I reported and photographed the UK Athletics Championships in my home city of Manchester, thanks to an invitation from British Athletics.
6000 tickets were sold for this two day family event where youngsters could be seen tiring themselves out running along temporary running lanes or just playing tag with others in the stadium.
Events such as these rely heavily on the goodwill of the event volunteers allied to the professionalism of others. From those who put out the starting blocks and laying the lane identification markers, then have less than 30 seconds to remove them to prevent any obstructions to those with clipboards visible leading out competitors to their starting positions. Sometimes it may just involved a person placing or removing a red cone, signifying to athletes that they have to wait until everything else is ready, but if it’s not done then confusion arises.
With a packed timetable that spanned 50+ events, including heats, with many athletes recording personal or seasonal best or even championship records, efficient organisation is crucial.
There are always instances of those competitors who have spent many months preparing for prestigious events, such as these, yet allow their nervousness to overcome their ability thus resulting in false starts and subsequent disqualification even before the starting gun has fired.
So for one athlete to literally stumble over the winning line, seeing opportunities for a gold medal or even qualification for World Athletics Championships in Budapest later this year pass them by, others in the pack will emerge and pounce.
One element that did not let people down was the infamous Manchester weather. A forecast of heavy rain exceeded itself by bringing along a few friends such as thunder and lightning.
At the close of both days, the black clouds rolled up to the final races, which took place under a curtain of torrential rain. The 100m race may only last 10 seconds or so, but the amount of water that was unleashed from the skies made it difficult to identify athletes until they had passed the winning line. That said, there was no doubting the smile on Zharnel Hughes face at his satisfaction with a time of 10.03s.
The purity and spirit of completion between two athletes spurring each other on to greater heights was evident in the pole vault. As the competition developed, the two main contenders Molly Caudery and Holly Bradshaw moved themselves clear of the field. Holly initially set a height of 4.61 metres, one that Molly had never achieved. Not only did Molly go on to reach that height, she then cleared 4.71 metres to win the competition. Sporting excellence at its best.
The Sunday night storms were even worse than Saturdays, as the lightning took out some of the power supplies to the services and for one person, it destroyed their laptop along with all the data stored on it. The 1500m winner, Neil Gourley, was unfortunate in not being unable to receive the applause from the crowd as it attempted to find the nearest refuge from the flood.
The common factor with the rain on both nights seemed to be the appearance of Steve Cram. As he went to present the medals, it appeared to be a signal for the skies to turn black and the heavens to open
“There is no way that was not going to happen” so declared Alastair Chalmers after he crossed the 400m winning line in first place. The determination and intensity he displayed prior to and throughout the race only subsided once he got to the gold medal position on the podium, when motion then flowed over his body.
If self-confidence is key part of success, then Zharnel Hughes will win many titles. He bagged the 200m title to add to his 100m one with a blistering display of speed. His time of 19.87s in the 200 metres would have been a British record, had it not been for the 2.3 m/s tailwind.
Unlike other team sports where the favourites inevitably will win because they have greater strength in depth, pitting athletes against each other does create raw emotion whereby the outcome is always in doubt. Over in the 1500m women’s final, Laura Muir appeared to be striding to victory when she moved to the front of the pack with around a lap to go. However, Katie Snowden displayed grit and determination along with perfect timing to steal past with a time of four minutes 9.86 seconds.
So the weekend event saw a smorgasbord of non-stop entertainment that culminated in 25 finals on the Sunday alone was eagerly lapped up by the ever supportive audience. Unlike other major sports such as football, where gaps between the crowd and participants are preferred, athletics enjoys the interaction and feedback with a crowd. This is particularly evidence after a final when winners will often greet friends and family with a hug or pose for a picture with their bauble around their neck, all done without the need for “security” to intervene and break things up.
The friendly games indeed