For the second time in the space of five years the British Athletics Championships was doubling up as trials for home global championships. London 2017 beckoned for successful athletes. A top two finish and a qualification standard book a place in the World Championships. The bonus for spectators was the mouth-watering prospect of some fiercely fought competitions, with multiple qualifying times in several events. Men’s and women’s 200m; 1500m; women’s 400m and long jump; all eagerly anticipated.
So it was very disappointing that the crowd was so small. Not least because we had some of the most competitive racing for a good number of years. But I’ve never seen such a small afternoon crowd at the trials as there were on the Saturday, and Sunday was not much better. Why such a small turnout? Can it be put down to the lull of post-Olympic year? If it weren’t for London 2017, that might be the case. Have potential spectators written it off because they had already spent their hard-earnt pennies (well pounds) on World Championship tickets? Possibly, especially in a tough economic climate. Yet in 2012, the crowds were much better. Is the belated success in outing drugs cheats affecting the popularity of the sport? Quite possibly, sadly.
Much of the talk in the media and on social media put the low turnout down to a lack of stars competing. This may well do a dis-service to our growing crop of talented athletes. And who are the stars? Jess Ennis-Hill retired. Greg Rutherford injured. Laura Muir – not so well-known by the general public – recovering from injury. So that leaves just Mo Farah. And he will have retired from the track by next year. Michael Johnson tweeted that focusing on the ‘names’ may not be a healthy approach; instead there should be a focus on completion, and competition there was a-plenty.
Of course, there is the argument that all athletes should compete at the trials unless they are injured. There were a good number of top athletes injured – Rutherford as already mentioned, Tiffany Porter and Cindy Ofili, Isobel Pooley, Miguel Francis, to name a few. On the other hand, there were several top athletes clearly not fully fit, yet they were keen to compete – Dina Asher-Smith (how great to see her back on the track), Eilish McColgan and might Adam Gemili fit in that bracket? Two British athletes competed in the Paris Diamond League on the Saturday evening. Andy Pozzi ran a 13.14s PB in the sprint hurdles, and Robbie Grabarz went in the high jump. Robbie then competed and won the trials the following day.
Whatever the case, as an athletics fan the diminishing numbers of spectators is both alarming and very sad. In my opinion the standard of competition deserved a much fuller stadium.
Two more talking points relate to experiments by the organiser, one of which was abandoned in advance. This was the idea of roaming tickets – so you were not tied to a particular seat. This would have worked fine in less populated areas of the stands, but would have been chaos in the main stand on the home straight – probably the reason it was dropped. The other experiment was cancelling the Friday evening of competition. In years gone by there have even been finals on a Friday, but the last few years it has been restricted to heats, and the crowds have been getting smaller and smaller.
So what about the performances and the battles? In the main they did not disappoint. The exception was the women’s long jump with Shara Proctor having to withdraw after a minor car accident the previous day and Jazmin Sawyers failing to make a mark. But the other battles were fascinating and entertaining. I’ll just mention a few of the standout moments. Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake breaking John Regis’s thirty-year-old championship record by running 20.18s in the 200m, and subsequently being voted by supporters as the BASC Athlete of the Meet. Morgan Lake setting a new personal best in the high jump with 1.96m – to rank 3rd on the all-time list. Tom Bosworth and Bethan Davies setting new British records in the 5km walk. Steph Twell returning to form with a win in the 5000m. Wins for Shannon Hylton (200m), Reece Prescod (100m), Matthew Hudson-Smith (400m) and Zoey Clark (400m).
If it was about battles, the middle distances returned to the fore, with great wins for Elliott Giles (800m), Chris O’Hare (1500m) and Laura Weightman (1500m). One final note: while there were no surprises in the field, it is very satisfying to know that we have some real medal chances going to London in the form of Sophie Hitchon and Holly Bradshaw, and every chance of final places for Nick Miller and Jade Lally.
Blogger: Malcolm E