Monday 14 August 2017

World Athletics Championships: Goodbye to two legends

Dramatic is the best word to describe the final night of the World Athletics Championships in London yesterday.

From the joy of watching a quite brilliant gold medal performance by the British Men's 4x100 relay team to the sad sight of seeing Usain Bolt pull up injured as he attempted to complete the final leg in his last ever race for the Jamaican team.

It was one race and one championship too far for Bolt but as Michael Johnson said in the BBC studio he didn't need to turn up to these Championships. He had nothing else to prove but I'm sure the appeal of finishing his career in front of a packed stadium in London was one of the motivating factors in him running again.

The same could be said for Mo Farah. In the last 7 years I don't think I've enjoyed watching 5 and 10,000m races as much with Mo at his best. It was hard effort to win gold in the 10,000m final and again in the 5,000 you just felt this a race too far. It shouldn't be overlooked that he still won silver but it felt strange seeing him not win the gold.

Usain Bolt and Mo Farah are not only my two favourite athletic stars they are two of my favourite sports stars. I feel fortunate and privileged that I've seen both of them run live over the last few years at the Olympic stadium. They will be hugely missed.

The future of athletics

We've listened to so many people talk about where athletics will go now that it has lost its biggest star in Usain Bolt. No matter how great an individual, every sport has to and will carry on. You might as well ask the same question of tennis when Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray retire. Or football when Messi and Ronaldo are no longer playing. Ultimately athletics and other sports go on and new stars emerge with their own talents and stories.

Personally, although Bolt is a huge loss, I've been watching athletics for over 30 years and I'm not going to stop simply because he's no longer on the scene. It was interesting watching the Men's 200 Final without Bolt. The winning time by Turkey's Ramil Guliyev was run in 20.09. One of the slowest winning times for a 200m World Final but it was still a great race to watch. With 100m to go, you had no idea who was going to win.

As for the spectre of drugs and cheating in the sport, this is one issue that refuses to go away from athletics. We're never going to eliminate cheating from the sport entirely. It's human nature to try and gain maximum advantage possible and this invariably leads to some crossing the line into cheating. It's important to ensure that the sport remains in a place where winning and being successful means being clean.

It's right that Russia's ban from competition remains in place and I would like to see longer bans of up to five years for those who have been caught cheating where there is clear evidence that their drug taking has been the result of attempts to improve their performance. You may think that sounds obvious but in athletics and other sports you do find that people have failed drug tests for a variety of reasons.

I'm thinking of the likes of Maria Sharapova in tennis who failed a drugs test after failing to realise that the medication she was taking had been moved to the banned list. There's a grey area of athletes who have failed drugs tests because of naivety, lack of professionalism. It goes back to the saying that athletes must be responsible for the medication and substances they are putting into their bodies.

When it comes to drug cheats there is no bigger hate figure than Justin Gatlin. I understand his frustration and the argument put forward that there are plenty of other athletes who competed last week that have served drug bans but none of them have received the same level of hostility shown towards Gatlin.

Unfortunately, Gatlin runs in the most high profile track event and since his return from his doping ban has been the most significant rival to Usain Bolt. Whether he likes it or not he has become the figure of hate that people will look at as representing the worst of drug cheats.

A good week for British Athletics?

Until the final day of competition it was looking like a pretty poor championships for Team GB. Thankfully our relay teams made the final medals tally respectable. The target was between 6 - 8 medals and we finished with 6.

Apart from Mo Farah there weren't any certain gold medals that GB could pin their hopes on. We were unlucky with a number of fourth spots - a couple of those could so easily have been bronze medals. Despite the lack of individual medals, overall it was an ok performance from Team GB.

World athletics is incredibly competitive and I think this fact is often overlooked by those with only a passing interest in the sport. Athletics is not rowing or cycling and Britain is never going to dominate in the way that we do in those sports.

We're not going to see a 'Super Saturday' in every World Championships and Olympics and in truth Britain has always had cycles where we have perhaps 2 or 3 genuine gold medal contenders competing. We've just come to the end of one of those cycles.

If you look at the spread of medals won by different countries, athletics is a truly world sport and for some events just making the final is a huge achievement. Of course the other side of the argument is that more scrutiny is paid to GB's performance when you take into account the level of funding British athletes receive.

I hadn't realised that GB receives 27 million pounds in funding. No other country is spending that amount on athletics so from that point of view we shouldn't get complacent and should be aiming for at least 10 medals at championships.

Lets bring the championships back to London

I was fortunate enough to attend last Monday's evening secession. The two finals included the Men's 110m hurdles won by the Jamaica's Omar McLeod and the Women's 1500m Final. The 1500 was without doubt the highlight of the evening and arguably the best race of the Championship.

The race was won by Kenya's Faith Kipyegon with Britain's Laura Muir missing out on a bronze medal after being pipped on the line. It was a brave run from her. With 150m to go she tried to keep up with Kipyegon and the Dutch athlete Sifan Hassen. Perhaps if she'd held back she would have had a better chance of winning the bronze but she went for it.

It was a brilliant race to watch live as you could see there were different phases to the race. The first lap was run with real intent, while the second lap was quite slow. The race really began wtih 500m to go with Hassen making her move to the front. The last lap was thrilling to watch.

Last Monday reminded me why I love watching athletics and why London and the UK is arguably the best place in the world to watch live sport. You can always rely on this country to turn up and show huge support for any major sporting event held in this country.

Every session at these World Championships was a sellout. Having attended the Anniversary Games the last two years at the Olympic stadium, I totally agree with those who say British athletics fans are incredibly knowledgeable and know their stuff. Another good point was made by the BBC's chief sports writer Tom Fordyce, who wrote:

"An athletics crowd is untouchable in its diversity: families, kids, a blend of ethnicities that reflected this host city but was light years away from the far narrower demographics at Wimbledon, or Twickenham, or Lord's."

This is so true, you find such a great mix of people when you watch live athletics.

The next World Championships are due to be held in Doha and Eugene, Oregon. You know for fact that the crowds will never match anything we've seen in London. It made me realise that there's no better place to watch athletics than London and this is why we should hold the Championships on a regular basis.

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