Monday, 24 August 2009

Berlin Reflections - 3

By providing excitement, earth shattering performances and drama the vibrant world championships in Berlin have been an enormous success. It is amazing to think that just twenty years have elapsed since the city was divided by the Wall behind which probably the most evil of the satellite communist regimes operated with an Orwellian intensity.

For these were above all a happy championships in which dourness seemed to have no place. Led by Usain Bolt and aided or hindered, depending on your point of view, by the mascot Berlino, athletes let their hair down even at moments of high tension(Asafa Powell seem to have undergone a personality change within the nine days).

And it is only a blink in historical terms since the last time major athletics was celebrated in this stadium under the gazes of the Nazi hierarchy whose dreams of Aryan supremacy were shattered by the brilliant Jesse Owens. It was a poignant moment when the grandchildren of Owens and the German long jump silver medallist, Luz Long, saw their grandfathers honoured for the courageous friendship in sporting combat that they displayed in 1936. It was an inspirational thought that saw the initials JO on the vests of yet another victorious US team, tiny compensation perhaps for the shameful treatment that he suffered from the hierarchy of the American Athletic Union (AAU). By withdrawing, through tiredness, from the subsequent American tour of Europe, Jesse was banned for life from his sport.

Before we get carried away we, and in particular the IAAF, must understand that these championships have been but a fleeting comet in the sporting universe. For just nine days in three years out of four, athletics impinges on the public’s consciousness. Otherwise it remains in the shadows cast by soccer, rugby, tennis, golf and cricket (in a few countries) et al. The reason has been clear for some time: athletics provides the competitive excitement for just over a week that the rest of sport provides almost year round. The championships are meaningful competition; the World Athletics Tour meetings are not. Apart from the odd tweak here and there the format of the meetings has not changed in thirty years. The stars appear, the spectators cheer; if it’s Friday it must be Zurich. Those meetings that once were on terrestial television are now banished to satellite. In The Guardian the day after the championships concluded seven pages were devoted to cricket and half a page to athletics. The evidence is clear enough but there seems to be a dangerous complacency that has been detectable among the hierarchy since this was discussed at a workshop in Monaco a few years ago.

Enough. We have witnessed greatness this last week and come to realise one thing: that there are no limits to human endeavour. Well done Berlin and Bolt.

It was clear from the first day of the championships, even watching on television, that there was a more positive attitude from British athletes, certainly a lot more can do than can’t manage. The result was six medals, one ahead of target and more importantly twenty top-eight placings giving UK a total of 81 points. Put into context this equals our medal performance at the 2000 Olympics and is our best top-eight global points total since that year. What has happened?

What has happened is that there is someone in charge who knows about performance, who recognizes the pressures of global championships, who understands coaches and coaching, who doesn’t accept lame excuses, who tells it straight. We haven't had that for some time. Charles van Commenee has partially lifted the dark pall that has hung over the UK’s overall performances at global championships in recent years.

Interviews with members of the team have shown that this is a significant change. World bronze medallist Jennifer Meadows described him as ‘hands on’; silver medallist Lisa Dobriskey said that the coach told the team that athletics was “yesterday’s sport”, especially after Beijing. “That hit home,” she said. This is in sharp contrast to the eyewash delivered by the sport’s spin doctors. In recent years there is no doubt that some of our athletes have believed the publicity spun around them to sell tickets for our major meetings.

Add this to the fact that in the various age group championships this summer Britain’s young athletes have accrued a total of thirty-nine medals and you may think that we’re on the yellow brick road to 2012.

Hold it there for a moment. The top echelon of the sport cannot exist in isolation. The base of the pyramid must be strong and in our case it isn’t. The vast majority of the clubs in the UK are dysfunctional; the coaching scheme is in disillusioned disarray; our competition structures, especially at junior level, only serve mediocrity. Unless urgent, radical attention is paid to this general malaise the flow of promising talent will swiftly dry up.

Breaking News
The IAAF today said that it had requested the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) to test Usain Bolt to ascertain that he was human. This followed rumours and innuendos from fellow athletes and their coaches that the Jamaican was, in fact, an alien being. “These performances are out of this world,” said one sprinter. “The guy aint human,” said another. “I mean he runs faster than I drive,” said the grandmother of another 200 metre finalist.

“We have had to act,” said an IAAF spokesman. “What has clinched it for us are persistent reports from Jamaica that on 21 August 1986 a UFO was spotted hovering over the village of Trelawney. NASA tells us that verification of Bolt’s status may take between 3000 and 5000 years owing to the number of planets from which he could have arrived. We’re prepared to be patient. This is a very sensitive issue especially for the athlete and his family. If it is proved that he is an alien then we’d be happy to submit full verification of his times in Berlin to the relevant association on whatever planet.”

When questioned on this possibility Bolt stared very hard at his interrogator who promptly melted away on the spot. He laughed off suggestions that he was the forerunner of a number of aliens being sent to earth to eradicate present world records in preparation for a takeover of the planet.

Kenenisa Bekele was unavailable for comment.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Berlin Reflections - 2

The way that the IAAF has brought its querying of the gender of the women’s new World 800 metre champion, 18 year old Caster Semenya, into the public domain just hours before the final of the race in Berlin either indicates a complete insensitivity to the effect of its pronouncements to the world’s media or that a leak of its negotiations with the South African federation was about to take place.

Either way, in its eagerness to indicate its vigilance against “cheating” in whatever form it might materialise the world governing body has shown that such vigilance takes precedence over what should always be foremost in its actions: a duty of care to the athletes.

Media reaction across the world has been inevitable with lurid headlines and sensationalist news bulletins. The family has not been spared. If the way that the story was handled on BBC News is any indication of world reaction this is something that will not do the sport any favours and will tarnish what has been a great championships. That the IAAF did not foresee such a reaction is extremely worrying.

The organisation is right to investigate the rumours and innuendo that have been circulating since Semenya burst on the world scene a few weeks ago but it should surely afford a vulnerable young athlete and her family the same privacy and protection that it does to those who have failed an A drug test by withholding any information until all procedures, including a B test, have been completed. Rumours are one thing, a factual statement quite another.

The IAAF has yet to tell us why it decided to suddenly produce such a bombshell pronouncement just hours before Semenya was to run in the most important race of her life. Very cynical speculation might suggest that it was in the hope that the athlete would withdraw from the final thus avoiding possible future embarrassment should she win gold.

Platitudes of sympathy towards Semenya from IAAF officials have done nothing to lessen the impact of their statement. This is a story that will run and run to the detriment of the organisation and to the sport.

Gender verification is a complicated process and almost twenty years ago the IAAF recommended that mandatory testing, so degrading to women, should cease. The IOC followed suit at the turn of the century. One is reminded of the story of the Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska, a European champion and individual Olympic medallist. In 1967 she was banned from the sport, her records and medals expunged for “having one chromosome too many.”

In the case of young Caster the suspicions of athletes have turned to sympathy as the world media turns its glare on a vulnerable young runner and her remote village in South Africa. Not a day the sport can be proud of.

Not many athletes have fairy tale endings to their careers but on Tuesday night in the magnificent Berlin Olympic stadium, in front of a German crowd highly desirous of the country’s first gold medal, 37 year old javelin thrower Steffi Nerius achieved just that. To me it was reminiscent of the first World Championships back in Helsinki in 1983 when Tiina Lillak, also in the javelin, battled to give Finland its only gold.

There was a significant difference. In Helsinki it was a foreign athlete, the British thrower Fatima Whitbread, who put the crowd through agonies with a first round throw that was to lead for six rounds till Lillak’s final effort; in Berlin it was Nerius who took the lead with her first endeavour and then, with the increasingly anxious crowd, had to sit out six rounds whilst the world’s best throwers, including the world record holder Barbora Spotáková, attempted to overtake her. Nerius had just one other serious throw, 65.81m, which would not have gained her a medal of any hue.

It was meant to be just a fond farewell to one of Germany’s greatest throwers; after all she was not top ranked in her country in 2009. That honour, along with the accompanying pressure to win, fell to Christina Obergföll (who finally finished fifth). Apart from winning the European title in 2006 Steffi had always, as the saying goes, been the bridesmaid in global championships. Who was to say that, in the avowed very last international competition of her career, it would be any different?

This time the Gods that decree these things smiled on Steffi, in the same way that they smiled on Tiina twenty-six years ago. The Finnish crowd roared her last throw to the gold medal and the champion then embarked on, as I remember it, a lap of honour that would have seriously challenged the Finnish 400 metre record. Steffi, as becomes a veteran, just soaked up the adulation of the crowd.

She says that she is determined not to change her mind about retiring and you can see her point. How do you follow winning your only global title just three years before your fortieth birthday in front of your home crowd in a stadium filled with so many ghosts? In the 1936 Olympics Ottilie Fischer won the javelin for Germany. Perhaps it was she who had lobbied the Gods.

The condescending put down of Jessica Ennis’s coach, Tony Minichiello, by UK Athletics Chairman, Ed Warner, is a classic example of the crass man management that has plagued the sport for decades.

After the coach had, in a press interview, indicated that he felt Ennis’s preparations had been hindered by UKA’s actions in “decimating” her support team Warner said that he felt that Minichiello had spoken thus because he “was feeling some of the pressure himself just ahead of the competition.” Complete nonsense. What the chairman did not do was answer the points that Minichiello had made: that he had lost a nutritionist, a physiologist and a performance analyst. “They [UKA]” Minichiello said, “changed the way they deliver services and some people had foreshortened contracts. There was no guarantee of jobs.” The above trio voted (as so many others in the sport are doing) with their feet.

All Warner talked about on BBC Radio 5 was future systems, beloved by his organisation and by UK Sport. Evolve a system, tick the box and all will be well. What UKA since its inception has constantly failed to grasp is that systems depend on experienced people for their success. The present highly successful season hasn’t been produced by any system but by individual coaches working, day in and day out, with talented athletes.

It's good to see that someone has sense at UKA. Minichiello, it is reported, has been offered the job of taking charge of milti-events.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Berlin Reflections - 1

Thanks to modern technology (which I don’t pretend to understand) I was able to watch Jennifer Ennis’s regal progress on the first day of her golden Heptathlon and then on my laptop, courtesy the New York Road Runners website, Paula Radcliffe looking equally majestic winning the New York City Half Marathon.

Whether this run will persuade her to run the marathon in Berlin remains to be seen but the manner of her winning over a classy field that included the leader of the US road running circuit Mamitu Dasku of Ethiopia, her old rival Catherine Ndereba of Kenya and Olympic marathon bronze medallist Deena Kastor (USA) would indicate that she is, to put it at its mildest, in very good shape.

The marathon world record holder broke away after eight miles and in hot and humid conditions pulled away from a pack that never chased her, finishing almost a minute and a half ahead of Dasku and two minutes ahead of Ndereba.

Paula said that she knew her approach to test her fitness was “unorthodox”; Britain’s chief coach Charles van Commenee called it “extreme”. But whichever way you look at it in the end the gal done good.


In a song from the musical South Pacific the female lead is described as having every inch of her “packed with dynamite”. The same could be said for the new world Heptathlon champion Jennifer Ennis, only 5’4” (1.62 metres) tall but, in Berlin, high jumped 1.92 metres (and has cleared 1.95m) which indicates quite an extraordinary power-to-weight ratio. If the IAAF website is still correct Ennis has overtaken the Greek high jumper Niko Bakoyanni by one centimetre in clearing a bar 33 centimetres over her own head.

The event was all over almost after the opening discipline and though the shot put has been billed as a hiccup her winning margin of 238 points is the biggest since Carolina Kluft’s Olympic win in 2004. Compared with Kluft’s European record Ennis’s performances in Berlin exceeded the Swede in three of the eight events.

Van Commenee, after a turgid few weeks in which he feared picking up the phone in case it was to herald another withdrawal through injury, can now smile. The UK has more than a world champion it has someone who can spearhead the sport towards 2012.


Leaving aside Usain Bolt’s breaktaking new world 100 metres record the interesting man to me in that epic race was the bronze medallist Asafa Powell. Heavily criticised for “bottling” at previous attempts at global championships, panicking when challenged and tightening up, Powell looked a totally different man at the start emulating his fellow countryman with dubious antics to the camera.

Whether all sprinters will now emulate Bolt’s actions before races remains to be seen but they clearly do not suit Powell’s style but what I think has really helped him is Usain Bolt. By running that extraordinary world record in Beijing Bolt clearly showed his fellow Jamaican a superiority that for him, at least, is insurmountable. He’s lost the world record; the pressure is off so there was no ‘tying up’ in his bronze medal run in the German capital.

As for Dwain Chambers he showed a maturity and humbleness throughout that the European promoters would now do well to match. If he had breathed in at the finish he could have well gone under 10 seconds.


Remember the ballyhoo when it was announced some months ago that the great and the good of British endurance running past were to help Ian Stewart rise to the challenge of reviving this particular ailing section of our sport? As it turns out it was pure PR-speak.

When questioned on BBC television Brendan Foster and Steve Cram both admitted that the group that also includes Paula Radcliffe, Seb Coe and David Bedford, “hadn’t met yet.” Moreover Steve said that they hadn’t really got any brief. Clearly this is one of those ideas that seemed good at the time.

Leaving aside the question as to why endurance running should be singled out for special treatment when so many other events in British athletics are in equally bad shape one has to comment that all this was and is part of the puff that continually emanates from UK Athletics. The rose tinted spectacles with which they view the sport are certainly not curing their myopia.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

When the Blind lead the Blind

The blindness of those currently running the governing bodies of British athletics to the current disillusionment, frustration and inevitable anger of voluntary administrators, coaches and officials is matched only by that of the quangos who govern them. It means that the promised great new dawns for the sport frequently handed down from on high have remained ephemeral. Ten years of disenfranchisement have taken a severe toll. The enthusiasm and innovative entrepreneurship of volunteers that were once a hallmark of British athletics have been sucked dry by a bureaucracy that doesn’t perceive that athletics has a soul let alone understand the nature of it.

Whether UK and England athletics will be ready to deal with the enthusiastic aftermath of the London Olympics is already questionable just under three years before 2012.

The recent cynical emasculation of the voluntary regional councils by those who run England Athletics displays the contempt with which they view experienced volunteers. Funding has been cut off making the councils more impotent than they were before. In the very north of England (and it may very well be the same elsewhere) important competitions and other programmes for the benefit of athletes have had to be cancelled through a lack of funding.

There has been no explanation of why, just a few years after they were heralded as the right way forward for the sport the professional offices of the nine regions were abruptly shut down creating an unsavoury game of musical chairs for jobs in a hastily concocted new hierarchy. But what’s new? Those that run British and English athletics are so comfortably entrenched that they see no need whatsoever to account for their actions to the rank and file of the sport.

Illustrations of that entrenchment can be seen in the literal farce of the2008 England AGM when nobody knew who was supposed to turn up and in the end only eight did. The recent explanation on the England website as to why the incumbent chairman will be unopposed to serve a further term beggars belief. There was one other candidate but it was decided that he or she did not meet the criteria laid down by three people: the Chief Executive of UKA, a member of Sport England and the Chairman of the England Athletics National Council. So, in a supposedly democratic Britain, you have to apply to even be considered as a candidate, meeting criteria laid down by a tightly knit group of the Establishment. Thomas Paine you should be living at this hour.

In what, I suppose, could be considered his acceptance speech, the incumbent chairman said that he was “delighted to have been part of the successes and development of the sport over recent years.” This is pure PR-speak. Those of us with rather less rose-tinted spectacles wonder what successes and what development he is referring to.

Is success measured by the fact that, despite avowals to bring about change in its structure he has managed to avoid introducing, at board and council level, any ethnic or gender diversity, retaining a cosy all-white, all-male, middle-aged hierarchy in a total contradiction of Sport England’s policy? Or that England has been successful in steering clear of tackling the most urgent developmental task facing the sport: producing a radical, exciting new competition structure for all levels of athletic competence? Or that the organisation has succeeded in having no policy to stem the increasing haemorrhaging of athletes, officials and coaches? Suddenly the expression Drop Out doesn’t just refer to teenagers.

It is the failure to grasp the simple fact of the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink that is UKA’s and England’s most serious problem. Top to bottom dicta from those whose management experience outweighs their knowledge of the sport are treated with scepticism. What has developed over the last decade is a tendency for most coaches, administrators and officials (and therefore most clubs) to decide solely to do their own thing. There is a definite “thanks but no thanks” attitude to policies dreamt up without prior widespread consultation.

Communication to the sport from the two major organisations is woeful. Leave aside the fact that athletics no longer generates any interest to sports editors it is worrying that nobody, except for a chosen few and not always then, knows what is going on or what their future intentions are. The target age for the UKA website appears to be between fourteen and seventeen. The England website (including, extraordinarily, messages from the now cashless, impotent regions) tells us little. There is no forum left where the rank and file administrators and coaches can meet with the mostly unelected few to discuss the state of the sport and its future. Hence the fact that so many volunteers are metaphorically in dark cinemas heading for the Exit signs because they do not like the film.

The present administrators clearly had no idea of the poisoned chalice that was being handed down to them. Ten years of virtual carnage of the coaching scheme, of creating tick-a-box organisations obsessed with quantity rather than quality, of observing an obsequious complaisance to the paymasters have taken an enormous toll. And the voluntary sector, in failing to supervise its finances adequately, must also take its share of the blame.

It is responsible on two counts. Firstly by bankrupting the British Athletics Federation in 1997 and then compounding the deed by refusing to even contemplate the institution of a registration scheme that would give athletics some independent financial control over its affairs and partly unshackle it from the quangos’ iron grip. A conservative figure of 100,000 athletes registering to compete at £30 per annum would bring in £3 million that could be shared amongst the nine English regions to carry out much needed work. It would give some power to the voluntary sector who, given its record, would need to provide tightly controlled and well audited business plans. I can hear two howls of dismay already: firstly from the club stalwarts who think government owes them a constant free lunch and secondly from the current professionals who would see some of their power ebbing away.

For the last decade and counting we seem, as Shakespeare put it, to have been “wedded to calamity”. Spending millions on a chosen few athletes whilst the rest of the sport languishes in relative penury has been an act of blind lunacy that has come home to roost. But then when the blind lead the blind you inevitably blunder into disaster.

Monday, 3 August 2009


In 1973 Andy Carter stormed to an AAA Championship 800m win at London’s Crystal Palace in 1:45.12, slicing a full second off the UK record. Thirty six years on his time would, to date, head the 2009 UK rankings.

Mel Watman wrote of him: “His attitude is refreshing, he does not like slow races and usually avoids them by imposing a fast pace.” Here was a 'can do' runner of the type we are sadly lacking today.

His attitude is exemplified by his run at the 1971 European’s in Helsinki. In the final, despite having had attacks of asthma and tonsillitis earlier in the season, he was full of aggression leading at halfway in 51.3; after slipping to fourth he stormed back and took the bronze. He finished fifth in the 1972 Olympics and won the European Cup in 1973. Significantly, as we shall see, he also ran 48.0 secs for 400 metres.

Only three British athletes this century have beaten Carter’s time. We haven’t had a global finalist since 1993. Solihull we have a problem.

Steve Ovett beat Carter’s record in 1978 and a year later Sebastian Coe set a new world record of 1:42.33. In 1981 he amazed athletics by taking it to unimaginable heights with 1:41.73.

Peter and Seb Coe transformed the world of 800 metre running. Peter’s work, as a recent Blog discussed, will surely form the basis of the, as yet, elusive 1:39 man. The problem is that the lesson that Seb and Peter taught us in Britain has palpably been forgotten. Speed is the essence in the event; not that of a Usain Bolt but of a Johnson and Warriner.

What Seb also demonstrated with his two world records was that a British athlete could set extraordinary times. When he ran 1:41.73 he was around 18 metres ahead of the next fastest Brit ever, Steve Ovett and 26 metres ahead of Andy Carter. This was phenomenal and when middle-distance runners got their breath back we entered a golden era of British two lap running.

In the eighties and early nineties Steve Cram and Peter Elliott ran below 1:43, three others below 1:44. Medals came our way. Following Ovett’s Olympic win in 1980, Coe won silver in 1980 and 1984; Coe, McKean and Cram won a clean sweep of medals at the 1986 European’s; Cram won Commonwealth gold in 1986; Elliott won silver at the 1987 World’s; McKean won the European in 1990 and the World Cup in 1991 along with a string of European Cup victories. Indoors Coe,Harrison,Sharpe,Heard and McKean all won European titles and the latter won the World Indoor in 1993. But, once the Scot left the scene we have been but a pale shadow of our former selves.

How can this be in such a relatively short space of time? The lesson that we have forgotten is that world class times at 800 metres are the products of extended sprints.

Seb ran a 4 x 400 metre relay leg in 45.5; in his fastest world record run he completed the first lap in 49.7, a differential of 4.2 seconds. Now assuming a more reasonable differential of 3.5 seconds it means that a current British runner hoping to sustain a first lap of 51 seconds should be capable of 400 metres in 47.5. Of the current UK top six, those who have raced 400m at all are running in the late 48 to 49 second range. Only the second ranked Darren St. Clair and Sam Ellis have run closer to 47 seconds. Peter Coe believed that a world class 800 metre runner should be able to run between 46 and 46.5 seconds.

Although he never advocated moving 400 metre runners up to 800 he recognised that 400 metre training had to be part of the armour of the 800 metre runner. He had to attain repeatable 400 metre sprinting speed.

“There is no way you can escape from speed in middle distance running, including 5000m,” Peter said. “So you should never get too far away from it in training.”
He felt that once the developing athlete has achieved a high level of cardio respiratory efficiency he can reduce the volume of steady distance to that which will maintain the condition. He believed that there is more time spent in steady winter running than is necessary. But in the present day, isn’t that still the conventional wisdom?

I conjectured in 1:39 Man that, as 800 metre running became faster with sub-50 secs opening laps the anaerobic/aerobic ratio would move more towards that of the 400 metres (75:25). All such ratios, of course, assume that the distance is covered at the athlete’s best running speed, i.e. as fast as he is able. So if a runner runs 49 secs for an opening 400m but is capable of 45 secs then obviously the ratio 75:25 would not apply. The closer to his personal best he runs then the nearer to that ratio he can get. The question then surely is: is he doing the necessary training to sustain the momentum into the second half? In a recent race in Monaco Michael Rimmer went with the pacemaker and reached the bell in circa 49 seconds. His second lap was around 60 seconds. It was a hard way to discover that presently he cannot sustain such a fast lap.

British coaches and athletes today seem content with mediocrity. This century the number of runners under 1:47 in the top ten is 38, the number over, 62. There is an aberration as well. In 2006 the ratio was 9:1 in favour of runners under 1:47. This was thanks to a British Milers Club (BMC) paced race in Watford where three runners – Hill, Rimmer and Ellis, all broke 1:46; two more, Watkins and Coltherd, both ran under 1:46.5. It was heralded as a moment of truth, the breakthrough the event had been waiting for, the plateau for faster times. It didn’t happen.

There is another factor that coaches should ponder. The top performances of the three men, McIlroy, Hill and Rimmer who have attained the UK all-time top 25 this century have proved transient. McIlroy (who ran fourth in the European Championships of 2002) ran only twice below 1:46 following his best of 1:44.65 in 2005. He retired last year bitter at the lack of support he had received. Hill has run below 1:46 only once since his lifetime best of 1:45.10 (2006). It is too early to judge Rimmer for he only set his best last season and this year, as his coach Norman Poole told me, he has had a recurrence of asthma.

And what of Sam Ellis, the bronze medallist in the European’s in Goteborg in 2006? His only excursion below 1:46 has been the aforementioned BMC race at Watford. He has cruelly suffered both from injury and in 2006 misguided advice regarding future coaching.

What the running of McIlroy, Hill, Ellis and Rimmer has shown is that the tap of talent hasn’t been turned off as some believe but has been left dripping. To continue the analogy it needs a new washer. What coaches must ask themselves is: am I training athletes correctly for what is fast becoming an extended sprint? Am I stuck in old approaches to the event?

Should we treat the 800 metres more specifically and uncouple it from the 1500?
Some critics will say that all this talk of the 800 being an extended sprint is nonsense. They feel such a suggestion is heresy. They reasonably point to the fact that Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliott were all highly successful at 1500m.

However a study of their major races at both distances shows that 800 metre races were not a priority. Only Coe ran an equal number of 800 and 1500/1 mile world class races during his long career. Ovett virtually abandoned it after his Olympic win; Cram’s ratio is 3:1 in favour of 1500m/1 mile, Elliott’s 2:1. What these great runners would have achieved had they concentrated, like Tom McKean, on racing two laps would make an interesting debate. McKean (47.60 for 400) never ran a serious 1500 in his life.

Investigation of this sick patient is urgently required. It should be carried out by the British Milers Club whose formation came about in 1963 because of the dire state of British miling. The current 800m situation is no less atrocious.

We need to interview our leading athletes and coaches; we need to know the basis of their training (not for any recrimination but for knowledge); we need to know about attitudes to racing; we need frank discussion between coaches and athletes about training methods; we need to talk to the greats of the past. Until we have the facts we cannot move forward. The short-term aim should be a modest one: to have three runners in the 800 in 2012 and at least one in the final. Achieve that and we can move on and up from there.