Stuart wrote this piece as his final for Lausanne. I believe that all coaches should read it.
The Doha 2019/Tokyo 2020 are dangerous seasons. The length of 2019 is as dangerous as the 2020 season is short. Neither developed with the needs of the athlete in mind. This is about federations needing more money to stand out in 21rst century sport. Coaches and athletes have to deal with it. Such is life.
But, in order to excell, one must be wary of the vagaries of each season.
Managing a long season: a reflective piece
My good friend, Kriss Akabusi, once said to me, when I asked him about an early season race: “Why should I want to run fast in May?”. As the 2019 World Championships are in October, Akabusi’s question could be “what is the point of running fast in July 2019?”
At her press conference in Lausanne Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was asked: “You ran 10.8 in May, 10.7 in June, can we expect 10.6 in July?” And just imagine what she will be running in October! To be fair Shelly said to be after the Lausanne race (10.74) that she does not judge races by time but by how well she executed her race. Remember the Carolina Basketball coach, Dean Smith, who, apparently, never talked about winning, but on playing well, believing that if his team played well, they would win – and they usually did.
Jake Wightman said after his season’s best of 3:34.40 in the 1500m in Lausanne, “it went out quicker than I expected so it was faster than I was ready for. Perhaps a couple of races later I could have taken the opportunity to run really fast. I had always planned to open up the season late, but with the injury I had no choice. So rather than have a few races and then drop back off I will now go straight through, hopefully to Doha. It will be a long few months but hopefully one that will pay off”.
So what is the secret of being at your best in October? Dafne Schippers told me: “It’s a long year so I will try to have a couple of competitions then some rest and training, then a couple of competitions and to do that over the year. Normally you start the season and go to the end of the season but this year we need to have some breaks”.
Justin Gatlin said: “The season is unorthodox and we have never run in October before. So it is about being more patient, consistent and competitive,” adding “And that is harder for sprinters because we like to be fast and aggressive, to go out and do the best we can. But it is a long way away off so I think it’s about preparing ourselves so that when the moment comes we are ready.”
On the other hand, athletes are different and Katerina Stefanidi feels the long season will suit her: “I would almost say that it is an advantage for me because it often takes me a little while to get used to the longer poles after the indoor competitions. So having an extra month to the season would allow me to do some extra competitions, to be a little bit more consistent”.
I am always intrigued by the comparison between Christine Ohuruogu and Sanya Richards-Ross, who dominated the women’s 400m in the period 2006-2015. Sanya has run 49 times, I believe, under 50 seconds, Christine just five times. Yet Christine ended her career with two World Championship golds, and an Olympic silver and gold. And Mr Akabusi himself practiced what he preached, breaking the GB record 4 times, three of them medal-winning efforts in championship finals.
As Christine Ohuruogo once said, Track and Field is a strange life. “I train all year, run loads of races but my year is judged on one race – the championship final”. The moral is don’t read too much into what is happening in early July, when predicting the Doha winners.