20 LESSONS TO LEARN FROM THE
ONDON 2017 was my 11th World Championships, and now I have a huge certificate signed by Sebastian Coe to prove it, but how did it compare with the other 10 and what did we learn from it?
1 The action was competitive but not exceptional
In terms of competitiveness, surprises and excitement, the athletics was a nine out of ten. However, it was probably only a five in terms of performance. Cool conditions and slow starts in some distance races (men’s 10,000m aside) meant times were disappointing.
There was just one track championships best and that came in a newish event, the women’s steeplechase. There were none in the field events and even world leads were in short supply. Doha should be much faster in the sprints and better in the field but could be slower in the distance races.
2 Athletes need greater respect from organisers
If we want athletes to be at their best, we need to ensure they have optimum conditions for good performances. Athletes were made to strip off far too early in often cool conditions and then there was too long a delay before they competed.
Waiting for a medal ceremony could not have helped Usain Bolt’s hamstring just before the relay final. He would not have won anyway but a bronze medal would have been a far better ending for the Jamaican and the sport generally.
Cold muscles will not be a problem in Doha.
3 Home advantage does not always count
Normally home advantage means better performances. The number of last places in heats and lack of individual medals suggests not, but maybe in a few instances, like Kyle Langford in his 800m semi and final, there was a boost in performance compared to form.
Perhaps this saw likely fifth and sixths move up to fourth – our most frequented position.
Of course, it was good that UKA abandoned the elitist selection system. However, it meant some athletes were competing who would not have been selected in previous years and lacked experience at this level.
Maybe overseas athletes got an even bigger boost than the Brits as many of them would not have been used to such enthusiastic support. Almost every winning athlete referred to that as being inspirational and maybe for Britons it upped the pressure and expectation too much.
4 Crowd support: British are best
British athletes may not top the world but everyone agrees British supporters are the best. The spectators’ support in London was easily the best ever, numerically and in atmosphere and athletics appreciation.
They were far more knowledgeable than the Olympic crowds of 2012 but plentiful, loud, fair and enthusiastic.
While saving their biggest cheers for Brits and Bolt, they gave a great response to all champions and appreciated great competition.
With one exception. I was disappointed Justin Gatlin won, but it seems unfair to single out one athlete for booing, when other drug cheats got away scot-free. The crowds will not be as sizeable, knowledgeable or as vociferous in Doha.
5 British athletics is at somewhat of a crossroads
The media are focused on medal tables but you can tell more from a placing table about a nation’s strength in depth. From that point of view, GB’s third was a great achievement.
I do not agree that the medal table is a bit like printing a table of corners and throw-ins in football!
However, where are the genuine British superstars of the future?
In the last 40 years, we have produced world record-holders such as Thompson, Coe, Ovett, Cram, Edwards, Jackson, Gunnell, Radcliffe, Moorcroft, Backley and Whitbread and great winners such as Christie, McColgan and, of course, Farah. Some of the current crop may win medals but no British athlete looks a likely world record breaker.
6 Did GB relays success paper over the cracks?
Uniquely Britain won medals in every relay event. Relays do give a chance for those maybe less likely to get individual medals to combine with others and achieve greatness.
But I feel relays are overfunded, as there are 28 relay runners on the 2017 funding compared to 15 on the individual Olympic podium. The 28 does not include Dina Asher-Smith, Adam Gemili and Zharnel Hughes, who are among the 15, or Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake who was not even in the potential funding.
I would prefer to see more individuals on the funding list rather than average squad members much lower ranked in the world, but the London result seemed to justify the means and the 4x100m success was a great boost to British athletics.
I also feel it is easier, though, to get medals in a relay than an individual event for a big, well-funded nation like Britain.
In the individual events, there are three or four American or Jamaicans and only one team from each country in a relay.
7 Have America returned to the top of the tree?
USA was by far the most dominant nation with 10 golds and 30 medals and it could have been even more but some of their best collegiate athletes were paying for their long seasons.
I do not think it is healthy for a global sport to have one nation to be quite so dominant, though, and it coincided with a Jamaican melt-down.
In Beijing, Jamaica won seven golds, 12 medals and scored 132 points, while in London they plummeted to one gold, four medals and
The failure in the sprints – nothing better than third in an individual sprint or relay – helped USA, whose 271.5 points score was up on their 211 from Beijing.
A certain leader might be claiming credit after his ‘make USA great again’ speech if he and the US public had any idea the event had actually taken place. It is a shame that the top nation is one of the least appreciative of the sport.
Athletics, however, is still universal like no other sport with 43 nations winning medals and 66 placing athletes in the top eight in London.
8 Athletics currently suffers from a lack of major stars
With Bolt retiring, Farah moving to the roads and David Rudisha seemingly past his best, there could be a void of major big-name stars in the future. Wayde van Niekerk has the ability and Sam Kendricks the personality but Bolt will always be at a different level with the sporting stature of a Muhammad Ali or Pele.
However, on the plus side, future championships might be more about the athletics rather than personality and Bolt has gained headlines in recent years when his athletics performance was some way down on his 2008-09 breakthrough years.
Certainly, Ramil Guliyev who inherited Bolt’s 200m crown is not a replacement as a global phenomenon and the likes of Elijah Manangoi and Muktar Edris, who won the 1500m and 5000m, do not have a significant presence.
Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Karsten Warholm are two London winners who have personality but some felt they almost won by default due to opposition failings.
9 Can Mo Farah be replaced by anyone?
Andrew Butchart, who Farah symbolically gave his final British track vest to last month, was eighth in London following his sixth at Rio. They are positions that matched Farah’s early global outings – sixth in 2007 and seventh in the 2009 World Championships, although whether he made significant progress in 2017 is debatable.
The indoor season looked promising – highlighted by a 3:54.23 mile – but he was less of a factor in major races this summer than last and was six seconds behind the winner in London after being five back in Rio.
I can see him winning European and Commonwealth medals next year but he would need a huge improvement to gain a global medal in Doha.
10 Laura Muir’s future medal potential
It perhaps is unfair to make a judgement on Laura Muir’s global future based just on her performances in London as she was not 100% fit after her stress fracture and ultimately only lost out on a medal in the last 10 metres.
Her indoor form, when she ran an 8:26.41 3000m to destroy Hellen Obiri on the last lap and won a 1500m and 3000m European indoor double, would have surely been enough to win a medal and she now has four global top seven finishes in the last two years.
But she is better than that.
I do feel she could have placed higher if she had employed better tactics – she cannot allow her races to turn into a battle over the last 600m, as she simply does not have the explosive speed.
Muir’s speed endurance is exceptional and she needs to use it but also learn how to save something for the last 150m as Farah learnt after his 2011 World Championships 10,000m defeat in Daegu.
11 JohnsonThompson is still a work in progress
Katarina Johnson-Thompson would have won a heptathlon medal in London but for her rare high jump failure. She has an excellent chance of Commonwealth gold and a world indoor and European medal but needs to be consistent over all seven events and improve her throwing.
She feels she should focus more on her better events but it is her weak ones where she has the biggest scope for improvement and there is nothing wrong with her sprints or jumping, apart from a few technical issues such as hitting boards and clearing heights!
12 Who will be the British stars in 2017 and 2018?
Next year will be strange with the World Indoor Championships dominating the winter, quickly followed by the Commonwealth Games and then the European Championships in the summer.
London gave some pointers for Birmingham, the Gold
Coast and Berlin but much can change in a year.
Muir and KJT aside, how will Britain fare? The Commonwealths offer the chance of field eventers like Nick Miller and Sophie Hitchon to experience major victories without European opposition. Additionally, other UK field eventers who would not necessarily even have made the team for the Europeans can win Commonwealth medals.
The absence of Kenyans means the Europeans offers more chances for the UK middle-distance squad to medal.
In terms of Doha, AsherSmith and Mitchell-Blake should be better placed to win medals globally after their fourth places and relay success.
13 What does the future hold for Caster Semenya?
It is not good for the sport that the Caster Semenya issue has still yet to be resolved. She is a superb athlete and looks capable of a world record in the right race.
However, there is a clear gender inequality with her competing against female athletes who do not have her testosterone levels.
Surely, it is currently unfair on a greater number of 800m and 1500m runners who would like fair competition.
14 The event programme needs improvement
Stretched over 10 days and 14 sessions, the programme was too long and some days were too thin on action.
Moreover, it seemed a shame that the marathon clashed with the track action, meaning spectators had to choose between the two.
Those designing the programme should have foreseen that having a decathlon pole vault group starting early afternoon would overrun. Decathlon fans being ordered to leave the stadium just as things were getting interesting was not a championships high point.
The lack of morning sessions was good, in contrast to Rio which had morning finals, and they were weekend events and only there to enhance the combined events.
15 Presentation could have been better in places
I thought, overall, the presentation was generally good and the tunnel intros worked, though the PA sound system was limited in places in the stadium. Commentary was good – maybe too British biased – and would have been better with the likes of Garry Hill’s booming voice as per the Olympics, or just an all-round expert such as Peter Matthews.
I would have preferred every athlete got an introduction rather than a select few and there were instances where the introductions were too low-key and did not sell the product. For
example, with steeplechaser Ezekiel Kemboi, it was a simple “the defending champion,” when I would have gone for “let’s have a big London welcome to the world’s greatest ever steeplechaser bidding for a record fifth successive gold and seventh successive medal”.
The women’s 10,000m got dire presentation compared to the men’s race. This led to little crowd interest or atmosphere and it was not helped by having an interview with boxer David Haye mid-race.
The music was not as intrusive as in some competitions but was still too noisy for many and lacked the British feel of the Olympics where Oasis, the Clash and Elbow were played.
I do recall one situation where the announcer asked the crowd to respect that this athlete prefers quiet as they make their attempt and the spectators went silent while music was still blaring out.
16 Field events are capable of entertaining fans
With good presentation, the crowd showed they could follow and enjoy field events. I cannot recall in the past, except where a home athlete has been in a medal position, when field competitions have had such responses.
It was a shame, though, that on occasion crucial parts of the competition were ignored as track introductions were made or races were underway.
More flexibility is needed and there should be less going on at the same time. A spotter is needed to assist commentators and perhaps competitions can be occasionally held up to ensure the crowd see the vital moments.
17 Fastest losers need reducing in number
There will be occasions when fastest losers are necessary but major championships put far too much emphasis on them. There should be one or two fastest losers, not five or six in any round. An athlete who finishes 10th in their heat, as Awet Habte did in the 5000m, should not be making the final.
Sprints can be unfair as wind direction can change dramatically from heat to heat. In distance running, there is too much advantage in running a later heat. It is also dependent on whether a natural frontrunner is drawn in your heat.
Take the heats of the women’s 1500m. Nine athletes running in heat one got through to the next round thanks to
Jess Judd’s aggressive front-running, six got through heat two and then nine got through in heat three knowing what time they had to run.
Qualification should be about ensuring the best get through with a fair draw, not the luck of who you are against or what heat you are in.
18 Patience is a virtue in the longer races
Medals are not handed out for being brave or aggressive. In the women’s 1500m, Sifan Hassan attacked 600m out but ran out of steam in the last 100m and faded badly to finish fifth.
She was picked off by what could be regarded as inferior 1500m runners but smarter competitors in Jenny Simpson and Caster Semenya, who took the silver and bronze medals respectively as they held back to save something for the last 200m.
Hassan learnt her lesson in the 5000m and ran passively, saving her kick for the closing stages and winning the bronze.
Some athletes made bold moves early and still led on the last lap. For example,
Ruth Jebet in the 3000m steeplechase and Yomif Kejelcha in the 5000m ended up with nothing.
Those races were won by Emma Coburn and Muktar Edris, who timed their finishes perfectly with a big kick in the last 100 metres. Elijah Manangoi at 1500m and steeplechaser Conseslus Kipruto also won gold medals with late kicks.
19 Are all members of the media athletics fans?
I do consider myself a fan first and media person second.
As a teenager I went to the first ever IAAF World Cup in 1977 – the prototype for the World Championships – as part of the Athletics Weekly tour.
So I can never understand why so many ignore most of the field event action and most of the morning sessions. One accredited person in our section of seating came to just one session – that featuring Bolt’s 100m final – and was not seen before or after that!
Presumably, with no Bolt in Doha, he won’t be in Qatar.
20 Hero the Hedgehog was brilliant
I appreciate not everyone enjoyed the enthusiastic, athletic and gymnastic prankster on the in-field.
Enough of the UK 400m record-holder, who has rightly been banished to suffer on Celebrity Island.
However, I did enjoy the antics of the mascot, Hero the Hedgehog. While he was distracting at times, he seems to be universally regarded as the best-ever mascot.
He was acrobatic, cheeky, had great placards and good interaction with athletes such as Bolt – as well as good comic timing. He was not always attention-seeking, quietly building sandcastles with a little girl in the long jump pit for example, and the vast footage on YouTube suggests he was well received.
London 2017 broke all previous IAAF World Championship spectator levels
Kyle Langford: shock fourth at 800m
Britain was proud to stage the 2017 IAAF World Championships
Usain Bolt’s hamstring pull in the relay was part of a terrible championships for Jamaica
Emma Coburn (right): set the only championships best on the track in an action-packed steeplechase
Dina Asher-Smith: contributed to a 4x100m silver
Wayde van Niekerk: could he replace Bolt in athletics terms?
Andrew Butchart: Scottish runner is Farah’s natural successor at 5000m
Katarina JohnsonThompson: room for improvement in her throws
Laura Muir: more to come in global events
Hero the Hedgehog: first in the all-time mascot world rankings?