British athletics diary (formerly UK Athletics diary): Tom Bosworth on walkers needing change and A New Low for British Trials, by Paul Halford


Shelayna Oskan-Clarke-1.jpegShelana Oksan-Clarke, 800m winner, British Trials, photo by David Wearn

Robbie Grabarz-1.jpegRobbie Grabberz competed in Paris DL and British Trials, winning Trials, photo by David Wearn

This column is from Paul Halford. It is to provide RunBlogRun readers an intimate view of athletics in Great Britian. I have changed name from UK Athletics Diary, to take confusion that we have official relationship, and now, British athletics diary.

Paul Halford is providing us interesting and accurate columns each and every week on the challenges within the British athletics system. We hope that you like it.

Bosworth: Walkers should be open to change

Tom Bosworth-2 Award.jpegTom Bosworth, photo by David Wearn

Tom Bosworth has warned his fellow racewalkers they need to show sporting authorities they are "flexible" as the long-term future of the 50km event at the Olympics continues to appear in jeopardy.

Earlier this year, fears that the International Association of Athletics Federations would remove the men's 50km racewalk from the Tokyo 2020 programme were alleviated as the body voted to retain the status quo.

However, as the event is the only one in track and field to not be contested by both sexes, it is thought the International Olympic Committee could in future apply more pressure to have it deleted.

Bosworth, who was sixth in Rio 2016 in the 20km walk, does not race over 50km and has in the past been quoted supporting the event's inclusion. However, asked last weekend whether having just one event at championships might help focus more attention on one of the sport's "Cinderella" events, he conceded walkers should be open to the possibility of change in future.

Diplomatic with his response, the British athlete said: "How do I say this without upsetting my race walking colleagues? ... If the 50km goes, that's going to be tough for a lot of athletes, it's like saying you can't run a marathon, you've got to run a 10,000m - a lot of them wouldn't qualify and they're out of a job. And they're my friends. But athletics is having to develop over the next few years and changes are going to have to be made and if you can't be flexible the governing bodies aren't going to want to work with you."

He pointed out that one of such concessions could be agreeing to race over shorter distances in order to attract a bigger or different audience.

Bosworth was speaking after he improved his own British best for 5000m at the Muller British Athletics Championships last weekend. He will also race over the rarely contested one mile at the London Diamond League this Sunday - a moment he has said will be the proudest moment of his career so far.

"Racewalking needs to be part of events like [the British Championships]," he said. "Next week there's a one-mile race at the Anniversary Games, a first for a Diamond League and the first time we've had one at an event as big as this in this country. Athletics needs to develop and this is where we as walkers have to say we're flexible enough. It isn't going to hinder our training."

He is one of five walkers set to represent Britain at London 2017 as the event has enjoyed a transformation in Britain in recent years. He praised the effect of the National Centre for Race Walking in Leeds.

"For a long time I've been out front in races... But I'm not going to be No.1 for that long. That's just because they're getting that good... These guys want to beat me. They've got to be world-class to beat me.

"To get to No.1 when I was younger you didn't have to be the best in the world. The centre in Leeds, everything Andi Drake (the director) has done. That centre's been open since 2009 and the event was a bit of a mess back then."

He is looking for further success at the Worlds after last year achieving the best Olympic performance by a British race walker since 1972.

"Sixth at Rio was a complete surprise," he said. "I was ranked 37th and just got in great shape up at altitude. This year I've had a few IAAF podiums so suddenly I've been up there around the best in the world. It shows I can do it - it wasn't a fluke. Top eight again would be amazing."


Comment: British trials event reaches a low point

David King-2.jpegDavid King, photo by David Wearn

British Athletics will be hoping for a major turnaround as they prepare to stage the upcoming London Diamond League this Sunday after they presided over a disappointing edition of the national championships last week.

The national federation faced much criticism from athletes, fans and media following a two-day event lacking the biggest names and missing top-drawer performances.

Darren Campbell, a 2004 Olympic relay champion, told the BBC: "It felt like an under-20s British championships rather than a World Championships trials."

Goldie Sayers, bronze medallist in the javelin in Beijing 2008, said attendance was "possibly the worst I've seen in the last 10 years".

After listing the no-shows, such as the already selected Mo Farah and Laura Muir, heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and the injured Greg Rutherford, athletics correspondent Sean Ingle wrote in the Guardian: "No wonder the attendance is equivalent to a League Two football fixture."

Rutherford himself offered many suggestions on Twitter and added: "Athletics does almost nothing to openly promote the trials. I went to Birmingham on Saturday and noticed no promotions... terrible"

Ironically, the 2012 Olympic long jump champion has competed in the national outdoor championships just twice in the last nine years - not that I or anyone is questioning his injury status at the moment.

But can anyone really blame him? He is a professional athlete who needs to focus on earning a living. The point is that all too often British Athletics has been overly lenient on the big stars when it comes to making exceptions to their championship selection criteria, which normally state athletes need to appear at the trials.

And this time, perhaps with a bit of bad luck, that policy has come back to bite them.

For example, sprint hurdler Andrew Pozzi was given special exemption to compete in the Paris Diamond League and miss the trials. His 13.14 PB was arguably the British male performance of the weekend - I am sure the press would have loved to have been writing about a Worlds medal contender after the trials rather than decrying the poor standard and it would have been better for the sport too.

Athletes who are funded by the sport's national governing body should, in my view, be forced to compete at the trials in the event for which they want to be considered unless genuinely injured - even if they are already selected.

However, I do not believe one weekend defines the state of the sport. There has been too much of a knee-jerk reaction to the championships and many are quick to use it as an excuse to claim the sport is in crisis.

Although I empathise with claims that British Athletics care more about making money from ticket sales than the athletes' best interests, you cannot argue against the generally remarkable success they have had in recent years in putting on events. Whether a national federation ethically should be responsible for organising events rather than focusing on athlete development is another matter, but UK's governing body has usually done a good job of it. Stadia will be full for London 2017 - the public interest not sufficiently diluted despite Britain being the only country in the world to host two Diamond League events. Most years the London meeting has been two days too.

Let's hope for better this weekend and at the World Championships.

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