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.
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.