When the World Athletics Championships kick-off on Saturday, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. 

For what feels like the first time this season, at the very highest level anyway, athletics will be about racing rather than times. 

Over the past few seasons, the essence of athletics has changed, and not for the better. 

The beauty of running is, or should be anyway, that it’s the simplest form of sporting competition on the planet. 

Who can beat the other men and women they stand alongside on the start line? 

It’s the purest kind of racing. 

But, somewhere along the line, athletics has become about something different from this. 

It’s become, almost exclusively outside of the major championships at least, about times. 

In some ways, it’s made for an explosive few years. 

This year alone, 11 world records on the track have been broken. 

In itself, that’s not a bad thing. 

These records illustrate that the sport is moving forwards, just as it should. Every sport, if it’s to thrive, should be at a higher level now than it was three or four decades ago. 

But this fixation with times, to the detriment of producing good races, is inherently damaging to athletics. 

Many of these fast times, perhaps even most of these fast times, are down to the shoe technology that has been developed by a number of manufacturers.  

The so-called “super shoes”, which involve the athlete doing nothing extra other than tie their laces on their new shoes, have transformed the sport. 

For athletes who respond well to the shoes, which are, to put it simply, more bouncy than normal trainers, the benefit can be as much as a few percent. That’s massive. Athletes at the top of their sport can train for literally years and not improve by as much as a few percent. 

But by simply putting on a pair of these super-shoes, that improvement is immediate. 

If you’re a responder, that is. 

Studies have shown that while some athletes respond incredibly well to these super-shoes, others don’t respond nearly as positively, or even at all. 

This is the first failing of athletics in recent years; never should sport at elite level be about who’s fortunate enough to glean the most benefit from a particular new technology. 

But there’s another, perhaps less technical yet, in my opinion, far more damaging development that has become entirely widespread across elite athletics, in particular middle and long distance running on the track and that’s wavelights. 

I’ve never been a particular fan of pace makers; it goes without saying that having a hired help dragging the field around the track for three quarters of the race makes it easier to run fast. 

But wavelights have taken things on a step further, and simultaneously, caused a hammer blow to what makes athletics, at its best, one of the greatest spectator sports on the planet. 

Wavelights, to the uninitiated, are simply a band of lights that run round the inside rim of the track at particular, pre-set pace. 

So, an athlete wants to run under 3 minutes 30 seconds for the 1500m? No problem, the wavelights will guide them round at the perfect pace. 

Or an athlete wants to know where they are in relation to the existing world record? Again, no problem, the wavelights will do all the hard work for them. 

These lights have been around for a couple of years now but they are becoming ubiquitous and have, undoubtedly, played a major part in the numerous world records that have been set in athletics in the past season or two, including the three that were set in one evening at the Paris Diamond League last month when Faith Kipyegon, Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Lamecha Girma broke world records within minutes of each other. 

On the face of it, that’s a great advert for athletics. 

But in reality, it’s really not. 

Athletics as a sport will live or die on the races it produces and the battles between individuals it fosters. 

Never has a race won in a fast time by a single front runner been a more exciting or engaging spectacle than a hard-fought, shoulder to shoulder, tussle between two elite runners, regardless of what time the clock stops at when they cross the line. 

Yes fast times are an indication of the sport progressing but it’s rivalries and contests that will bring new fans into the sport, and retain the old ones. 

Compare last summer to this summer, for example. 

When Jake Wightman heroically held off the fastest 1500m runner in the world, Ingebrigtsen, to win the 1500m world title, nobody cared that the winning time was over three seconds slower than the world record. 

Similarly, when Eilish McColgan won her first major championships gold medal when she won the 10,000m at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games by holding off a brace of Kenyans on the final lap, not a soul even registered that her winning time was almost two minutes slower than the fastest ever women’s 10,000m? 

These are two examples in a sea of races in which the battle between two, or more, runners, for first place are incalculably more interesting than watching someone run fast because they’re chasing some lights round a track. 

It’s not greyhound racing, after all. 

So these World Championships will be a welcome reminder that athletics should be about racing, not about fancy trainers and light-up tracks.