AVIVA Grand Prix (Birmingham, UK): A Great Track Meet, by Larry Eder



Jenny Meadows, charging to the front at 500 meters, did not look back, as she broke the seven year old British record of one Dame Kelly Holmes, with Meadows own 1:59:11! Photo courtesy of UKathletics.com.

It is less than 90 minutes after the AVIVA Grand Prix, and I am still trying to catch my breath. In just less than three hours, the crowd of 12,000 was drawn into a magical afternoon of athletics. UK Athletics and FastTrack, under the watchful eye of Ian Stewart and his team, showcased the sport at its best. Fans saw a sprint showdown (LaVerne Jones vs Carmelita Jeter), a distance showdown (Tirunesh Dibaba vs Vivian Cheruiyot), a screaming 1,500 meter run (Deresse Mekonnen, Augustine Choge, Bernard Lagat) and two fantastic field events, in a women's pole vault and an Olympic class final triple jump!

But here is where Stewart is at his best: remember the rule-entertain the crowd. Kate Dennison, the British pole vault champion, set a new British record of 4.60 (coming close to 4.66m), and Jenny Meadows, who broke Dame Kelly Holmes seven year old British record of 1:59:21! It was the absolute courage that athletes showed in their runs that excited the crowd and left the fans, with a positive feeling as they left the NAI!

I have come to the AVIVA meeting in Birmingham for several years now, at the invitation of the meet director, Ian Stewart. Stewart's home is in Birmingham and he is bullish on the event. So is the city of Birmingham. The city owns the track, the NAI and, benefits from the meet, which brings 12,000 sports fans to the NAI, as well as hundreds of global athletes, media and broadcasting professionals.

For me, this event is an example of what our sport should be. Track & Field as entertainment;

AVIVA tries just about anything-this year, there was an extreme high jump competition, which had nearly 5,000 people watching the event, which was a fusion of the high jump in costumes, and bike jumping.

The stadium is presented as an exciting event. Great signage, some exhibits, from Alfa Romeo car game, free samples of MItchum deodorant, McCain chips, Lucazode sports drink and several engaging exhibits from UK athletics.

Catherine Merry, Olympic medalist at 400 meters from Sydney, is not a former athlete who now has a job in media, but a media professional who speaks from the floor of stadium, during the entire meet. Merry has done this at the AVIVA London Grand Prix, and is one of Stewarts' most positive additions to the meet. The fans are positive about Merry's commentary and introduction of athletes. Affable, professional, Merry knows when to speak and when to allow the excitement of the meet to lift the crowd.

The competition: the right mix of competitors

Stewart is a keen observer of the sport. He brings in global stars, but he also brings in young American and British athletes. In several cases, these British athletes, such as Andrew Osiegi, in the 800 meters, and Nick Smith, in the 60 meters, showed their world class talent in front of 12,000 enthusiastic fans.

Our sport is about competition. And the AVIVA event remembers that face and reminds us constantly. Here are some of my favorite recollections from the meet:


Carmelita Jeter, US Champs, 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net.

The women's 60 meters, which featured in lane 4, Carmelita Jeter, and in lane 5, La Verne Jones. Jones got a great start, and had a meter lead on Jeter by twenty meters, but Jeter, as she told me after the race, " just focused on myself", and Carmelita won in a nail biter, 7.06-7.06!

Jeter told Uk Athletics: “It was good it was a great run, I’m still working out some kinks but it was a great run. The Indoor season’s going great, you know, last year my personal best was 7.11 which is great for me to best consistent and I’m just pleased right now.

“First I have to make the team for Doha and we have our trials next week and then after that I think there’s going to be some great times in Doha. I feel good but I can never feel over confident because that’s when you lose. I just have to work on everything. ”

The men's 800 meters was fascinating, as four young men were trying to get under 1;48.5, the World Indoor automatic
qualifying mark. The pack hit 25.04-51.50 and Richard Kiplagat took control hitting the 600 meters in 1:19.89, and Kiplagat looked strong, just as Marcin Lewandowski and Andrew Osagie charged down the final stretch, with Lewandowski taking the win in 1:47.50, KIplagat in second in 1:47.55,with British runner Osagie in 1:47.71 and Ed Aston in 1:48.29. The two runners from Britain both set personal bests and now have qualifying marks for Doha, WIC 2010.

Marcin Lewandowski was ecstatic, as he later told Uk athletics and assembled media: “I feel good with the result, but I haven’t trained especially for this so any result is good from this. For me, everyday is better and I will continue to train for Doha and hope for a great result there.Some of these races can be hard depending on who you’re racing with and today was a hard race. It is not a special race but it’s always great to get that result.”

If Lewandowski was ecstatic, Osagie was elated! " “I’m so elated by my result – I did think that I had a good chance going in to it but I’m really excited about how I performed and the result in general. I feel good but I can properly feel that performance in my legs now, but I’ll just keep on training and hopefully continue to get better.”

The Men's 1,500 meters was inspiring. David Krummenacker, the 2003 World indoor Champ at 800 meters, took the field through 28.93, 55.80 for 400 meters, 153.98 for 800 meters and 2:51.85. At 3:05, Deresse Mekkonen charged past Augustine Choge, who has proved his fitness this indoor season.

Choge has been running well this indoor season, with the world leader at 3,000 meters, as well as a fine 5,000 meters. He is on form. Mekkonen is not someone to underestimate as well. Mekkonen and Choge were together, with Gideon Gathimba of Kenya in tow.

Deresse Mekonnen, Berlin WC, 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Deresse Mekonnen was both pleased and surprised about his performance, as he told the media, dafter his race: "3:33 indoors, I can’t believe it. That was such a fast race but I am so pleased to win and to run that time. I’m so happy.”


Bernard Lagat, Rbk BIG, 5,000m AR, photo by PhotoRun.net

Right behind the top three were Bernard Lagat and Nick Willis. Lagat had broken the U.S. record for 5,000 meters two weekends ago, in a see saw battle over the 26 laps at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games. Nick Willis was in his third race after a nearly year long recovery. At Reebok BIG, Willis ran a fine 3:54.55 mile.


Nick Willis, Rbk BIG, February 6, 2010, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Lagat looked well positioned, as did Willis, who was running along, with little obstruction, during most of the race. At the 1,200 meter mark, hit in 2:51.85, Deresse Mekonnen made a strong move and did not look back, rushing the last 300 meters in 41.25, taking the world leader in a fine 3:33.10. Augustine Choge ran a personal best of 3:33.74 for second place, with Gideon Gathimba in third, also running his personal best in 3:35.40.

Bernard Lagat made a strong move over the last lap, but just seemed a bit under the weather, running fourth, in a seasonal best of 3:35.49. (Please note, this is not an indoor US record, remember, Bernard already has that, when he ran his mile indoor US record, he had been en route in 3:34.34). After the race, Bernard was just fighting a cold that he might have caught from his two little children.

Nick Willis, in his third race back in shape, kicked over the last lap, and finished in 3:35.80, a New Zealand Indoor Record.

The women's 800 meter race proved to be one of the highlights of the meet. Dame Kelly Holmes British record of 1:59.21 was going to be challenged by Jenny Meadows, who was cheered at her introduction. The bronze medalist from the Berlin World Championships, Meadows told BBC after the race that she had a great training session on Tuesday and she and her coach thought she could run quite well!

The pace setter took the field through 27.98, with Jenny Meadows right behind her. The 400 meters was hit in 58.14, as the announcer (Peter Matthews, I believe) made sure the fans knew that Meadows was on record pace!


Jenny Meadows, en route to her new British Record, photo courtesy of UK Athletics.com.

Meadows was running free, relaxed, ready to pounce. The 600 meters was hit in 1:28.88 and Meadows was off! Accelerating through the last lap, Jenny Meadows continued to push, and it looked like she would get the record! Coming off the final stretch, Meadows was in full flight, and she hit the tape in 1:59.11, breaking the second British record of the night!

A very pleased Meadows commented after her race: “I knew I was in shape. Its amazing to re write the record books. My training partner was pacing the race and I felt so good in early in the race that I wanted to pass her! But I thought- I can’t , that’s too cheeky!- so I waited. I made my move in the third lap and it felt so good. I wanted to push it on and thought that I wanted to win the race. Of course I am happy with the British Record. I wish I had run 1.58 but I am never happy, I always want more. "


Christian Olsson, Lausanne, 2006, photo by Photorun.net.

The men's triple jump was one of the best fields of the AVIVA Grand Prix. Phillips Idowu, the Berlin WC 2009 gold medalist, is a crowd pleaser. The Cuban jumpers, David Girat, Yoandri Betanzos were there with Christian Olsson.

Christian Olsson is one of the most decorated triple jumpers of he modern era. He has also endured five surgeries for the event, once described by Sir Sebastian Coe as the most unforgiving event in our sport!

Phillips Idowu got out in the lead early with a 17.06m. But that was short lived. David Giriat of Cuba jumped 17.26m to take the lead. In round two, Yoandri Betanzos took the lead with 17.30 jump. Philips got a nice jump out there of 17.25, moving him into third.

In round three, Christian Olsson put it all together, hitting 17.32m, jumping himself into the lead. Try as the rest of the field might, no one came near Olsson for the rest of the event.
After the event, an very pleased Olsson noted: “I’m really happy with that performance, 17.32 is my longest jump in all my injuries. It’s great to be back here at Birmingham where I’ve got loads of good memories, I’m just really happy.

“I’m just trying to enjoy myself as much as possible – today was really enjoyable. Phillips wasn’t jumping at his best, just normal standards and although this means nothing towards the World Championships, it feels good for me right now.”

After the meet, I met Christian's coach, in the lift as we headed to our rooms. He told me that this was Christian's first good competition since his most recent recovery. There will be more good performances for this triple jump.

I met Christian Olsson in the lobby later and he was relieved that his jumping is getting better. " I need to work on the second stage, and as I get that under control, my jumping will be more consistent."

For Phillips Idowu, he just did not get his steps down, and Idowu will be ready. The triple jump did exceed all expectations!


Dayron Robles, Beijing 2008, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Dayron Robles gave the hurdlers a clinic in how to be a hurdler, except the guy is hurdling on all cylinders. His sprinting is excellent, and his hurdling form is near perfect, as he ran the world leader for 60m hurdles in 7.46! Obviously over his issues from last summer, Dayron looks ready to really rumble! I love the hurdle wars!


Gelete Burka, Hengelo, 2008, photo by PhotoRun.net.

The mile by Geleta Burka was fantastic, a fast race from the beginning, as Burka ran a barn burner, and was challenged by
Kalkidan Gezahegn, who broke the world junior record mile during the race! Geleta Burka ran a seasonal best of 4:23.53, Gezehegn took second in 4:24.10, with Maryam Jamal in third in 4:24.71. In fact, all ten finishers either ran personal best of seasonal bests, with a National record for Norway! The mile is
not run often, but the level of fitness shown here makes it clear that the 1,500 meters in Doha will be a great race. After
her fast run, Burka had this to say: “I am very happy with my performance, it was very nice to be here and see the people of Birmingham. They are lovely and I always enjoy running here. It was and I look forward to my next race. “

The meet ended with a very, very close battle over two miles. Vivian Cheruiyot showed her talent with her brilliant win over 5,000 meters in Berlin. Her last lap was scintillating! She had also beat Tirunesh Dibaba at the Rbk NY Grand Prix, and then, Tirunesh got ill.

The race pace was fairly tame, hitting the 800 meters in just over 2:17, and the mile, just under 4:38. The race really picked up with five laps to go, when Tirunesh Dibaba took the lead and did not look back. As Dibaba dropped the pace, and took off, one noticed that Vivian Cheruiyot, while back a ways, was winding up for a strong finish. Cheruiyot FLEW around the last turn, caught Sontayehu Ejegu and came oh so close to grabbing the race from Tirunesh Dibaba.


Tirunesh Dibaba, Rbk BIG 5,000m, February 6, 2010, photo by PhotoRun.net.

But Tirunesh held Vivian off, 9:12.23 to 9:12.35. Ejegu was in third in 9:12.68. Jessica Augusto, the Portugese cross country specialist, ran a great race, holding on the pace until middle of the last lap, but bravely held on for a fine 9:19.39, a national record. In fact, all ten women finishers either set seasonal best (Dibaba) or ran personal bests in the seldom run distance. Dibaba said, after the race: “I am very happy with my performance, it was very nice to be here and see the people of Birmingham. They are lovely and I always enjoy running here. It was and I look forward to my next race. “

One of the other events well received was Kate Dennison's British record in the pole vault, of 4.60m. She had three game jumps at 4.66m, and did receive much support from the fans!

The crowd loved the meeting finishing with such a competitive event. And that is one of our lessons about our sport. At the end of the day, our athletes, our events are entertainment. For Track & Field to grow and prosper, we need great meets, not mediocre events. AVIVA Grand Prix 2010 was a great meet!

For complete results on the AVIVA Grand Prix, please click on http://www.uka.org.uk/results/20100220_Birmingham/timetable/index/index.html

To learn more about our sport, please click on www.runningnetwork.com.

Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required