Irish running legend Sonia O'Sullivan has warned against the limiting effects of Wavelight technology ©Getty Images

Sonia O'Sullivan, one of Ireland's greatest athletes, has warned that the Wavelight technology increasingly used for pacing record attempts is in danger of making the sport "more predictable and less exciting to watch".

Writing in the Irish Times, O’Sullivan, the winner Olympic silver and world and European gold at 5,000 metres, as well as short and long course gold at the 2018 World Cross Country Championships, acknowledged that the new system, which uses pacing lights on the inside rim of the track, is "remarkable".

But she maintained: "I now realise that as much as Wavelight technology has a place in athletics events it also narrows the focus and also narrows our connection as fans with the individual athletes.

"All sports need personalities to make it more attractive, yet athletics is leading towards being more about numbers and statistics, with just a very small number of personalities connecting with the fans.

"As a result I feel this reduces the growth and exposure of the sport beyond a very niche few that can relate to fast times and ranking points.

"If every race you go to see is set up and paced perfectly then the races become more predictable and less exciting to watch."

Sonia O'Sullivan feels athletics is
Sonia O'Sullivan feels athletics is "leading towards being more about numbers and statistics" ©Getty Images

O'Sullivan is grateful that the technology has yet to be introduced into events like the Olympic Games and World Championships, but fears it is only a matter of time.

"The championship events are the few that remain free for now from Wavelight technology, where actual competition and racing is still the draw," she wrote.

"It’s only a matter of time, however, before the lights will enter the national, European, World Championship and Olympic stage, but I’m not sure it is such a good thing as it creates a more one dimensional sport with too much predictability and very few surprises.

"The new personalities of the sport are crushed when every race is a time trial.

"Competition is squashed by a pace that is requested by one athlete and as a result creates a pecking order and the races are organised in favour of the better athletes and all the rest are expected to line up and then just fall in line."

O'Sullivan added that the Wavelight technology, which can run more than one set of pacing lights simultaneously by using different colours, is "an extra cost for smaller meets that see it as a way to attract some better athletes, but not every meet can afford it."

Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey utilised Wavelight technology when she broke the world record for 5,000m at Valenica in 2020 ©Getty Images
Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey utilised Wavelight technology when she broke the world record for 5,000m at Valenica in 2020 ©Getty Images

O’Sullivan revealed that she first witnessed the Wavelight technology in action at Valencia in 2020 when Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia lowered the women’s 5,000m world record to 14min 6.62sec and Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda reduced the men’s 10,000m world record to 26:11.00.

"At the time this was very much viewed as being experimental, and in those times of Covid and empty stadiums it seemed more a novelty than something that would really change the sport," she wrote.

"However, just like the shoe technology helped raise the bar the Wavelight technology is now also pushing the bar that bit higher and giving athletes extra assistance to help them run faster than we ever thought possible…

"At the Diamond League meet in Oslo recently I was invested in watching the women’s one mile race where the stadium record was under threat from some of the world’s best athletes.

"I was sitting in the stands and found myself watching the light go around the track more than the race itself and questioned myself if it was always such a good thing to be chasing times and, in the process, missing out on the actual race?

"In that instance I found my eyes were drawn to the race against the lights and lost the connection with the actual athletes."