Return of the Track: London 2017 and the legacy of 2012.

Hello everybody.

I know that you would have assumed that either I had given up on this challenge or that I had met an untimely end whilst trying to mount a horse or something but alas! I return with a renewed sense of vigour and perspective, especially so after now having the appreciation of what a true challenge really means.

Yes, I am indeed talking about fatherhood people. Young Watson Jr. came into the world after a bit of a delay in the starting blocks, therefore missing the deadline I set for him a while back, but I admire his laid-back attitude and his realisation that life is indeed a marathon and not a sprint.

My point is, that the previous boundless optimism that was flagrantly bouncing around my January 2017 plan of sporting participation has been proven to be, unsurprisingly, wildly misplaced. Remember when Tom & Jerry used to race around and then Tom gets smacked in the face by a frying pan? Maybe that’s a bit of a dated, niche reference, but it adequately describes the impact of a little baby on your life plans! I wouldn’t change anything for the world though, but it has caused me to wonder about continuing with what I am doing here.

I still think that the mission of this blog and the challenge is a worthwhile one. People still need to be more active, the north east still needs the spotlight shining upon its’ sporting facilities (or lack thereof) and I’m sure that there are many people’s stories to tell along the way.

So the new plan will be formulated over the next few months, but for certain I will be restarting my travails with a coast-to-coast Grand Tour cycling ride in September. More on that, and the massive importance of it to so many people in the coming weeks.

For now, the rest of this blog will preview the World Athletics Championships that begin in London this weekend. I will be attending the Wednesday evening session myself so I hope to have some live footage to be able to bring you from the venue itself. I am hoping that maybe something I see there will inspire me to formulate my own athletics challenge for the blog, maybe to work towards for next summer.

This IAAF world championships was actually a key tenant of the London 2012 “legacy”.  Time and again we were told that one of the main benefits that the London bid team provided in their bid to the IOC was the power of the legacy. Central to that was the continued use of the facilities created to host the games. The swimming pool and diving facilities are continuing to be used as a swimming venue, now named the “Pool of Champions” and is the home of the 2012 London Legacy. Around it we have seen the Olympic Park transformed into the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park with all of the facilities open to the public to use around the clock.  Housing and employment are both to be increased in future plans and the park is a popular destination for visitors from London, the UK and abroad.

olympic park

Of course, it hasn’t been without it’s controversy. The Olympic Stadium (now currently called the London Stadium, waiting for a lucrative, currently unpalatable, sponsorship deal perhaps?) is now the home of Premier League football club West Ham United, after a protracted battle that no-one seems happy with; other than the owners of West Ham United, especially as the tax-payer ended up footing the bill for a substantial amount of it. For a quick precis of the controversial series of events that led to this happening have a little read of this excellent article from The Guardian.

London 2012 Olympic Stadium from air

This all came about because of the promise that Lord Coe made in the bidding process to the IOC that the stadium would remain a venue for athletics long after the Games had left, and subsequently secured the 2017 IAAF World Championships on the back of this promise. So here we are, with those very games about to commence this evening, so, has the 2012 legacy had any impact on sport in this country, and if so, can we see any of it reflected in the action of the next 10 days in London?

As you might expect, it is very difficult to provide a consensus on something as wide ranging and tenuous as a legacy. Although targets were set in the planning of the 2012 legacy, the measure of their success is often defined differently by different people. There were five areas that the committee looked to improve on a sustainable basis post-Olympics; Sport & Healthy Living, Regeneration of East London, Economic Growth, Bringing Communities Together and the Legacy from the Paralympics. If you were to believe the Government (and who does?) then the executive summary of the most recent annual report on the London 2012 legacy makes for very positive reading.

The team that we bring to the IAAF World Championships actually has very few survivors from that incredible programme 5 years ago. Mo Farah and Robbie Grabarz are the only surviving medallists in the team, which means that there are more athletes who either worked or volunteered at the Olympic Stadium in 2012 than were successful there! And I suppose that that in itself is a positive for the legacy, some people really were that inspired by seeing what could be in front of them that they went back into training with the required focus and dedication towards excellence and have been successful enough to make it back to the stadium wearing the kit instead of carrying it.

The problem that I can see is that we haven’t managed to really replace those athletes that will be missing. Farah is our only real shot at gold in the championships, with everyone else either battling it out for minor medals or final places.  The target has been set at 6-8 podiums which seems a very tall order without the retired Ennis-Hill, the injured Greg Rutherford and the general lack of depth in our 400m running for potential relay medals.

Of course, this is a home championships and so it will be hoped that the home support will be able to lift some of our prospects into medallists. The crowds will not let us down, all of the evening sessions are expected to be sell-outs or close to that, and I’m sure that the morning sessions will be much better supported than they often are at the championships. I’m hesitant to praise this attendance as a legacy of 2012 because the British public have always been excellent at supporting major events on home soil, but I know from personal experience (having been keen to get tickets myself) that there is an extra frisson of excitement about going down to the Olympic Park and recreating that special atmosphere.

The fact is that we have a young team at this set of World Championships, which is often the case at the first major event of the new Olympic cycle, and though the legacy of 2012 may not be leading us to glory at this games I hope that being part of this experience brings on the likes of Reece Prescod, CJ Ujah, Dina Asher-Smith, Elliot Giles, Jake Wightman, Andrew Butchart and Morgan Lake, who all have the ability to medal in major events moving forward.  I also hope that the coverage that is about to get underway across the BBC serves to inspire one or two people to get down to their local tracks and exercise, you don’t have to be a world beater, clubs are always looking for new blood, if only for the social aspect! Check out the club finder on the England Athletics website for more info.

For those of you not sure about where to focus your attention in the programme of events, here are the highlights that I think you should be tuning in for (or catching up with if you are a social butterfly…):

Friday 3rd, 21:20. Mo Farah on the first leg of a potentially historic World Championships treble double having won both the 5k and 10k in 2013 and 2015. Hard to see where the challenge will come from, but I’m sure the Kenyans will have some kind of plan for him.

Saturday 4th, 21:45. Usain Bolt. Need I say more? Ok, I will. The 100 metres is always the blue riband event but this is (supposedly) the great man’s final individual race in a championships. The roar will be incredible…I think he is slightly vulnerable, but at the same time I don’t believe that the rest of the field truly believe that they can beat him.

Monday 6th, 20:25 onwards. Men’s Triple Jump, very few events at this championships have a potential to see a new world record but I believe this may be one. Christian Taylor has been over 18 metres on multiple occasions recently and is being pushed by Pichardo of Cuba (himself over 18m) and his team-mate Will Claye (PB this year of close to 18m). The fast track in London may finally help see Jonathan Edwards’ 18.29m from 1995 go.

Monday 6th, 21:50. Women’s 1500m final. Possibly one of the most open races in the programme. Laura Muir goes here for Britain but a wildcard has been thrown in by Caster Semenya deciding to double up. Championship races are often tactical affairs so could play into an 800m champion’s hands.

Tuesday 8th, 21:50. Another potential world record could be seen in the Men’s 400m with current holder (from Rio 2016) Wayde van Niekerk being pushed by a couple of people. Whatever happens we need to start looking towards WvN as someone who can shoulder the burden of the post-Bolt era.

For those of you looking for a tip…Hellen Obiri is available at 6/4 with SkyBet to win the 5000m, I think that looks good value.

Watch it, then get out and try it!

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