Caster... a glimpse into her World..

Caster... a glimpse into her World..

It was horrible. For just a few seconds I had a small insight into what life must be like for Caster Semenya. She had just broken her own meeting record in California...won comfortably and clearly. One of my roles as in field host at Diamond League meetings is to interview the Athletes.


Immediately after the race, she approaches me with a big smile and we say hello, as we always do. I get the green light, to start my post race interview. Time is tight with a busy programme of events, so it was always only ever going to be one question.


Positioned infield in the Californian sunshine in front of 8,128 track and field fans at the temporary home of Prefontaine Classic at Stanford University, I ask her a straight forward performance related question, about being happy to lower her own meeting record. As soon as the last syllable left my mouth, one guy in the crowd close by, started to boo loudly.

In that University Stadium, there was only, silence from the crowd and his solitary boo, trying to drown out her voice.


Face to face with her looking at me there was one slight squint of an eye, but she continued to answer the question clearly and confidently. In that moment, I glimpsed, a twang of pain as the boo was heard. My heart hurt.


I have never experienced that before. The guy got told to shut up by many, but it was done, his boo was heard loud and clear. I thanked her at the end of her answer and instinctively leaned in to give her a hug. I couldn’t even tell you what I said in her ear. I remember most things but cannot recall the words I said to her in an attempt to ease her pain.


In that moment, human instincts took over and I felt so sorry for her. A full on front row seat into her life.


I have no problem separating my thinking on Caster Semenya.

I like her, I have done since we first met several years ago in the US. She is always friendly, polite and conducted herself, as she continues to do in my opinion, well. I feel sorry for her and totally get why she continues to fight. She is talented and believes her place is on the track and in the races she is invited to compete in.


I don’t agree with this and it’s up to the Sport to prove she shouldn’t be in those races.

Should she fight, yes. Do I understand her fighting, yes.

I genuinely admire her for that.

I believe sport should be chromosome based.

Male / Female and whatever else is needed.

We are learning all the time and adaptions have to be made.

A colleague said last night, ‘Why shouldn’t the guy boo? She is making a mockery of the sport and shouldn’t be in it.’


It’s complicated of course but just be kind, because we are all people. Different in many ways, but all people.


Discuss, decide, fight and disagree, but be kind.

It’s the last thing I thought of when I went to bed last night and the first thing I thought of this morning and still now before I head back to the UK.


It upsets me that people can be so mean and hurtful. Hold conversations, listen and learn. Do not boo someone for just being themselves. For being the way they were born and wanting to be the best they can be.


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Photo Credit: Matthew Quine


Behind the scenes with...Barbara Slater

An Olympic gymnast in Montreal 1976 and a part of the BBC since 1983, Barbara Slater became the first female BBC Director of Sport in 2009. I had a quick catch up with the woman who is clearly sport through and through…

Behind the scenes with...Gary Burgess

In my latest 'behind the scenes' post I wanted to get into the mind of one of the World's leading Netball umpires.

In a female dominated game Gary Burgess is a rare and very successful male umpire who, after leaving teaching 2 years ago, is now the Head of Officiating at England Netball.

In a great insight into his World we chatted about how he warms up his eyes, reads the rule book every day and he gives his opinion on whether Netball will ever get into the Olympic Games....as well as announcing he will be disappearing off the netball court next year.

 

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Behind the scenes with...Susie Verrill

The retirement of a top sports star is about more than just the life changes for the athlete.

In my first 'behind the scenes' post I went to meet the lovely Susie Verrill.

 

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Since when does winning a title not appeal?

The key event dates for the 2018 British Athletics season have been announced.

This includes the UK Indoor Championships, ahead of the World Indoor Championships coming back to Birmingham in March. ‘Athletes vying for British team selection are required to compete at this event, guaranteeing the highest quality fields and plenty of head to head rivalries.’

Also the outdoor British Championships on the 30 June -1 July. This date confirmation came with the statement that ‘competition is mandatory for those targeting British athletics placed for August’s European Championships, so you can ensure that all the top British athletes will be competing.’

My eyes opened wider on reading mandatory. “Required by law or mandate, compulsory”.

Athletes have always been expected to compete, but mandatory sounds like the ante has been upped.

Does this mean there will no longer be discretion for the sick or injured? Or for those choosing and getting permission to compete elsewhere?

This got me thinking. 

Why does winning a British title seem to have lost its appeal? Some athletes are having to have their arm twisted to potentially become a national champion.

There have been many battles over the years at our National Championships, brilliant competition, brilliant World class performances.

I will never forget the classic Men’s 400m of 1996. Roger Black winning in a UK record of 44.39s and Iwan Thomas coming third in 44.69s!

Only for Iwan to return a year later and grab the title and the UK record running 44.36s. A record which still stands today.

My coach Linford Christie won 15 medals from 1984–1996 including 8 titles over 100m. 9 if you count his 10.18s guest win in 1995! 

No male sprinter has crossed the finish line first more than Linford at our National Championships. (Or as I will always call them, the AAA’s!)

His fastest ever legal winning time was 10.04s in his final win in 1996, but Linford didn’t race at the National Championships for spectacular times. It was for the title, for the crowds. He loved becoming national champion and performing for the British public.

When I joined Linford to be coached at the end of 1997 I was already a National Championships believer. What I mean by this is that it was always part of my season. 

So when my year was mapped out, the first two events after the major Championships in that season were always the Europa Cup and the AAA’s.

Wearing a British vest was an honour, becoming National Champion, the best in Britain, was something special.

In 1991, at just 16, I won 200m silver, and achieved the sprint double in Sheffield 3 years later.

I am extremely proud to have won all three sprint titles. One of my favourite races ever was winning the 400m UK title on my home track in 1999.

The National Championships, the UK Championships, the British Championships, the AAA’s, whatever you call them, still mean a lot to me.

For some current athletes they don’t appear to care. I don’t understand it.

Some athletes appear to be scared to compete against each other, prepared to jeopardise their potential place at a major championships by not going head to head with their rivals. 

It’s bizarre as many are hoping to take on the rest of the World, but are fearful of those in their own back yard!

Is it that too many fear for their lottery funding if they don’t make the squad because of their performance at the Trials, and would rather leave their fate in the hands of the selectors?

Some, as always, just think they are bigger and better than they are.

With so much in the athletics calendar maybe this has diluted the athletes desire for a title. Some coaches play as many psychological games as athletes and guide their prodigies away from competing.

Growing up as a child in sport you want to represent your country. Why would put that at risk by not going through qualifying as you are suppose to? You want to compete and are gutted if you are ever left off a team, why put this in jeopardy?

Sport is 90% mental attitude and belief, so why you would not go to the qualifying event, when everyone is supposed to be on top of their game and beat your opponents, giving you that psychological edge? Do they not believe in themselves or is it their team that doesn’t believe in them?

I will never forget Linford saying every season. ‘Do not leave it in the hands of the selectors’.

In terms of this new more powerful ‘mandatory’ wording I feel little will change.

GB cannot afford to leave potential medalists and top 8 finishers at home. We don’t have the depth in the events to do it. 

Unless you say “sod it these are the rules. You have to compete.” Go hard core for the next 1 or 2 Olympic cycles with Tokyo and Paris and take the hit performance wise. Set a precedent that builds a new culture and the importance of the National Championships. Potential short term loss for long term gain. Just a thought.

But those with a confirmed illness or injury will get a exemption though, of this I am sure. 

Athletics fans understand that things happen and do have sympathy if a genuine injury or illness rules someone out. Many though don’t believe the withdrawal is always genuine, especially if an athlete is unable to compete at a National Championships, but 3 minutes later is seen to be competing elsewhere. It looks bad, because it is bad. 

Stay at home, please the crowds, face your domestic rivals and at least try to become a British champion.

If you are injured then attend the Championships, show your support, accept media requests, infield chats, athletics fans always like to hear from the athletes.

Some athletes though will always find a reason around every rule that could potentially be put in place.

Build more interaction around those not competing on that weekend. This is a different topic with a hundred ideas!

The attendance over the last few years at our National Championships has been poor. I remember them being packed, people bringing picnics and sitting in the sun fighting for space long before the back straight stand was built at Alexander Stadium. 

Here in the UK there were big tickets sales throughout last summer at our events, just not at the National Championships. 

Some big names missing, that’s a bummer....it’s a harder sell when they aren’t there. Even more so when they retire!

It’s tough for our sport as we do need to protect our main contenders for the Championships. The Federation has to have exemptions in place, unless you go for the above mentioned “sod it” route! In years gone by you could get away with missing one or two big names, there were many big names to choose from. Not now. 

The National Championships used to be surrounded by tension and anticipation. We need to get the fans back, and all our athletes there, especially as a lot of elements of the event delivery have improved.

A great start would be getting the desire of some of the athletes to become a National Champion.

More than ever our Athletes have a responsibility to the sport. Show that it means something to you.  If you don’t care then why should sponsors and fans. 

 

 

 

A catch up with Kelly Sotherton

A successful athlete now Kelly Sotherton wants to take the World by storm off the track. Coach to Jazmin Sawyers, Katie Stainton and Morgan Lake, I sat down with her and we chatted.....why, how and can a female coach ever get the respect she is due?

"I'm no longer an Athlete, I'm a peer, I'm on your level now, so treat me the same. I'm no longer the opinionated Kelly Sotherton heptathlete, I'm now the opinionated, Kelly Sotherton the coach".

 

Surely the time has come?

Following Andy Murray winning his 3rd BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, the next big debating topic will be the 2016 New Year’s Honours list.
 
The criteria for the highest honour in the Order of the British Empire an individual can receive is simple. A major, long term contribution in any activity, usually at national or international level.
 
For men they are bestowed with Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, KBE. Sir may sit before their name. For Women it's Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. DBE. Dame slots at the front of their name.
 
So who awards the deserving? It's the not the Queen, she does the fun bit with the sword.
The Cabinet office is supplied with all relevant details of the nominees achievements. The sports honours committee then decides who is worthy of all honours including Knighthoods. You can't  nominate someone for a specific honour, the committee decide this. The list is then passed to the Prime Minster who presents it to the Queen. She shines her sword and the inductees are ready to be welcomed in.
 
So the question after another superb year is whether Mo Farah and Andy Murray will become Sir Mo and Sir Andy?
Will their two names be on the list that Theresa May passes to the Queen?
 
I asked this question on twitter and a resounding 71% agreed both should.
 
Some though said both were too young and it should be an honour bestowed once retired.
Some raised concerns with the weight of expectation that would fall on their shoulders and recent allegations of doping for Farah were reasons to hold fire, but universally all agreed at some point both are worthy.
 
I think they should both be honoured now.

As mentioned some feel it is an honour that should be granted when the sportsperson has  concluded a wonderful career, but history shows us this hasn't always been the case.
Alf Ramsey became a Sir in 1967, just one year after England had won the World Cup under his management and as recently as 2012 the three athletes awarded from active sport were not retired and still aren't!
 
I feel you should give it when it's due, for the athlete to enjoy it and inspire others with.
God forbid a deserving athlete doesn't reach the end of their career and never gets to enjoy or inspire with the title. Morbid maybe, but it could happen.
 
There is no consistency with the honours and the awarding system has changed massively in recent years.
British sport has been excelling and therefore making many more candidates an option. Not a problem, great to have! But the general opinion is honours now seem easier to come by than before. Not a problem if deserving but this does then make it harder to be consistent as the Queen doesn't want to be swinging her sword constantly and watering down her honours, especially the biggest one.
 
There are many variations in age and timescales of when the honour is awarded, but in total well over 50 British based stars have received the top honour.
The household names include Sir Henry Cooper, Sir Jackie Stewart, Dame Ellen MacArthur (who was the youngest ever to receive a dame hood at 28) and recently jockey Sir Tony McCoy (A.P.McCoy). After the brilliant London Olympic and Paralympic Games the three athletes given the biggest honour whilst all still active in their sports were Sir Bradley Wiggins 32 and 35 year olds Sir Ben Ainslie and Dame Sarah Storey. Not exactly old were they!
 
I looked closer at Athletics and Tennis in the Sir/Dame stakes.
 
Athletics has had 6 British based athletes knighted. Familiar names of Sir Roger Bannister in 1975, Dame Mary Peters in 2000 and Dame Tanni Grey Thompson in 2005 are on the list.  
 
On one hand Sir Roger Bannister, most famously credited with the first sub 4 minute mile in 1954, had to wait until 1975 for his top honour, whereas Kelly Holmes, who was made an MBE in 1998 for her services to the British Army, was upgraded to Dame Kelly in 2005, a year after her brilliant Athens Olympic 800m/1500m double. Received in the year she retired.
 
Athletics has had many stars but Farah shines above them all, and if you follow the precedent set most recently in Athletics with Kelly Holmes damehood then it's time that 33 year old Mo Farah's CBE is upgraded.
He won double gold in his own back yard in 2012 over 5,000m and 10,000m. A feat he repeated in Rio this year, to become only the 2nd man ever to do the double double in these two events. He also achieved the same feat at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. 8 gold medals. Not only has the World thrown the kitchen sink at Farah in terms of tactics to try and beat him, he has also faced varying opposition from the African nations over that time too, and beat them all.
 
Just this Holmes V Farah comparison means Farah is long overdue his three letter upgrade.
 
Tennis is a very lonely club, Aussie Sir Norman Brooke's was knighted in 1939. The 5ft 11 Aussie was a left hander who won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open.
 
British tennis players in recent times have consisted of Jeremy Bates, highest World ranking of 54. Tim Henman OBE moved British tennis on and Murray has now taken it to a level many tennis fans could only have dreamt about. New territory. Double Olympic Gold, Grand Slams wins including 2 Wimbledon titles and now World Number one. For sporting achievements and for progressing his sport here in the UK, 29 year old Andy Murray OBE is deserving of a KBE.
But Andy Murray says he doesn't want it yet, he feels too young. This could maybe mean a couple of canny conversations behind the scenes so it isn't awarded and not accepted, like several have done from the non sporting world in the past like David Bowie or Vanessa Redgrave.
It would add extra pressure, he may have more to come in his career. All these points I take on board, but when simply comparing like for like with other honoured athletes Farah and Murray should be dropping to their knees and getting that special tap of a sword on their shoulders.
 
Of course everyone has an opinion on those who are deserving and still waiting for possible inclusion into the top club including Chris Froome, Jonnie Wilkinson, Katherine Grainger and calls this year by Andy Murray himself for his Mum Judy to be rewarded with something for her continued grassroots work and of course the mentoring work with her sons and Leon Smith OBE.
 
Maybe the greatest example for my belief of honouring when current and hot is through the case of the late football legend Bobby Moore. Who died in 1993 aged just 51.
 
Harry Redknapp played with the World Cup winning star at West Ham and summed it up..... "No disrespect to other footballers who got knighthoods, but no one deserved a knighthood more the Bobby Moore'.
 
Many, including his wife, have again this year, 50 years on from the famous 1966 win, called for a change in the rules and Moore to be awarded a posthumous knighthood.
 
What a pity it was not given when due and deserved for himself and his family to enjoy.
 
Not surprisingly Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst were knighted after Bobby Moore died. Charlton just a year later. So at least two legends won't pass without being able to celebrate the highest honour that they deserve.
 
Let's not wait any longer to applaud and show appreciation to two of the best that Great Britain have ever had.
 
 
 
 
 

Caster Semenya

On Saturday 20th August at approx 2117 we could have a double Olympic Champion.
An athlete achieving what no woman has ever done before.
Olympic history could be made by a woman taking Olympic gold in both the 400m and 800m. 
The only athlete to come close to this achievement was Britain’s Ann Packer in 1964. Gold in the 800m and silver in the 400m.
If achieved the headlines won't celebrate this achievement it will focus on whether South Africa's Caster Semenya should be the Women's 400m and 800m Olympic Champion.

I write these thoughts not as a Doctor, scientist or anything of medical standing.
I write to give my opinion as a former World class female athlete.

Before 2009 I knew as much about Intersex athletes as I did about building a car from scratch. 

An intersex individual is simply someone born with sex characteristics that do not allow them to be defined as distinctly male or female.

Watching first hand an 18 year old Caster Semenya blow away the field in the 2009 World Championships 800m final in Berlin was amazing. She was amazing. A truly powerful win.
 
My mind in the stadium that night was immediately taken back to my Junior days and to a former team mate and rival Diane Smith.

1990. The World Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. My first World Juniors aged 15.
Golds for John Galfione of France in the Pole Vault, Yugoslavia’s Dragutin Topic won the High Jump in a World Junior Record of 2m37 and for me? I ran in the 100m final and on the last leg of the 4 x 100m relay where we won a silver. Annabel Soper, Diane Smith, Donna Fraser and me. 44.16s. A cracking little team!
There was only one gold medal for the British Team at that Championships. Diane Smith in the 200m. A Championship Record of 23.10s. The mumblings through out the Championships though were about Diane's physique. I remember it like it was yesterday, not 26 years ago.
Diane was lovely and a big but friendly rival at the time. She had burst onto the scene in 1989 winning the 200m at the English Schools in Wigan in 24.0s, then a year later was World Junior Champion.
Her appearance led to a lot of whispering as Diane was broad shoulder, flat chested with some facial hair. 
The talk was rife as to her gender….I felt so sorry for Diane. All she was doing was enjoying her running. Rumours of tests followed… whispers of hormone medication followed … and I never raced her again.
I remember following that year of 1990 she fleetingly came back to compete, but to no great acclaim.

So when Caster Semenya took gold in Berlin seconds ahead of her rivals, all the rumours that had already started in the build up to the final, exploded. Here we go again I thought.

What followed with Caster Semenya post Berlin is well documented.
Gender tests and hungry press. Rumours with those questioning her status as a female.

I genuinely felt so sorry for her in Berlin and the immediate time following those Championships. Let down by those around her. Treated IMO appalling.
Pierre Weiss IAAF Secretary General at the time “ It is clear she is a woman – but maybe not 100%”. 
The then IAAF President Lamine Diack  “She could have been treated better”. 
The full results of the testing supposedly confirmed she had no womb or ovaries and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone. This information stated by several press sources.

Eventually more testing was carried out by the IAAF.
Previous ‘gender tests’ included nude parades in the 1960’s, but then chromosome based tests with a cheek swabs were introduced in the late 1960s. I had this done once in 1989 at 14 when attending the European Juniors in the former Yugoslavia. 
‘Gender tests’ were abolished by the IAAF in the early/mid nineties..only then done if suspicion of gender was raised. 
Suspicion was raised in 2009 with Caster Semenya so testing was done on female athletes at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships and with females who had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a criteria was put in place that the upper limit of testosterone in female athletes mustn't pass 10 nmol/L to compete as a female. 99% of athletes in their testing were below a level of 3.08. The limit was put in place so technically only those who are doping or who are intersex will surpass this. 
Females athletes with raised Testosterone levels were put on Testosterone suppressing medication to bring the levels back in line with other female athletes, to make it fair. 

Caster Semenya was one. Her results softened….BUT she was still good enough to win silver in the 2011 World Championships and silver in London behind Mariya Savinova, who is currently in the thick of the Russian doping storm.

Last year, she failed to advance beyond the semi-finals in Beijing, and didn't even make the team for the preceding year’s Commonwealth Games.

Many were surprised in July last year as Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who was due to race in the 2014 Commonwealth Games but was excluded for high Testosterone levels, fought her exclusion on these grounds. She took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and won.
The rules on upper levels of Testosterone were suspended and female athletes were allowed to stop taking medication to lower it.
There was ‘Insufficient evidence for performance benefit’ .
The IAAF have 2 years from that ruling last year to make a better case or CAS will abolish these rules completely.

So since last summer, for female athletes who this ruling applies to, they have been medication free with their natural levels of testosterone.

Caster Semenya won the South African Championships this season doing the treble in the 400m, 800m and 1500m. All in the same afternoon. Looking very easy and controlled doing it.

In Monaco recently Semenya looked in control and within herself running a personal best and national record of 1m 55.33s.

Having watched that race it seems only a matter of time until the long standing World Record of Jamila Kratochvilova, being 1m 53.28 is taken. 
She has a personal best this year over 400m of 50.74s and says she will probably double in Rio over the 400m and 800m.
2 golds are very likely in my opinion.

So where do I stand?

I am sure over my athletic career I raced against athletes who fall in this category. My friend and teammate Diane Smith back in 1990 maybe. Indeed, I am sure now in my broadcasting and commentating role I speak of several female athletes who are in the same position as Caster Semenya.

Here is the bottom line.

Just because a situation is deemed awkward, uncomfortable and with some people being unsure of how to deal with it, doesn't mean is shouldn't be handled properly and potentially ignored. Hoping the athletes involved go away sooner rather than later.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Pinki Pramanik, Maria Patino, Stella Walsh…names over the years that are now well documented having had Intersex issues, in times when people wanted them brushed under the carpet. In many cases they were.

If I were still competing and lining up against an athlete who I believed had this advantage, I would be frustrated. Frustrated for myself and the athlete involved. Also I would have been tired of always having to answer questions about it. None of which would have been my fault or their’s.

How ever people live their lives is their business, whatever social context they do this in is acceptable to me….

BUT when it comes to sport, elevated testosterone levels in females has to be unacceptable.
Sport therefore need some rules and some effective policies governing intersex athletes. Currently there are none.

When Caster Semenya wins the 800m in Rio…Drama…and then when she probably backs it up with 400m gold beating Allyson Felix and others there will be more drama.
We will revisit the issue that was first awoken in 2009….but bigger. 
Once again through no fault of her own she will be the talk of the town.

This may not be as big an issue to the IAAF as doping at the moment, as it only involves one high profile current athlete, but a finger needs to be pulled out.
If this decision is eventually reversed back by CAS with sufficient evidence from the IAAF next year,  then that's a lot of heartache and potentially re shuffling of medal positions that could have been avoided…let alone the continued distress to all the athletes involved….BUT tbf to the IAAF on this one,  they had what they and many think is fair in place. The Court of Arbitration for Sport took it away and now are asking them to prove that restrictions should be in place at all.

 

Fluff or no fluff?

 

I decided to write this blog after seeing a tweet about the recent Nike Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting where someone stated how successful and great the meeting was...as unlike other meets, including those in the UK, there wasn't any music or a flame to be seen.

As I work on both meetings this got me thinking.

What makes a sporting spectacle a success?

Does it really just rely on the pure performance of the Athletes or does it in 2016 need some sparkle?

I sit and stand, literally, in a very unique position. 
After a long career and having reached an Olympic podium and being on one side of the track, I now have the pleasure of working on a variety of sports in various roles on the other less physically tiring side.  From being an infield host for UK and USA athletics events, a stadium and TV commentator in various sports and a TV and radio presenter. I have been doing a combination of all these roles, Athlete and broadcaster for over 30 years, therefore my insight is unique.

I have heard many things over the last few years as the entertainment element of Athletics has increased, including the consistent grumblings of a few who do not like the new innovations. 
Too much music, too much fancy stuff like flames and smoke....”just let us watch the Athletics” is what some say.

Sport has to move on, Athletics has to battle the rise in popularity of others sports, who do fancy things.  Giving the paying public more, hoping they keep their interest so they come back again, a full on sporting experience. This seems to be the theme.

What happens is one sport raises its game, others have to follow to keep up, sports battle for fans and the level of expectation of paying punters has risen. 

Let's look at recent events. 
The FA Cup final put on a pre show. Jazzed it up, bought in some dancing, a stage and a popular singer to belt out a tune.
But most TV shots showed fans with faces like, what the hell is this...
From my Twitter timeline and speaking to people who were there it was universally panned.
Just show the bloody football match was the general vibe.
Of course some would have enjoyed it and we all understand the demands of sponsors and air time, but it did seem like they were trying too hard and it was all a bit American. "It's not the flippin' Super Bowl" said some.

I feel now some sports try too hard and as a mother with two children I totally get the family entertainment angle, but some sports do drag the backside out of a sporting event.

When sports do drag it out then it has to be filled with stuff...keep people entertained, give them a little extra, there is nothing wrong with that, and in the right setting it is okay.... and the older generation, who are normally the ones that moan, as they harp back to days gone by, have to understand it isn't then it's now and the general public expect more.

I am proud to have been a part of the British Athletics presentation team for many years...from when we did nothing but say hello, set up a few field events and do interviews. To now requesting tweets for the big screen, encouraging fans selfies for the screen, flames, music...what many call building the experience.
I like what we do. Some things on the full running order of the meeting I would change, but people around the world follow us...because here it works.

But then, I am also proud to be part of the Nike Prefontaine Classic. This year was my 8th year.
My role there is different, I do things in Eugene that I don't do anywhere else.
I have two roles. I build, script and voice live preview VT's to inform the fans exactly what events and big names they will be seeing each Diamond League day.
It's 4 weeks in the making back in the UK battling the 8 hour time difference with my colleagues at USA T&F who do the logistics off my running order of each event, for the athletes I want, in the order I want. One 4 minute VT for Distance Night on the Friday and one 12 minute VT for the Saturday, both voiced live.

Once delivered and well received, the gun fires and we have non stop Athletics with just my interviews. This year just on the Saturday a VT was delivered, 16 athletes were interviewed and 18 events were staged. The only extra was an introduction of legends who were present.

Nothing else. No music, no flames, no smoke, simply Athletics and 3 voices. One infield, two commentators upstairs and the only extra sounds were that of the enthusiastic knowledgable crowd and the voices of the athletes I chat too.

It works, it works perfectly. 
The crowd leave happy and thrilled with what they have seen.

But this isn't the norm for US sports where the general theme is razzmatazz.

Eugene is different. It is a crowd of 22,000 over a night and day of action that are steeped in history with Steve Prefontaine and the birth of Nike who seem to enjoy straight forward Track and Field. 
Where as in other parts of the US there are smaller track and field meetings with a bit more of 'a show'.

Some of the innovations at the Portland World Indoors in March, up the road from Eugene, were well received by some, but left some baffled.
You have to know your audience. What would work and what wouldn't. 
What works in one part of the world doesn't in another. Knowing the Pre Classic crowd well some of the British stuff would go down like a cup of sick. Not just with a few, but most!
I am confident I would hear from my infield position...
'What the heck is this?' 'Just show us the God damn Track and Field'. Which can be heard from a few in the UK too...but at Pre Classic it would be from a far bigger percentage of the crowd in my opinion.

Their meet is non stop and packed. A photographer this year complained to me about the packed nature of the field events and how it was impossible for him to get his pictures of all the athletes he wanted as he couldn't be everywhere. 
The Saturday event from the first word spoken to the last was under 3 hours. 18 events including 4 field events later, it's done. 

In my experience most Athletics fans just want the action and to hear from their favourite athletes, any insight they can get they enjoy. It brings the fans closer, they like it and I have genuinely never heard anyone say, you are talking to the Athletes too much.

Maybe changes will eventually be made at Prefontaine, but I hope they are smart ones.

Let's not forget what the athletes think.
The World Relays in the Bahamas is a big success with the fancy intro of athletes down a ramp and though a curtain with some smoke...in general Athletes enjoy it and it looks great. A top advert for the sport.  In terms of one element, the music, for me it's like being a commentator and knowing when to speak and not...timing is everything and some love it, some don't....

Ask Renaud Lavillenie when he had the whole Arena to himself in Portland recently and asked for the music to be turned down, then asked the announcer to stop talking too...a time and a place for everything. He was attempting a new World record. 

Which leads me to my conclusion. 
Sport will always by driven by the standard of the performance.
Making the crowds experience of a live sporting event the best it can so they come back again...especially if it is their first experience, is important. 
This can be a tough task if the demographic of your audience ranges dramatically from 10 year Johnny who you want to inspire and come back to 70 year Larry who thinks everything outside of one male commentator and the competition is unacceptable.
It's not easy but then on the other hand it isn't rocket science.

Know your audience and remember where you are in the world.

For those that don't like change, tough it is here. Embrace it and realise it's 2016 and just hope that when changes are made it is done the right way to enhance a sporting event.

Oh...and it is also good to remember that you can please some of the people some of the time...but not all of the people all of the time!

 

Hello World...

Well hello...after many years of being told I need my own website I have finally got around to doing it.

It gives me chance to share my work, my love of life and in particular my love of sport.

Never short of an opinion, I am looking forward to writing my blog on topics that I am passionate about.

A website that keeps you up to speed with my work and busy life travelling the World doing all the different roles I love....all of which involve talking! 😀