Tuesday 25 August 2009

Where does Usain Bolt go from here?

Last week I spoke about how amazing Usain Bolt's 100m world record was in the Athletics World Championships in Berlin. Just when you thought he couldn't possibly top that he then runs 19.19 in the 200m to shatter his own world record! This is phenomenal sprinting at a level we've never seen before in Athletics. With no real competition to challenge him at the moment, where does he go from here?

At the weekend, Bolt won his third gold medal in the 100m relay. He ran a decent third leg handing over to Asafa Powell, but it didn't compare to his third leg in last year's Olympics, and there was no world record. I was almost a disappointed!

The thing is, you can't really expect Bolt or any other athlete to break world records everytime they step onto the track. People will come to watch Bolt sprint knowing full well he's going to win but expecting to see amazing times. Is there a danger that people will get bored?

I hope not as Usain Bolt is without question the greatest thing to happen to world athletics in years. I'm a huge athletics fan and consider it to be my second sport after football.

Athletics has been in the doldrums for quite some time now. It's certainly not as fashionable or as popular as it once was. The sport's also lost credibility with the numerous drug scandals which have taken place over the years.

Bolt has come along at just the right time. His amazing performances have meant he's now one of the most famous sports stars in the world and he's brought athletics back to centre stage and for all the right reasons. It's not just his performances though, but his personality as well.

It's amusing to see so many more athletes dancing, pulling faces, and waving to the crowd before the start of their races; all in imitation of Bolt. He's quite clearly the biggest face and ambassador for the sport.

World athletics and in particular the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) need to use Bolt in the best way possible to promote athletics in a positive light and restore the credibility of the sport.

Returning back to what challenges he still has on the track, there are still a number of targets for him to aim for. It's commonly agreed that he can lower the world record in 100m but even more incredibly he could possibly go under 19 seconds for the 200m.

I still think he should at some stage have a go at the 400m. From what I can tell he's not overly keen on the idea, but I just know he could run some great times at that event, and who knows if he really put his mind to it, challenge Michael Johnson's 400m world record.

I've now heard reports that perhaps the Long jump would be the next new challenge for him and not the 400m. This is intriguing as he's never done the long jump before.

Clearly there would be no problem generating speed on the runway, but even though he's a gifted athlete he would still need to learn the technique of using that running speed in such a way that he can gain the necessary height and distance when he jumps.

If he does at some point decide to take up the long jump and he becomes successful, he'll be following in the footsteps of the great Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, but he would surely eclipse anything they achieved, although you could argue he's already done that.

My hopes for the next few years is that Bolt remains fit, motivated and keeps doing fantastic things on the track. With him onboard athletics has a much brighter future! We need him!

Where does UK athletics go from here?

Following on from my where does Usain Bolt goes from here, I wanted to ask the same question of UK Athletics.

UK athletics has also struggled in recent years. We don't have the same household names that we had in the past. The sport seems to struggle to attract the public attention in a way that it used to and doping scandals have discredited the sport. I discussed this issue with a friend from school over the weekend, who questioned how good the viewing figures would actually be for this World Championships.

I understood where he was coming from and excepted that there could be an argument to say that the BBC should no longer cover athletics if there isn't the public interest for it.

If this ever happened I'd be hugely upset as I still believe that athletics is one of the few truly world sports along with football. You can argue that we don't have the star names that we had in the past, but there have been some very good performances in Berlin.

We can't expect to encourage and inspire children to take up the sport and become potential future champions if they never get the opportunity of seeing the sport on television.

Secondly, we have the Olympics coming up in 2012 , people can say whatever like but the truth is, track and field is the focal point of any Olympic Games and it's crucial that UK athletics is ready to perform to its maximum capability when the Games take place in London.

Great Britain actually performed extremely well during these World Championships, winning two Gold medals and winning 6 medals overall; But it's not just about the medals won but also the number of athletes that reached finals. We had 20 top 8 finishes. It was actually our best performance in 16 years in these championships.

This all bodes well for 2012, and we have at least 2 realistic gold medal prospects in Jessica Ennis and Phillips Idowu who won gold in the heptathlon and the triple jump. Both have been great prospects over the last couple of years and it was great to see them deliver. It again shows that we can produce winners and helps raise the profile of the sport.

What many people don't realise is just how competitive world athletics really is. It's incredibly difficult to win gold medals. What other sports are out there where Third World countries like Kenya and Ethiopia can dominate in events like the long distances, and then an island of 2 and half million in the case of Jamaica can clean up in the sprints.

Athletics in this country is heading in the right direction, but can't get complacent. The head of UK athletics Charles van Commenee knows this and I like a lot of the things that he has to say on the state of athletics in this country.

He doesn't sound like the sort of person who will let Britain's top athletes cruise along in a comfort zone, we cant afford to do that. I'm optimistic that what we're doing in terms of training and preparation is right, and we'll hopefully see the rewards in the next few years.

The sporting landscape in this country is already crowded as it is what with football, cricket and rugby competing for the nations attentions. Athletics needs to work really hard to keep producing and nurturing talent so that we can compete and win medals at major championships, and hopefully keep the sport fully in the public eye.

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