Croatia feeding off the home crowd against world champion Dani Samuels of Australia and Diamond League champion Yarelis Barrios of Cuba.
- American Kara Patterson looking to cap her breakout season with a major triumph in the women's javelin.