RunBlogRun asked Paul Halford to write a blog each week. This is his first column. We will call it UK Athletics Diary. Paul was a long time contributor to Athletics Weekly and will provide us with an inside view on the birthplace of modern athletics.
Enjoy Paul’s insights into the sport.
Future’s bright for Yee despite horrific accident
After being asked to write this blog, I had been planning to seek out for interview GB’s top junior prospect, Alex Yee, following his recent 13:37 for 5000m. However, I then heard the terrible news last week that the talented triathlete had been hospitalised after a crash in a race in Italy. His coach, Ken Pike, nevertheless filled me in on what he thinks his remarkable 19-year-old charge can do when he returns to the track.
Yee is out for the season, Pike unsurprisingly asserted, and so we have been denied the chance to see Yee try to become European junior 5000m champion and line up in a race including Mo Farah at the London Diamond League this summer. However, the teenager, who tangled with another competitor in an ITU Triathlon World Cup event in Cagliari on Sunday and suffered broken ribs, vertebrae and a collapsed lung, is stable and well enough to post to Instagram pictures of himself in hospital.
When he ran 13:37.60 in Belgium at the end of the last month to clock the quickest time by a British junior since 1981, it seemed 2017 could be the best year yet for Yee. Nineteen seconds quicker than Farah at the same age, it massively impressed Pike, one of the Britain’s most respected distance coaches. “He was going so well with that 13:37 5000m and he was looking to go quicker,” he said. “He stuck to the race plan well. He ran an even race, which would indicate that perhaps there’s a bit more there.”
Pike revealed Yee had accepted an invite to the London Diamond League and “was planning on winning” at the European Juniors in July. The coach, who operates out of London-based club Kent AC, says Yee is the most talented athlete he has ever guided. “I think he’s capable of running sub-13 in two or three years’ time,” he said. However, doubt exists over whether Yee will stay in the sport, given his potential in triathlon.
He is the current ITU duathlon world junior champion and was fifth last year in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final. He is forever being asked which sport he will concentrate on. For now, as Pike confirmed this week, he is planning to do both for as long as he can. “He’s going to decide depending on how things pan out,” he said. “He enjoys the running more than anything else he does, so we’ve got some chance of getting him, but of course, he could make a living in the triathlon, whereas it’s very difficult [in running] with all the Africans.”
One thing is certain, though: the triathlon training is working. Yee is one of a number of triathletes almost showing up their running-specific counterparts. For example, Tim Don, who recently set the world record for the Ironman, has run 28:56 for 10km on the roads and double Olympic triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee has clocked 28:32 on the track. “He keeps coming down [to the track] on Tuesday nights where I can try to get him faster, which is the key,” said Pike. “He’s doing a lot of slow, podding stuff with the tri training, which has certainly worked for him. But he only runs about three times a week, which is amazing for 13:37. I would almost certainly try and keep in some tri training even if he does give up the triathlon.”
As for Yee’s future route, a lot is left in the balance. It is, after all, Britain’s triathlon rather than track and field body which is funding him. Also if he – as seems very possible – takes up an invite from Alistair Brownlee and his fellow Olympic medallist brother Jonathan to train in Leeds, which is the UK’s main centre for triathlon, the chances of track and field holding on to him appear lessened. “I feel as though I don’t particularly want to push the athletics (track and field) too hard,” said Pike. “As long as he’s enjoying it and seeing some progress he’s going to veer towards the athletics – that’s my view.”
The sport of track and field in Britain could do more to stop talented athletes being lost to other sports, believes Pike. “No one’s really prepared, I think, in athletics to take a chance,” he said. “You’ve got to tick this box, you’ve got to achieve that. No one really is looking at the potential of athletes and taking a chance as the selectors would in the old days.” The future looks good for Yee – but in which sport?
Some thoughts on the steeplechase in the UK…
Among the events to suffer since Britain was at the forefront of world middle and long-distance running in the Seventies and Eighties, is the men’s steeplechase. But this year has seen something of a mini-revival for a discipline which has been the doldrums on a national level. The rot was widespread in 2009 when two of the country’s top four from the previous year quit the event.
Another of the quartet, Stuart Stokes, had to be persuaded back from semi-retirement by the federation as Britain struggled to field an elite representative for the European Team Competition. Aside from a US-based runner assumed to not be available, the fastest as that June event came around was an 8:54 man. Ironically, it was Stokes’ disillusionment after being controversially overlooked for Olympic selection the previous year by UK Athletics that led him to take time out.
That year only two Brits went under 8:40 and seven under nine minutes. In 2013, only six athletes entered the national championships as organisers tried to not lower the entry standards too far that it became a farce. However, at the start of June and not even half way through the season yet, already five athletes have broken 8:40 and 16 have gone under nine minutes – the highest levels for both since 2012. Mark Rowland’s UK record of 8:07.96 from 1988 remains out of sight, but at least now British runners seem to want to run the steeplechase again.