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.


Bill Adcocks said...


In the early years of the London Marathon the same thing happened with respect to past achievers having a chance to have an input into improving standards by calling on their expertise. Nothing!! Chris Brasher made an attempt but the powers that be didn't want to know.

Of course there is no simple answer and in today's social climate that is even more so.

John said...

Brilliant as Jess's performance was, it will take more than her to "spearhead the sport towards 2012."

It will need a radical change of emphasis, use of funding and method if we are not to be in the same embarrassing position we are at present with 90% of the British athlete "elite" not up to the task of delivering a final let alone podium places!

john bicourt said...

With few exceptions the general poor state of British distance running is lamentably still in decline, particularly for the men. Yet nothing has been done to properly address what was once the proudest and most successful area of our sport.

The governing body's apologists will have it that "the world has moved on, that more countries compete these days and we cannot compete with the Africans." These are just lame excuses attempting to hide the fact that UKA have been incapable of improving a situation where we are not even on a par with our past performances!

The desperate, all too late bid to avoid 2012 being a mainly zone free area for British endurance running by appointing past great names to advise and support the current Endurance Director, is laughable not only, as Brendon Foster has already pointed out, they haven’t even met together and have had no brief but because each one, including the new Endurance Director, is fully engaged in their own highly successful careers. So who has the time to be involved day after day, month after month which is what is needed to have any effect?

The talent is out there but needs to be brought together on a regular camp basis and incentivised to achieve, step by step, their potential as their intended mentors achieved before them through sheer, best practice, hard work and determination to succeed.

John Bicourt

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