British Athletics Championships - different date, different place and a toast to absent friends



Abigail Irozuru, photo by British Athletics

This is a thought-provoking piece on the British Championships that happens this weekend! How do you hold a champs and most champions do not attend.

British Athletics Championships - different date, different place and a toast to absent friends

It has not been a good year for the British Athletics Championships and Olympic selection trials. To start with the normal venue, Alexander Stadium, Birmingham is being re-novated for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which meant that the event is being held in Manchester. Originally scheduled for June, the event was postponed to August, by which point the Olympics had been postponed and the European Championships canceled. Then the August date proved impossible and the event was rescheduled again for 4/5 September, which meant that it clashed with Brussels Diamond League and some Continental Series events. The choice of the September date was mandated by the availability of the venue at short notice and when BBC TV had a slot for a live broadcast. A national championship with no global championship selection element is, in any case, a somewhat diminished event.

1169949646.jpgDina Asher-Smith, absent friends, photo by British Athletics

Had there been a global championship selection element, all the top athletes would have been obliged to participate, but that requirement has gone. The upshot is that few of the top British athletes will participate. That is for a variety of reasons. Asha Philip and Nathaneel Mitchell-Blake, to choose two athletes at random, are not running in Manchester - or anywhere else for the matter. In fact, I saw Asha run in France on 19 February, indoors and that was her last race in 2020 - her outdoor season not having started because of covid. Dina Asher-Smith's only race at all in 2020 was a local fun 150m fun race. Katerina Johnson-Thompson and Mo Farah are running in Brussels instead of the national champs. Now I don't know how long in advance the agreement with Brussels was made but don't forget that this is the second change of date for the national championships.

1170270205.jpgEilish McColgan, absent friends, photo by British Athletics

Then there was a group of runners who chose to run in Marseilles instead, on the Thursday, the day before the national champs - Laura Muir, Jemma Reekie, Darryl Neita, Guy Learmonth. Kyle Langford, Elliot Giles, Eilish McColgan, Adelle Tracey and Shelayna Oaskan-Clarke. Of course, those athletes were running for money in Marseilles - and not in Manchester - but I think most of them felt that they wanted a few competitive races before this truncated season ends.

BL_26693_2019082540315149_20190826095216.JPGKaterina Johnson-Thompson, absent friends, photo by British Athletics

There was an interesting exchange on Twitter about the issue. Tim Hutchings, former international athlete and now TV commentator said: "To race elsewhere close to a nationally televised champs, should not be an option. My point is, if TV in the UK turn their backs on the sport, Athletics and Athletes will be the losers. Not supporting the sport in this way, has big consequences What has to be included by British Athletics in T&C for funded athletes is that on the weekend of the champs., indoors or out, they cannot compete elsewhere, if they don't want to compete at the champs". To make clear Hutchings point: if you accept funding from British Athletics - and there are more than 60 funded athletes - you should be obliged to run in the national champs.

1270640362.jpgLaura Muir puts in an appearance, photo by Stuart Weir via BBC TV

Coach Toni Minichiello tweeted: "It's about the personal integrity of athletes and coaches. Historically athletes entered the champs; that's changed, you are invited to compete. Small fields in field events, a 100m where people are given a bye to the semi, for me all silly ideas. And you see the result now".

1270640364.jpgHolly Bradshaw puts in an appearance, photo by Stuart Weir via BBC TV

Neil Wilson, a legendary Athletics writer reminded younger followers "Many elite athletes skipped them in the 80s and 90s, Coe, Backley, Jackson, Edwards etc. It has been this since the days when serious money came into the sport".

1270640513.jpgBritish stars, puts in an appearance, photo by Stuart Weir via BBC TV

Current British indoor and outdoor long-jump champion, Abigail Irozuru - who is competing in Manchester this weekend - commented: "There needs to be (next year there will be) a protected window for National Champs. At the best of times, but particularly in times like this, you can't fault athletes for wanting to compete (1) in more competitive fields, (2) in better weather conditions & (3) for prize money".

Abi.jpg Abigail Irozuru, photo by British Athletics

I thought Abi got it spot on and that one needs to recognize the circumstances of this bizarre year and cut the athletes some slack.


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