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7 April 2016

JILLIAN TAYLOR OF THE BRITISH ATHLETICS SUPPORTERS CLUB REFLECTS ON THE WORLD INDOORS

The flight to Portland was, as you can imagine, long and relatively uneventful although interesting in that we learned Slovenia and Croatian athletics federations book their “potential medal winners” into business class with the coaches in economy. Apparently the cost is considered a worthwhile investment but one wonders how they fly back if they are not successful!

As soon as they boarded one of the subsequent medallists wrapped her legs in bandages apparently to counter the effects of the flight. It was not something we had seen before but clearly worthwhile for Ivana Spanovic who won silver in the long jump.

After going through a time-consuming process at airport arrivals, the competition started on the Thursday evening with the usual sprinkling of disorganisation. Finding the spectator entrance is always the first challenge, as it is frequently the venue entrance furthest from the public transport hub. The existence of touts wanting to “buy and sell” was surprising but presumably a product of the American consumer society. The next hurdle was the security checks which forbade any liquids, so the plants outside got their fair share of water as a result.

The signs within the venue was poor although there was a large number of helpers with large yellow hands to direct you to your seats. On the way we purchased a $10 programme, which included the timetable and some brief biographies of “ones to watch”, but sadly no start lists.

The inside of the stadium mirrored Birmingham’s NIA, albeit with a very much smaller seating platform and with a much flatter rake. As a result the athletes were nearer the spectators but it was difficult to see if someone tall was in front of you.

The opening ceremony was mercifully brief with speeches from Lord Coe and other local representatives. The former supported the local mantra that the stadium was “cool”. The temperature certainly was on the first evening and at intervals thereafter.

We enjoyed the events which included some shocks but spectators were frequently frustrated by the officials and media personnel who stood in front of the scoreboards. The inclusion of both metres and feet and inches was also surprising.

The final results on the main screens required dictation speed writing to note down the requisite detail. On the last day we were also prevented from walking round the venue before the competition started as “people had complained their seats were being stolen!” We have rarely found this a problem and were surprised and disappointed by the restriction.

We would, however, ask medallists to complete their laps of honour having completed their media duties. Some didn’t, which was disappointing having cheered them to completion in their chosen event.

The off-site location for the medal ceremonies was disappointing, partly because tight security largely prevented the opportunity for autographs.

One of the overriding thoughts I took away from the event was that we remain two countries divided by a common language with comments such as “Eaton is in the clubhouse on.....”, “the athletes are racing to the rail” (were we watching horses in disguise?) and “Ashton has a bag like we have golf clubs”.

The Portland spectators were, however, friendly, happy to engage in athletics debate throughout the competitions and enthusiastic supporters of great performances.

So we enjoyed Portland but to have a great spectator experience we require, as a minimum:

  • Excellent performances
  • Good competition
  • Free water
  • The ability to see the whole arena in warmth and comfort including the scoreboards
  • Start lists
  • The opportunity to take in cameras
  • Permission to fly a flag rather than them being “prohibited items”
  • Medal ceremonies within the stadium facing the arena
  • A well-organised tour operator

Sadly a few of these were lacking in our experience on this trip. That said, we would recommend the event to any potential enthusiast who has not been before.

Thank you, Portland, and good luck to Birmingham!

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