Stuart Weir writes about how Birmingham is cementing itself as the most important city in the world of athletics in the UK Athletics firmament. Please read this piece closely. UK Athletics is not demanding that British athletes train in the second city. Stuart Weir makes it clear that, from Stephen Maguire, the option to use Birmingham, with the new Performance Innovation Centre, is there, and options will be made more enthusiastically for athletes and coaches to see the value of the new centre.
Birmingham has done much to impress the casual track fan, elite athlete, and coach. The host of the Commonwealth Games in 2022, where all sessions were sold out, the powerful presence of the Diamond League and Indoor meetings at NAI have all built a culture of enthusiasm for the sport in England’s second city.
Stuart Weir has provided RunBlogRun readers a thoughtful view of the sport across the pond for several years now, from where most of our sport was born. We look for his columns each and every week.
Nicely done, UK Athletics. Thanks to our senior writer, Stuart Weir, for providing us with this story.
UK ATHLETICS AND BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL UNVEIL PERFORMANCE INNOVATION CENTRE AT ALEXANDER STADIUM CAMPUS
It has been a good month and year for Birmingham, which claims to be the UK’s track and field centre. It hosted a successful Commonwealth Games earlier in the year, with 30,000 watching most morning and evening sessions. It has also been named as host of the 2026 European Championships.
UK Athletics (UKA) has confirmed that Birmingham will host a new Performance Innovation Centre in summer 2023 after agreeing on a partnership with the City Council for the facility to be situated on the redeveloped Alexander Stadium campus, helping cement the site’s Commonwealth Games legacy.
Designed for the primary use of UKA World Class Programme (WCP) athletes and coaches, the state-of-the-art facility will enable the world-leading capability to understand track and field performance through enhanced technology and analytics, which are not currently available to athletes in the UK.
Athletes and coaches visiting the centre will be able to deep-dive into their performance through having access to diagnostic capabilities with specialist expertise in an environment designed for problem-solving and collaboration.
Jack Buckner, the UKA CEO, said: “For some time, UKA has aspired to have an environment which adds value to the daily training of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes, where training and performance insight can be taken to the next level and rival international competitors. Creating the Performance Innovation Centre will help us achieve this.”
Loughborough University will remain an important training base for WCP athletes on both the Olympic and Paralympic programmes. The Performance Innovation Centre will become the home for the additional innovation and problem-solving required.
The Performance Innovation Centre has been made possible as part of the legacy project for the Commonwealth Games site through close working with partners – Birmingham City Council, the English Institute of Sports Performance Innovation Team, the UK Sport Elite Training Centre Strategy and Sport England.
Stephen Maguire, UKA Technical Director, said: “Partnerships and expertise with a long-term commitment to support athlete progress such as these are critical to realising our ambitions whilst delivering a lasting legacy for athletics performance in the UK.”
UKA’s enhanced presence on site will complement a range of existing tenants, such as Birchfield Harriers Athletics Club and Birmingham City University, which is set to establish a campus at the Stadium for sports and exercise students.
Counsellor Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “This partnership with UKA underlines the Alexander Stadium’s status as the premier athletics facility in the UK.
“I am delighted that Birmingham, through this Performance Innovation Centre, will play a key role in the development and success of future generations of world-class talent.
“But just as important is the enhanced purpose it brings to our new facilities. The Commonwealth Games always needed to be about more than 11 fantastic days of sport – through partnerships like this and other things we are working on, the Stadium will become a focal point for health, well-being, education and community activity for everyone from the people of Perry Barr to elite-level athletes.”
Going beyond the press release formalities, Stephen Maguire explained to me what he thought the new centre could offer:
“It’s a big game changer. For the first time, we’re going to create an environment where athletes can come to get real top-end information – the sports science and the ability to understand if the issue is a technique, physical or technical etc. If you look at sprints, for example, we will be able to analyze from the first steps to the finish. The indoor space is big enough that you can build up top-end speed for an endurance athlete to look at technique with the athlete, coach and Biomech, integrating strength and conditioning and looking at what is needed. It just offers that collaborative approach to help the coach-athlete relationship understand where the athlete is. The athlete may be in a good place, and you can enhance some things so it can be about affirmation but can also be about ‘is change needed?’
As an example, an athlete can have a bad start, but it’s about breaking down what the bad start is in an environment where you have got instant feedback, trying to recreate the competition environment in a very high-tech, sciencey environment. I think what we’re doing has never before been under one roof. Some of the other big sports will have it, but in athletics, what we’re offering is really cutting edge with everything under one roof. We have our feedback suites, and athlete engagement, cameras, TVs etc. Being able to measure force and reactions off the ground. We have had that but not together under one roof in the one environment. So putting it all under one umbrella is special”.
At one stage, UKA tried to persuade all funded athletes to base themselves in Loughborough, but athletes declined, preferring to stay in a familiar environment. Maguire is clear that asking elite athletes to move to Birmingham is not what this is about. “Basing themselves [in Birmingham], maybe not but using it lots, yes. The most important person in an athlete’s life is the coach, and we’re certainly not going to be breaking up athlete-coach relationships so that everybody is based in Birmingham under a centralized system – that is what we’re not going to be doing. But athletes may work out of here a bit more.
“One of the things we want to understand is what has made the athlete really good in the first place. Is it their local environment and their local coach? So we don’t want to take that away and will certainly not be centralizing people in the sense that they have to train in Birmingham. We will be able to offer critical testing times throughout the year. Athletes and coaches will come here and have something special and then be able to return to their own place. But if people want to be closer to it, that is their choice”.
He also emphasized that one of the priorities going forward will be coaching: “We have to understand coaching and coaches and UKA needs to be able to give them that cutting edge technology by putting that under one umbrella in Birmingham to enhance athletes at that critical podium level. You have to work particularly hard to identify and support coaches. Coaching is getting harder, and we need to be smarter in supporting them”.
I found it refreshing listening to Stephen Maguire outlining what he wants to do as Technical Director. He spoke with a clarity that was rare among his recent predecessors.