Here is Cathal’s reasons six to ten for his piece, Ten Things that we learnt in Marrakech. Good observations and some constructive suggestions on how to make championships work for both the media and fans.
By Cathal Dennehy
6) Marrakech is a great city – just not for hosting athletics events
Let’s get this straight. Marrakech is terrific. It’s a complicated blend of magnificent sounds, sights, smells, with a major dose of mayhem thrown into the mix. The locals are friendly – even the ones not trying to sell you something – and it’s cheap, easily accessible by major airports, and a place so unique to itself that it’s a must to visit at some stage of your life.
Morocco, also, is a country with a great athletics tradition. Its most-decorated athlete, Hicham El Guerrouj, was present in Marrakech for the Continental Cup, incidentally celebrating his birthday on the final day of competition.
Here’s the thing, though. A major international event should never be hosted here. It simply shouldn’t. If one of the marquee events on the athletics calendar is played out in front of mostly-empty stands, no one wins. Not the hosts, who are simply embarrassed. Not the athletes, who find it hard to motivate themselves for a big performance when the arena is almost as quiet as their training track, and certainly not the fans of the sport, who will soon start to wonder why no one else seems to care to watch the action besides them.
Visit Marrakech, by all means. It’s a rocking, rolling, wild and wonderful place. Just not for athletics.
7) Bernard Lagat may finally be slowing down
It had to happen eventually, right? The 39-year-old, who captained the Americas team in Marrakech last weekend, finished third behind Caleb Ndiku – 18 years his junior – in the Continental Cup 3,000m on Sunday. It wasn’t so much the fact Lagat couldn’t quite keep pace with Ndiku and second-placed Hayle Ibrahimov over the final lap, but more what Lagat said afterwards that suggested age is finally starting to catch up with the former world champion.
“I’m at a point where I have to accept it,” said Lagat. “These guys are young, strong; they can kick [the last lap] in 51 seconds, while I can max out at 53 or 54, but they are motivating me to see if I can challenge them. I know they are still thinking about me in the race.”
Indeed, Lagat is still a threat to even the very best middle distance runners on the planet, but for guys like Ndiku, guys like Mo Farah, there’s no denying that he’s not quite the threat he was. It’s understandable, really, given that he will turn 40 in just a few months’ time, and his accomplishments to this point and refusal to go gently into the good night and retire have embellished his glittering career with incredible longevity. He’ll be back next year, of course, but it’s hard to see the trend reversing. As great as Lagat has been, even he has to eventually accept that at a certain point, there’s just no out-running father time.
8) Europe will always win the Continental Cup, unless the format changes
Team Europe went to Marrakech as hot favourites to take back the title they originally won in Split, Croatia in 2010, which was subsequently taken away due to a doping violation. They proved themselves worthy favourites when the athletes took to the track, and perhaps more so the field. They ran away with the competition from the outset, eventually having 57.5 points to spare over the Americas with their final tally of 447.5 points.
If it stays like this, it’s hard to see the Continental Cup ever becoming a truly exciting contest between the teams, and in such a situation it’s harder still to see it ever generating the buzz which surrounds the Ryder Cup – golf’s equivalent to this intercontinental match.
If we always know who will win – and given Europe’s strength, particularly in the field events, we do – then it’s much harder to convince people that this is an event worth watching. There is a relatively simple solution: drop the one-athlete-per-country rule. It is a rule which significantly weakens the America’s team, and will continue to leave them with little or no chance of beating the Europeans. If it’s supposed to be a contest between continents, then shouldn’t the two best athletes – regardless of nationality – be given the chance to represent their team?
9) Dafne Schippers – heptathlon’s loss, sprinting’s gain?
The Dutch athlete took time out from her heptathlon career after the Gotzis meeting in June to focus on sprinting for the latter part of the track season, and what a decision that turned out to be for 22-year-old.
Schippers went on to win double gold at the European Championships in Zurich, firstly winning the 100m in 11.12 seconds into a stiff headwind (1.7m/s) and then blazing to the world’s fastest time in the 200m with a 22.03-second run.
Last weekend, Schippers crushed some of the world’s best athletes in the 200m at the Continental Cup, winning easily in 22.28. The question now, of course, is whether she will ever return to the multi-events, given that there are few, if any, athletes in the world capable of beating her over 200m.
For what it’s worth, she says her future plans remain the same, that she’s still committed to the heptathlon, an event in which she won a bronze medal at the World Championships last year. However, there’s no denying that there is slightly more prestige, more glamour – not forgetting more money – in being the world’s best over 200m. That’s a title that Schippers can now lay claim to, and seeing which road she takes on the road to Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016 will be fascinating.
10) Championships should always finish with the men’s 4x400m relay
In recent years, organisers have strayed from the usual tradition of closing a championship with the men’s 4x400m, perhaps in a bid to have the Usain Bolt show as the final act to every event. However, there are few, if any, events in athletics as exciting as the 4x400m relay, men’s or women’s.
In 2012, it was one of the races of the Olympics as the Bahamas overturned the Americans. Last year in Moscow, the Russians holding off the Americans in the women’s event brought the noise and atmosphere inside the Luzhniki Stadium up to jaw-dropping, eardrum-bursting levels.
It’s the perfect way to close out a meeting, and so it proved in Marrakech as the home team Africa got one up on Europe, Wayde van Niekirk holding off Martin Rooney in a thrilling home-stretch duel which, for the first time all weekend, actually produced a decent atmosphere inside the Grand Stade de Marrakech.