Advantages best training facilities for years, high profile meetings, lottery funding etc
Disadvantages the junior talent just is not making it to the top level in middle/long distances
As someone who – as a photographer – covers Athletics all over the country from Top Junior Level to International meets, I ask : What has happened to our great 'milers', 1500m runners ?Gone are the great days of Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott. Our seeming world domination at the distance has disappeared. Now the world is led by runners from the African nations. They have taken over the middle/long distance races. The Portuguese and the Spaniards have some decent runners, but even they are well behind the Kenyans, Ethiopians, the odd Somalian and Morroccan. Nothing wrong with that of course. There are some truly great athletes out there running the Grand Prix circuit and winning World and Olympic medals – but nothing for us Brits!
What do we have these days - well there is still John Mayock, who, on his day, is a match for most in Europe. But he cannot compete against the Africans - no way.There was no chance of an Olympic medal for GB in the 1500 or 800 at Sydney. Plain and simple. Youngster Allan Graffin was ‘over the moon’ at being picked by running a qualifying time on the eve of the GB Selection committee meeting. He excelled himself by qualifying from his heat as a fastest loser, but had no chance to progress farther. But Graffin is fairly typical of out younger brigade of distance runners. He has learnt his trade not as a pure 800/1500 track specialist like Coe, Ovett et al. No, Allen and his twin brother Andrew have ploughed a lonely furrow – sometimes literally – as Cross country runners, doing a bit in 5k and 10k Road races and as Juniors often running 3000m because they did not feel they could compete with runners with more basic speed.
But it is SPEED and ENDURANCE that is needed for success…and SHEER GUTS.And one more question for you - can any of you name the athletes that GB took to the Olympics 5000m and 10000m? No Dave Bedfords, Brendan Fosters nor Ian Stewarts - a useful Welshman called Andres Jones won the AAAs 5k and 10k titles last year, but trier that he is, he is a long way short of World class, sadly.
Yet, Britain’s Athletics ‘industry’ is in a much healthier state than for many years. Back on TV in a big way, with the various companies screening all top national and International events. We do have High Profile athletes – but they tend to be our super crop of young sprinters and 400m boys. Long servants to the British athletics team like Olympic Gold medallist Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump, and World champs, javelin thrower Steve Backley and the prince of hurdlers Colin Jackson need to be replaced. Add to that the talents on the female side like Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe – and both of these girls have GUTS aplenty! Kelly has fought back after being plagued by injury to grab that fantastic Olympic medal. While Paula became a heroine in defeat, coming 4th in Sydney.Paula though is typical of a runner who can come through with good coaching, excellent parental support and guidance and dedication. I’ve known Paula since she was around 14. She comes from our local club Bedford and County – although now living in Font Romeu, Switzerland (the price of fame and rewards of success eh?). She was a top junior runner, but often came second or third in the big races because of her inherent lack of a finishing ‘kick’. In fact, the aforementioned John Mayock’s sister, Charlotte was Paula’s main rival when they were teenagers. Charlotte had the ‘kick’ – but 10 years on it’s Paula tying up £400,000 Sponsorship packages with Nike, while Charlotte is married and living happily in the USA! Paula – as GB Team captain – is a role model for many aspiring track athletes. Along with Heptathlete extraordinaire Denise Lewis and Kelly Holmes, they are the ‘big names’ for young female athletes to look up to. But if you are a lad and looking for a role model in Athletics, we have none in the middle distance ranks save those mentioned earlier from a decade and more ago!
Do we have anyone coming through? Well, the Graffin boys as I mentioned, of course. Plus there is a highly talented Londoner, Mohamed Farah, who has swept all before him in the Junior ranks and is still only 17. One or two others that could break through – BUT not in the same way that a sprinter like Mark Lewis-Francis did last year, or Daniel Caines, the 21 year old 400m runner who reached Olympic Final and recently won the World Indoors title. Lewis-Francis won the World Junior 100m crown and posted times that would have sent him to Sydney in our Senior squad! Let’s hope these two talents stay clear of injury and the other pitfalls that success at a young age can bring.But where oh where are our young inheritors of the ‘Chariots of Fire’ mantle?
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