World Athletics & SUAAC.

I start off this week by wishing you all a Happy New Year, although it has to be said we haven’t had the best of starts have we?

This week I am indebted to club member and quiz master extraordinaire Jon Mulkeen for his insight into his role as Senior Editor at World Athletics.

Here is a little bit of history about World Athletics from their website :

On 17 July 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden, following the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in the Swedish capital, the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) was founded as the world governing body for the sport of track and field athletics.

During the 10 decades that followed, athletics underwent many changes which reflected the political and socio-economic evolution of the wider world. Even the IAAF’s name has changed, in 2001 becoming the ‘International Association of Athletics Federations’ to reflect the growth of a professional sporting world which did not exist in 1912, and then again in 2019 to ‘World Athletics’.

World Athletics was founded to fulfil the need for a world governing authority, for a competition programme, for standardised technical equipment and for a list of official world records. All of these requirements remain today.

Amongst the many interesting things you will read about in the article, you will see that in addition to his many roles at World Athletics during 2020, Jon was also largely responsible for setting most of the quizzes in the weekly “Covid Connect” sessions. So when he was setting quizzes for us, it’s interesting to surmise that he may well have tried out some or all of the questions on the likes of Mondo Duplantis, WA President Seb Coe or our very own Andrew Pozzi.

One of the many things that struck me in Jon’s article was that last year, along with the main ‘Athlete of the Year’ honours, World Athletics’ introduced an ‘Athletes Community Award’, which was awarded to all athletics clubs around the world. The citation read :

“This award goes to all athletics clubs around the world for providing athletes with support throughout the pandemic, negotiating access to training facilities, implementing hygiene protocols and setting up local competitions. Anyone who knows our sport appreciates how the athletes rely on our local clubs and we are so grateful for their continued support.”

That rang a bell !!

A huge thank you Jon for a fascinating insight.

It’s the final few days of this month’s vShakepspeare race and it’s interesting to see that of the results that have been submitted so far, both leading male and female runners, Matt Burdus-Cook and Kate Wright have improved on their times compared to the last 5 mile race in May. They obviously didn’t consume as much food and drink as I did over the festive season.

Stay warm and stay well

Best Wishes

David Jones
 


 
Jon Mulkeen
A montage of the ‘legends’ exercise sessions (featuring Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, Roger Black and Jon Ridgeon)
A screen grab of the ‘Ultimate Garden Clash’ competition.
Nice gardens.

The Olympic year that never was – working at World Athletics in 2020

Jon Mulkeen

Olympic years are easy to remember. Aligned with leap years, they come around once every four years.

Only that wasn’t quite the case with 2020, of course.

As Covid-19 started to spread across the globe during the first few months of this year, there was an air of inevitability that the Tokyo Olympic Games would be postponed. It was a move that would have been deemed unthinkable just 12 months ago, and yet now, in hindsight, it seems almost inconsequential given the magnitude of the pandemic.

As has been the case for thousands of people across a range of industries, the nature of my work this year has changed. As senior editor for World Athletics, most of our output is geared around our major events. Towards the tail end of 2019 and at the start of 2020, my colleagues and I had spent weeks planning our coverage for the five global championships due to take place in 2020.

We needn’t have bothered.

I was originally set to be out of the country for about 14 weeks, leading our reporting teams at various competitions. But every month or two there would be an announcement on the postponement of another major athletics event. The World Indoor Championships in China, the World U20 Championships in Kenya, the World Race Walking Team Championships in Belarus, and, of course, the Olympic Games in Tokyo – all moved to a future year.

Many of the Diamond League meetings and other top invitational competitions, meanwhile, simply could not go ahead. And instead of enjoying extended periods overseas, I ended up spending more time at home than I ever have done.

But while it was frustrating for my work plans to change, our experiences paled in comparison to what elite athletes were going through.

Unlike most televised sports, there isn’t that much money to be made in athletics. Being a sport comprising dozens of different disciplines that are contested by hundreds of elite athletes all around the world, any funding or prize money ends up being spread pretty thinly. So when competitive opportunities are taken away, it can severely impact an athlete’s earnings.

World Athletics addressed this by setting up an athlete welfare fund, from which almost 200 athletes benefited. Some of the continental and national federations set up similar funds to offer further assistance to their athletes.

Support – both financial and practical – has also been given to various competition organisers to help them stay afloat.

As far as our day-to-day output was concerned, once we had shelved all of our planned competition-related content, we created an ‘Athletics@Home’ series, featuring workouts from top athletes, healthy recipes for runners, colouring-in sheets, educational activities, and even an athletics-themed play-at-home escape room (a particular labour of love for me!)

We ramped up our internal communications too as a way of keeping up morale at a time when most of our staff at the headquarters in Monaco were furloughed or having to work from home.

We’d have three ‘Covid Connect’ sessions a week; one for mind (usually a quiz, most of which were led by me), one for body (typically a home work-out of some kind, often led by a legendary athlete), and one for soul (something with a ‘feel good’ factor, like music or a game or a recipe). Dozens of staff members would tune into Microsoft Teams three times a week to engage in these sessions.

I’ve worked from home for all of my eight years at World Athletics, so I’ve always been a bit disconnected – virtually and literally – from the rest of the Monaco-based workforce. (It also meant I was ready for lockdown when it happened!) But these thrice-weekly sessions made me feel more connected to my colleagues than I ever have done.

Thankfully in the second half of the year, some top-level competitions were able to go ahead and elite athletes were able to get back racing.

Stratford’s leading athletes Andrew Pozzi, for example, was able to enjoy a strong international campaign with five victories in eight races, producing three of the six fastest times in the world in the 110m hurdles.

World records were also broken on the road and on the track, while the World Half Marathon Championships even went ahead in Poland in October, featuring about 250 athletes from 50 teams.

And just earlier in December, we rounded out the year with the World Athletics Awards (a virtual ceremony this year, naturally). Along with the main ‘athlete of the year’ honours, World Athletics introduced an ‘Athletes Community Award’, which was awarded to all athletics clubs around the world – Stratford AC included!

“2020 has been a very peculiar year,” said French pole vaulter and Athletes’ Commission Chair Renaud Lavillenie. “For us athletes, it has been a real challenge to be able to keep running, jumping and throwing. It was therefore very important for us to show our appreciation of all those who have made it possible for us to keep training but most of all to resume competition.

“This award goes to all athletics clubs around the world for providing athletes with support throughout the pandemic, negotiating access to training facilities, implementing hygiene protocols and setting up local competitions. Anyone who knows our sport appreciates how the athletes rely on our local clubs and we are so grateful for their continued support.”

The sport, and indeed the world, isn’t quite yet out of the woods as far as the pandemic is concerned. There is, however, much to be hopeful for as we head into 2021.

It might not be a leap year, but 2021 should hopefully end up being an Olympic year. And with any luck, I’m hoping to finally escape my house and get on a plane to Tokyo.

I spotted this while sorting through some old newspapers as I lit a fire on New Years Eve.

It seems a lifetime ago now but it was only 18 months ago. 
 
Happy Days.
This made me laugh. A card sent to me by my good friend and fellow club member Kate Sergent.

Many a true word spoken in jest.