Category Archives: athletics

After Panorama

Last night the BBC aired a Panorama documentary called Catch Me If You Can. In a collaboration between Mark Daly of the BBC and David Epstein of Propublica. You can find the web articles at the following links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-32877702

https://www.propublica.org/article/former-team-members-accuse-coach-alberto-salazar-of-breaking-drug-rules

Watching the reactions on social media were quite interesting. There was a mixture of those who were incandescent with rage and those who were shouting ‘I knew it!’ or ‘I’m not surprised’.

I didn’t comment last night while watching. I just felt incredibly sad. Yet again doping allegations tarnish the sport. It’s not just about individuals either, it’s about power houses in the sport who have a huge amount of control and say. It’s not just athletes, it’s coaches and doctors and huge global companies with massive amounts of clout. It made really depressing viewing.

What is did bring home is how inept the current systems of doping detection are. Bodies in individual countries are brought allegations and yet refuse to act. The biological passport seems almost pointless because people are learning how to cheat it. Coaches are allegedly doping very young athletes at low levels, potentially harming them for the long term and nothing is said. Individuals are used as guinea pigs to work out how much is enough to make a clean test making current tests as good as worthless. The doping authorities seem to have an impossible job on their hands but when it is apparently a structured attempt to cheat the system by coaches, labs, doctors and companies then what real chance do they have? It’s almost got the whiff of East Germany about it.

There is a Diamond League event on in Rome tonight. Yesterday I was thinking what is the point of watching but then I remembered I’m one of these optimistic people who has a ridiculous amount of faith in people and their ability to be good. I also remembered that for every doper there are about fifty athletes who despise dopers and are very vocal about the fact. Athletes like Jenny Meadows, Kelly Sotherton, Jo Pavey, Paula Radcliffe and many others will always restore my faith in athletics and the fact that it is an incredible sport full of honest, clean, hard working athletes. I will continue to hold on to this and that is what keeps me watching. In the mean time I hope that the truth will out and that dopers and the organisations and individuals that assist them will be thrown out of sport. Here’s hoping.

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Nike and The News

If you read this blog at all you will know that I am a massive athletics fan. For me it is the purest of sports. The events in athletics are the fundamentals required in many other sports; running, jumping and throwing. I was involved from the sport from the age of eleven and even though I no longer compete I get excited at the prospect of sitting and watching a meeting on the TV. As a youngster I had my own athletics heroes and I revered them and looked up to them. For my they were the epitome of hard work, dedication and commitment. Apart from dopers. Nobody respected dopers.

Whenever I hear that an athlete has been found guilty of a doping offence I get a knot in the pit of my stomach and my heart sinks. ‘Not again’, I will think to myself. If it’s an athlete I like it will be a mixture of disappointment, frustration and sadness. And then when I start to go back over their career or results I start to feel like the signs were there all along, a bit like a scorned woman who has just discovered her lover has been cheating on her. They were doing it right in front of you all along. In the case of dopers in front of millions of people.

Athletics has been tarnished so much lately with the doping scandal in Russia and reports of other high profile athletes testing positive for banned substances. It becomes hard to take the sport seriously. And with the news that they’re planning to re-test results from Beijing how can anyone take the results sheet of a major championships seriously? It’s embarrassing and makes it increasingly hard to defend the sport to people who don’t rate athletics at all.

So when I heard the news that recurrent doper Gatlin had been signed by Nike I felt that familiar knot in my stomach again. He has been caught twice, been banned twice and like a bad penny has now turned up again to compete, as is his right according to the rules. But I can’t honestly stomach it. He’s like the cheating lover again. The one who got caught out and forgiven but continues to cheat because he knows he will continue to be forgiven by a partner.

When I think of Gatlin I don’t really think of him directly. I think of the competitors who have lost out to him while he was doping. I think of kids like mine who may now be inspired by him because he is sponsored by a high profile company such as Nike. I think of the arrogance and the unrepentance of many dopers because of the inconsistent rulings of the IAAF and other bodies that are meant to discourage doping. I think of the young sports people tied in to Nike for kit and funding now knowing that they are tied to the same company that endorses a doper. You’ve got to feel for them because it’s not like they have a huge choice in funding and they obviously won’t want to jeopardise their income. I also think of hard working athletes who are a credit to the sport being dropped. It is a crying, crying shame.

I know that Justin Gatlin isn’t the whole of sport at but apparently Nike have a history of endorsing doping athletes. I also know that Nike is an American organisation and in the States he is apparently thought of highly. Which is weird because athletics isn’t even up there in the most popular of sports in the US. I just find the decision incredibly cynical and for no good reason other than to generate money and some headlines for Nike.

But what I also know is that athletics fans will hate this and as we tend to be the punters who buy the merchandise a lot of fans will vote with their feet. I also have faith in the huge number of hard working CLEAN athletes who continue to make athletics the great sport that it is. I am under no illusion that it will make a dent in the armour of the power house that is Nike but it will make us feel a whole lot better in the knowledge that we refuse to tacitly support a man who has cheated on the sport and on his fellow clean athletes, not once, but twice.

Gender, Sport and Mother Nature.

In the week I read this report on BBC Sport from Matte Slater called Sport and Gender: A History of Bad Science and Biological Racism. Long title but it is definitely worth a read. I jumped on this article immediately as the case of Caster Semenya, the South African 800m athlete, has always fascinated me. When she first burst onto the scene with her androgynous appearance, I along with plenty of others I’m sure, wondered if this was the most obvious case of doping ever. From what I’ve read though the suspicions of others jumped straight to whether she was actually male with fellow athletes openly questioning her gender.

When I read Matt Slater’s report my heart actually ached a little bit for the women involved. Through no fault of their own they have been subject to humiliating and traumatic investigations to establish their gender. Governing bodies do not seem equipped to deal with matters of gender at all and instead these women are left feeling rejected by the sport they love. It amazes me that in some ways sport can be so forward moving in aspects of training and technology and yet in gender they seem so backwards. As Matt Slater says in his report, ‘Mother Nature is not as black-and-white as your typical blazer would like his competitions to be’. And that statement there raises the other issues that I have with these cases: our ideas of what femininity is and what it is to be a woman.

I feel that society’s projections of what it is to be feminine or female have affected the way these women are dealt with. Because these women, like Caster, do not fit into the mould of crop top wearing, long flowing hair and fancy nails that many other women do they seem to raise suspicion more than most. I understand that most of the suspicions came from their sudden rise in performances but that does not justify the way the cases are dealt with. One athlete in the report attempted suicide because of the way she was treated. How can that be right?

Gender is not as clear cut as many would like to believe. We are all on a hormonal and chemical spectrum which affects us physiologically inside and outside. I think that these cases actually reveal some very scary prejudices that surround women in sport, especially women who are not deemed to be feminine enough. Often because they are not ‘feminine’ enough it is demanded that they have life changing surgery, to appease these ‘blazer’ types, a fact that quite frankly I find barbaric. I think those in charge of sport need to review their processes and their approaches with regard to gender otherwise women like Caster Semenya and many others will continue to be discriminated against for a something which is natural, biological fact.

The Deadly Sins of Running

I never thought anything football related would ever make it onto this blog BUT I had a good old read of this article on the BBC site which was inspired by the Luis Suarez biting incident at the World Cup (as an aside can I just say that human bites are really disgusting. Ick.). In the BBC article a former footballer describes what he believes to be the ‘Deadliest Sins’ in football: career ending tackles, elbowing, spitting, racism. It then got me thinking, what are the deadly sins of the sport of running and athletics?

Doping

Ask any running/athletics fan and I think they would say doping is THE cardinal sin. It cheats other competitors and it makes a joke of the sport. Sadly doping doesn’t seem to be going away and the IAAF list is growing and growing, with the addition this week of Ukranian and Trinidad and Tobago athletes. Is it me or are they really not on top of it? Especially when you’re banning people for only 9 months at a time. Hey that’s 9 months free you’ve given them to dope some more!

I hate doping. It sucketh big time. Ask any running/athletics fan what they really despise in the sport and they will always say doping. It is arguably the BIGGEST sin in running.

Punching/Elbowing your competitor

It’s fair to say that it is fairly common at the start of a cross country or road race that many people stick their elbows out. It’s a do or die situation, stick your elbows out or get pushed back or maybe have your number ripped off. It’s fair enough but what is a tad unseemly is to punch a competitor or push them. I was pushed off a course once, it makes you angry but the best way to channel that is to run faster and beat them. Punching someone in the back because they’re Haile Gebrselessie and your nearest rival? That just makes you look foolish, especially when you end up pushing him over the line in first place.

Fighting

I haven’t seen many fights at running or athletics events. I have seen people get a bit heated with officials. Denise Lewis stood her ground, and rightly so, at the Sydney 2000 Olympics at the long jump event of the heptathlon. Coming to blows with someone at the end of your race? It’s not big and it’s not clever. Fighting with your team mate on the track in full view of the crowd? You’ve really not done yourself any favours. We’re runners, we’re meant to be lovers not fighters!

Bigotry

Running and athletics are sports that I like to think of as giving everyone an equal opportunity. They are totally inclusive which is how it should always be. No matter who you are or what you believe in it all gets left behind the start line or in the changing rooms. As competitors everyone starts equally. Which is way I was a bit disappointed by the views aired by a certain champion pole vaulter. And then having the cheek to try and back track the next day. There is no room in running and athletics for that. Fortunately at amateur level I haven’t encountered anything like this.

Cheating

I have been the victim of cheating in the past and it really sticks in the throat. It’s horrible to discover that someone had the nerve to cut a course short to win. And I have heard so many cheating stories this year. There was this story from the London Marathon this year and in Boston we had the bib faking story. There will always be cheats I guess but if you’re going to do it maybe make it believable. The guy from London would have us believe that he could run 13 miles and THEN run a world leading time for a half marathon. Dude had way too many energy gels! And that is what makes us hate a cheater, their lack of respect for the rest of us and because they basically think we’re all stupid enough to believe their excuses (see also Dopers).

Spiking someone

I have been spiked during a cross country race but I don’t think it was intentional. I do know of other team mates who had other runners run so close to their heels that they ended up getting nasty spike injuries. That’s really not cool. Those spikes could easily be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands!

Here endeth my lesson on what I believe are some of the deadly sins of running and athletics. Can you think of any more awful running transgressions? Have you got a tale of a sinful fellow runner? Or….have you got your own confession to make?

 

Leader!

On Sunday I skipped a lie in and made my way up to the beautiful Dare Valley Country Park in Aberdare for a course that I’ve been dying to do for a while: Leadership in Running Fitness. Welsh Athletics were running the course and I was extremely excited to get learning!

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I was a little apprehensive about going, which is normal I’m sure, as I am not attached to a club right now and I’m not an ex elite athlete. I always feel that coaching is something that an ex pro *insert sport here* does but I needn’t have worried. Within the group on the course was a total mixed bunch: Ultra runners, fun runners, club runners and well, me. Everyone was friendly and the tutors Chris and Georgina were welcoming and keen to turn us into competent Leaders by the end of the day.

A vital question asked right at the start of the day was why did we want to help people to start running? There were many answers but the main one seemed to be that we wanted to help people discover the enjoyment we all get from running! The course content covered everything that I hoped it would: the role of the leader, when to speak to a coach, how to plan sessions, what each session should include, organisation and the delivery of those sessions. But we were not trapped in the class room for the whole day, we were able to get out in the car park (not out into the beautiful park itself unfortunately) to take turns in leading groups in a warm up, a planned session and a cool down.

We all had to be seen by the tutors to lead a group of 8 runners in a session. I took a group for a progression of fixed point repetitions and despite the rain lashing down no-one complained, or maybe they wanted to get it done so they could take cover! Our tutor Georgina (a Sport Wales Coach Educator of the Year!) gave us feedback on aspects that were good and ways in which we could improve for future sessions.

With the mixture of theory and practical sessions the day seemed to fly by and before I knew it we had reached 5pm and it was time to go. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and meeting all the fantastic runners of all abilities. It was brilliant and I was reminded yet again that a roomful of runners talking about running is a beautiful thing. I’m really looking forward to getting out and starting a beginners running group, something that seems to be lacking in my local area right now.

If you would like to visit Dare Valley, the venue of the course for a run, walk or even a horse ride go to http://www.darevalleycountrypark.co.uk. I highly recommend a visit if you have children.

If you are in Wales and fancy spreading your love of running to budding beginners then go and visit the Welsh Athletics coaching pages for more information about courses held all over the country.

 

Girl Time

One of my most favourite Twitter friends Simon has a brilliant Tumblr blog called Six Seconds High. If you love all things athletics and running then you really must check it out. It is an absolute treasure trove for athletics/running fanatics like me. The name of Simon’s blog is genius and has a fantastic link to running itself. You should go to Twitter and ask him.

Anyway today Simon posted a Tumblr to some brilliant British Pathe footage from the twenties and thirties. He sent me a link to You Tube with loads more great videos and I was immediately transfixed, watching this grainy, wobbly black and white footage of people running. The majority of the videos are of men running and competing. But then I found this little gem of an athletics match between women from Japan and France.

It started to remind me of my old athletics club days with the girls. My friends from school would be at the cinema and shopping on the weekend. But I spent my weekends for many years with my other set of girl friends, sitting on a coach giggling, taking cover from the rain in the stands gossiping, sunbathing at the side of the track if it was nice and cheering on our fellow team mates.

I loved this old video because it looked like those women and girls were having a great time with their team mates while competing, you can see that in the end of the video. So funny how even though it was probably 60 or 70 years onwards, my friends and I weren’t that different, enjoying the same sport as those women from Japan and France did. I think this is probably down to the beautiful simplicity of the sport of athletics. My time competing with the athletics club were some of the happiest in my youth and I made some great friends, some of whom are still very much in my life today.

 

 

 

 

International Valerie Adams’ Day

Ok the title of the post is completely made up. But last Saturday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. There were events all over the world to promote the achievements of women but also to highlight inequalities that still need to be addressed. There were several running events which also marked the occasion.

Valerie Adams at London 2012. Image from radiosport.co.nz

Meanwhile over in an indoor arena in Sopot, Poland, Valerie Adams reclaimed her World Indoor Shot Put title in her own quiet but dominant way. This was her taking the title for the third time. Her winning throw was 20 metres 67 cm. She consistently threw over 20 metres throughout the competition.

She is a brilliant athlete who deserves far more recognition and acclaim than she receives. She is unbeaten in 40 competitions and is reigning Olympic and World Outdoor champion. She is a strong, powerful athlete who obviously works hard and it is no doubt proven in her results. Her win is even more impressive considering she has just come back from injury. I think her hard work and dedication make her the ideal role model for any young person (or older person like me) and she really should be celebrated for her achievements. She is truly a great athlete and I thought it was rather fitting that this amazing sports woman won another world title on International Women’s Day.