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Posts Tagged ‘athletics’

Over the last few weekends, I’ve been ridiculously excited for reasons my friends cannot comprehend – live athletics has been on the television.

Okay, so it’s the Aviva Indoor Athletics which aren’t the most important events in the world, even if they are used to get qualifying times for the World Indoors next month. And granted, the Indoors aren’t vitally important, and many great athletes won’t be there. But it’s very good preparation for London 2012 and I enjoy watching athletics. I don’t care who’s competing or where it is, as long as it’s on the TV.

Both the BBC and Channel 4 have been covering these qualifying events. The BBC covered Glasgow’s event and Channel 4 broadcast from Sheffield where Jessica Ennis got her season off to a brilliant start. This Saturday, the BBC is moving to Birmingham.

Those that read my blog will know I have been very critical of Channel 4’s athletics coverage previously. They were, and will be next time around, the broadcasters for the Athletics World Championships. There was one occasion where I was sitting watching the 2011 Worlds, when Channel 4’s coverage ended before the pole vault final had concluded because they felt they had to show Three In A Bed instead.

Channel 4 will be the broadcasters for the Paralympic Games and their promotional programmes have been nothing short of excellent. One fine programme made use of sport science technology to show how these incredible athletes use their bodies and disabilities to excel in their sports. The Paralympic Show has provided insightful interviews. The other day, I watched a ten-minute segment on Eleanor Simmonds.

Channel 4’s actual live coverage, however, is still lagging behind the BBC’s.

First, is the issue of the presenter. Channel 4 opened the Worlds with Ortis Deley, who proved to know very little about athletics and struggled with the live presenting. He was eventually dropped and exchanged for Rick Edwards.

Edwards is better than Deley. He copes with questioning his very knowledgeable guests, including Dean Macey and Kelly Sutherton and is much better at providing segways between interviews and live action. But something still feels amiss. He simply is not as natural as John Inverdale. I haven’t yet put my finger on what’s missing, but something is.

Channel 4’s coverage also struggles because of its adverts. The BBC’s programming excels because of its expert analysis from Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson between events. Channel 4 does not have time to do this because it cuts to adverts between events. Indeed, Channel 4 leaves very little time for interviews with the athletes unless they are particularly famous. They chose to interview Jessica Ennis and Dwain Chambers, but seemed to feel others were unworthy of screen time.

Channel 4’s coverage last Sunday involved the finals from a two-day event. It attempted to highlight the main action from Saturday and from Sunday morning, but actually showed very little of it. At one point, it seemed to cut suddenly from its highlights to live action because the highlights were almost shown over a race. The BBC’s programming tends to last longer than the athletics itself, allowing time for an interesting interviews and conversations between the presenters before the live actions starts, and some time at the end to sum-up.

Some of these problems will be hard for C4 to rectify. It will have adverts during the Paralympics and this may still leave insufficient time for analysis. Analysis is something athletics watchers enjoy. It’s amazing to watch in slow motion the moment in a race where Mo Farah suddenly accelerates, where you see a hurdler knock one hurdle and lose the race on the line, where you can see the 100m again, because its too fast to fully appreciate the first time around.

There is still time for Channel 4 to improve. It will be hosting the Indoor Worlds in Istanbul next month and promises over 20 hours of coverage screen across Channel 4 and More 4. It will definitely have learnt from Daegu last year, where it struggled with poor presenting. Hopefully it won’t cut out any live action to make room for repeats this time.

Ultimately though, Channel 4 has a long way to go if it wants sport coverage to rival the BBC’s. But there is still time.

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A number of years ago, I remember hearing a debate on the radio. The question was whether they should have two separate Olympics: one for ‘clean’ athletes and one for those who openly took drugs.

Even as young as I was (this may have been ten years ago), I thought it was appalling that this was even considered. The drug-filled tournament would not be about breaking records. It would instead be a competition between drug companies on who could make Athlete A run faster, jump higher, throw further. And this assumes that every single drug an ‘athlete’ put into their body wouldn’t be damaging them for the rest of their lives. Drugs always have a price.

I have always had an anti-drug policy in sport, as, I hope, the majority of people have. Nonetheless, you can never completely keep drugs  away from competition. It has been present for as long as drugs were available, and I’m sure there have been one or two fortunate enough to never get caught.

Even the IOC (International Olympic Committee) President, Jacques Rogge, believes London 2012 will not be free of drug cheats. Certainly, a clean games is probably something we can only ever dream of. Rogge says “To say there will be no positive cases would be naive and misleading. I hope it’s the case, but reality tells me that there may be positive cases.” This implies that although there will be cheats, they will be caught. Rogge seems to believe there is enough testing. And so there may will be.

In April, the British Olympic Assocation (BOA) will challenge the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA says that the BOA should not indefinitely ban all of its drug cheats from the Olympics after they have already served a ban, since this would be punishing the athlete twice. The BOA says it is a selection policy rather than a second punishment.

I don’t actually care if it is a second punishment. They deserve it. Let me make it clear, I’m not talking about athletes who take drugs  innocently from their food or without realising the ingredients of Aspirin had changed. I’m talking about those who knowingly and willingly took drugs to enhance their performance.

They should be indefinitely banned from the Olympics. I don’t care if it’s their livelihood and if they’ve already served a five year ban. The Olympic medal is the highest honour an athlete can hope to achieve. Drug cheats do not deserve an opportunity to win one.

The BOA’s policy is a good one. It means that the athletes that represent Great Britain in the Olympics are clean, have always been clean and therefore deserve all the accolades that come their way. I don’t want to see Dwain Chambers win a medal. I don’t even want to see him run at Commonwealth or European or World level, but unfortunately, the BOA don’t see that as a selection issue in these events.

Drug cheats keep rising youngsters off the track. Every time Dwain Chambers has an opportunity to run for a place in the Europeans, a drug-free British youngster is losing out on that chance.

They broke the rules and should face the consequences.

No drug cheats in the Olympics. It’s just not right.

Therefore, I am standing alongside the BOA and hoping that the Court of Arbitration in Sport will agree with them too.

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London is already hosting the Olympics in 2012, and so for some, the bidding for the Athletics World Championships in 2017 is unnecessary. After all, one of the biggest events in world sport is already coming to the UK.

The key word is ‘legacy’. It has been branded about ever since it was revealed London would bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, and the World Championships is a way of ensuring that legacy. If nothing else, it will mean the track will be maintained for at least the next six years. Maintaining the track is incredibly important. Next year, the Olympics 2012 will become part of Great Britain’s history. Keeping that track is an important reminder of the (hopefully) spectacular tournament London will host next year.

Having already watched the Football World Cup disappear off to Qatar, it is difficult to watch London battling them  to host another important tournament. Losing out to Russia was hard enough. Indeed, today, I told someone that the winner of the bid was going to be revealed today. They couldn’t care less. Then I told them Britain was going against Qatar. Then he cared.

For the IAAF, it has appeared as though they have been desperate to take athletics to as many parts of the globe as possible. The last tournament was in Daegu in South Korea and the next two will be Moscow and Bejing. The chairman of UK athletics, Ed Warner says, ““If this does not go to London, a number of other cities in western Europe that might have contemplated bidding for the championships will look at it and say ’What do I have to do to win? Is it impossible?’”

It is, of course, important that sport does go to different parts of the world, but it is also important that it goes to places where sport is already well-supported, and where crowds are guaranteed. The UK has a magnificent history of hosting world sporting events, and should not be prevented from hosting an event because it won’t be somewhere new.

Qatar have already put their money where their mouth is, and have offered to pay the IAAF £5 million to spend as they see fit. For Qatar, financial incentives are clearly their way of winning the tournaments they desire. In this respect, they are able to punch well above their weight. For many, the disappointing Football World Cup decision was indicative of Qatar’s desire to pay whatever it takes.

London, though, has a few important things in its favour.

Firstly, its temperatures aren’t 40 degrees, and conditions are very favourable for marathon runners and other athletes.

Secondly, it will attract the crowds. Qatar has a population of only 1.7 million people, compared to the UK’s 62.2 million. In theory, those that missed out on athletics tickets for the Olympics will be inspired to buy tickets for the World Championships instead. London also has a huge tourist-appeal.

Thirdly, the infrastructure is already in place. While Doha discusses where they will be building, the London bid can show what is already in place – a spectacular stadium which will already have a great history of its own by the time 2017 comes around.

London winning the 2017 games is vitally important if the Olympic committee wish to seal their legacy ideal.

A win also has repercussions for future tournaments, and indeed, other sports such as football. If sporting bodies such as the IAAF decide that sending tournaments to new parts of the world is the ideal, then they are going to begin to lose key support in Europe, North America and Australasia. By looking to attract new supporters for their events, they may actually ostracise the countries that can always guarantee their finances, magnificent stadiums, good human rights records and sold-out venues.

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If you read nothing else today, read this article by Andrew Steele, British 400m runner.

These last few days, I have been writing about the wonderful achievements of athletes in Daegu. Well, that and the failures. But what never gets mentioned is the athletes that would have given everything to race, jump or hurdle alongside their contemporaries but can’t, for one reason or another. A lot of athletes have set-backs.

In 2008, Andy Turner’s lottery funding of £12,000 a year was cut off, based on the assumption that he would not win a medal in the 2009 World Championships at the 110m hurdles. At the time, he said “It’s going to be tough but I have to do it as I’ve still got dreams of winning a medal in the Olympics,” and that he would have to look for an outside sponsor or start a part-time job. The idea of not competing did not cross his mind, despite financial concerns. Competition, after all, drives all sportsmen. Turner had the drive to continue competing, despite the new hurdles he had to jump (pun intended).

Turner had to bounce back from what was probably a sporting all-time low and start achieving in order to get his funding back. Here are some of his achievements (and setbacks) from 2009, a year after he lost funding:

  • Fourth in 60m hurdles in European Indoor Championships
  • Won 110m hurdles in European Team Championships
  • Eliminated in heats at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, carrying an injury
  • Fifth in the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final
And here are a list of achievements from 2010:
  • Won 110m hurdles in European Team Championships
  • Won 110m hurdles in 2010 European Athletics Championships
  • Won 110 hurdles in the Commonwealth games
And today, Turner was rewarded with the Bronze medal at the World Championships in Daegu, proving once and for all that he was more than deserving of Lottery funding.
Turner’s obstacles have been different in nature to that of Steele’s. Steele’s struggle with glandular fever means that he is not just struggling with his finances (he believes that, like Turner, he will lose his funding), but he is struggling everyday with his body. An athlete’s most important tool is, naturally, his body.

Steele’s article proved a timely reminder: The athletes at Daegu have worked incredibly hard to get where they are. But they are also incredibly lucky not to be plagued by injury and illness. It’s amazing to watch their performances, but it is very easy to forget the ones that have pushed themselves to the limit trying to achieve the same things.

I’m going to give Steele a thought when I’m back watching athletics on Thursday. I hope he gets well soon.

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With tomorrow’s athletics merely the walking races, I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss some of the most pivotal moments in the last few days of the Athletics World Championships in Daegu.

As a fan of all British athletes, I was slightly disappointed to see Jessica Ennis win the Silver medal, and not retain her title from Berlin two years ago. Nevertheless, Tatyana Chernova put in an incredible effort, and definitely deserved the gold medal.

I think, though, the most shocking moment of these championships (so far) was definitely Usain Bolt’s disqualification from the 100m final. I have already written at length about what changes I believe the IAAF may need to implement before the Olympics next year to avoid such an event occurring a second time. It is a shame though, that the IAAF may only reconsider its decision on false starts (currently one strike and you’re out) as a result of a world record holder being disqualified. Fans have to wonder if it had been Tyson Gay or Asafa Powell who false started whether the IAAF would still be considering another look at the rules.

Another shocking moment which I mentioned briefly in this blog yesterday was the disqualifaction of Dayron Robles after he interfered in Liu Xiang’s lane during the 110m hurdles. There have been mixed views on whether stripping him of his gold medal was the right decision, but he clearly made contact with Xiang twice towards the end of the race, at a moment where it appeared Xiang was on course for the gold medal. The fair and correct decision appears to have been made by the IAAF in this case.

The biggest cheers around the stadium have emerged every time Oscar Pistorius has taken to the track. A Paralympic athlete who runs on blades, Pistorius was granted permission to run in these World Championships, to mixed feelings. To some, he is an inspiration, running times unthinkable to even some able-bodied athletes. To others, such as Tanni Grey-Thompson, a legend in Paralympic sport, he is relegating the Paralympics as a ‘B’ sport. And others feel that his blades give him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Pistorius crashed out in the semi-final, but put in some amazing performances to make it that far. I am still struggling to make my own opinion about his inclusion, but this is a fantastic article from the Telegraph which may help you make up your own minds.

Also, in the men’s 400m, there is another man to look out for: Kirani James of the island of Grenada claimed the gold medal after a surprising victory over favourite LaShawn Merritt. Aged only 18 (19 in two days), he ran a superb race and may be on course to one day beat Michael Johnson’s world record.

In the next few days, I am most looking forward to the relays. They are so often full with drama, but also feature some of the best sprinters in the world. As a fan of Great Britain, I also can’t wait to watch Dai Green’s 400m hurdles, as well as triple jumper Phillips Idowu. Be sure to keep a close eye on the next few days of events at Daegu – I am sure they will be thrilling.

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Before I begin, let me just say I am very grateful to Channel 4 for bringing the World Athletic Championships to terrestrial TV. I do not have Eurosport and am therefore very glad that was able to watch Mo Farah’s fantastic silver medal live, as well as every one of Jessica Ennis’ heats.

Channel 4’s coverage has receieved a lot of complaints, ranging from poor presenting and the number of adverts. It has, however, saved itself with the number of experts it has on board, including Michael Johnson, usually found on the BBC’s coverage, Dean Macey and Iwan Thomas. Despite its faults, it does bring some excellent views from some excellent pundits.

But today, its coverage reached a new low.

Channel 4, decided, that they would be best suited to show Three In A Bed (a Come Dine With Me style show based around B&B owners) over the end of what was becoming a thrilling men’s pole vault final. The final finished around 15 minutes after the scheduled finish time for the athletics. Is Channel 4 really so inflexible with its schedule that it could not run on for an extra 15 minutes?

Channel 4’s coverage has been of a lesser standard than we usually expect from the BBC, but ending the programme early was a big mistake that the BBC would never have made. Did they honestly believe that people would be incensed if they were not able to watch Three In A Bed or Countdown on time?

A big story of the day was also building after the 100m Hurdles Final, where the winner, Dayron Robles was shown to have hit the Chinese athlete twice, and was subsequently disqualified. Channel 4 had also promised a recap of the day’s events.


The hurdles final, including the event between Robles and Xiang

Channel 4, though, decided that its own programmes were more important than a live sporting event.

What if the pole vault final had involved British athletes? Would we have been prevented from watching a British athlete win a medal? Indeed, the Robles story had the potential for a British Bronze medal if Robles was indeed disqualified, as Britain’s Andy Turner finished in 4th.

Next year, and this is a fact that Channel 4 has been promoting avidly, it is the broadcaster for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Are they going to continually stick to their seemingly rigid schedule if the athletics, god forbid, looks as though it could run over for a few minutes?

Channel 4 needs to find some flexibility – and fast – before it finds itself inundated with messages from angry athletic fans such as myself.

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This year, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) decided to change the rule of false starts. Previously, a false start would result in yellow card against the whole field. If anyone else then committed a false start, they would be immediately disqualified. Now, the rule is far less tolerant; one false start and you’re out.

Last June, Tyson Gay spoke out against these changes, arguing that “If Usain Bolt had false-started in New York everyone would have been upset, and they’d have been booing, and wanting him to be let back into the race. It takes something like that to happen and I think it would be a wake-up call. If it happened at the Olympics or World Championships next year – without Usain Bolt the race is going to have an asterisk to the side. It just doesn’t make sense.”

It is as though Gay had a crystal ball, as today, Bolt was disqualified from the World Championship final after a false start.

A false start is defined in the following two ways:

  • A runner leaves the starting block before the starting gun sounds.
  • A runner reacts to the starting gun in less than one-tenth of a second. (A reaction time of faster than one-tenth of a second is believed to be impossible and it is then supposed the runner jumped the gun.)
After watching an apparently frustrated and angry Usain Bolt leave the track, it became clear the IAAF may have to re-think its policy once again. Already, British fans have had to watch the immediate disqualification of Christine Ohuruogo (400m) and Dwain Chambers (100m), but watching Bolt will undoubtedly shock athletics fans and administrators alike.

Barring injury, it is unthinkable that Bolt cannot compete in a 100m final. The idea of an Olympic final in 2012 without Bolt is beyond disappointing. In World Championships and the Olympics, you want to see the very, very best compete. Bolt is, undeniably, the best. But because the new rules, Bolt had to stand aside and watch someone else take the title of 100m World Champion, even though, in everyone else’s eyes, Bolt would almost definitely have claimed that title himself.

It is wrong that someone who is not actually the world’s fasted 100m runner now claims the title of 100m World Champion.

False starts must be punished somehow. The IAAF changed the rule because they felt that the system favoured cheaters who may commit a false start on purpose in order to put their opponents off their own races.
A world, though, where every athlete runs under a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy could lead to a growing number of false starts where the sport becomes farcical.

It is a very delicate, and important matter, but after watching Bolt walk away from the field today, it is hard to believe the IAAF have made the correct decision regarding the new false start regulations.

Re-thinking may be necessary before next year’s Olympics. After all, we all want to watch the world’s fastest man break another world record.

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