Ready, set … smile

‘Matt and Jimmy’s London 2012 blog’ is injecting much-needed humour into a sport that often takes itself far too seriously

Watkins-Thomas

Athletics doesn’t usually “do” comedy. Ultra-serious and stony-faced, the sport usually squashes any attempts at humour. In fact, the Bill Shankley quote about football being more important than life or death could easily be applied to track and field.

I first realised this in the late Nineties. Arriving at Athletics Weekly in pseudo-student mode and fresh from a stint at a trendy extreme sports magazine, I tried to inject some light-hearted banter into the magazine. It was met with furrowed brows and mild indifference.

In subsequent years, attempts to sneak a few jokes into AW have rarely been a success. It even once almost got me the sack when I printed a photo of athletes wearing comedy breasts at Liz Yelling’s hen night. Athletics, I’ve discovered, is no laughing matter.

Despite this, we haven’t totally given up. Our Dip Finish column offers a slice of irreverent, off-beat banter. At risk of being labelled “a comic”, we also use cartoons.

Elsewhere, @CharlesVComedy has also been a success since he (or she?) launched his spoof Twitter account last year. After all, the sport is ‘only’ running, jumping and throwing and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, should it?

Given this, it’s refreshing to see someone else brave enough to poke fun at the sport with a blog and video focusing on 800m runner Joe Thomas. The main protagonists, ex-athlete Jimmy Watkins, Thomas and record shop owner Matt Jarrett (pictured above left to right), have also got off to a flying start with bizarre antics that have to be seen to be believed.

Watkins, especially, is perhaps the most unconventional British athlete of the modern era. The 800m runner reached the World Indoor final in 2006, but his antics included whooping loudly on the start line, putting his spikes in different rooms the night before the race “so they’d be glad to see each other in the morning” and drawing a fake heart rate monitor on his body with a felt pen. “If it starts smudging with sweat, then I’m going too fast,” he explained.

Then, just when he seemed to be going somewhere, he quit athletics before the age of 30. While most athletes made reaching London 2012 their mission in life, Watkins focused on life as an alternative rock band musician. This weekend, for example, while Thomas competes in the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Watkins will be playing gigs in the United States with his band Strange News From Another Star.

Thomas and Watkins both share a love of music, they’ve been coached by the same man, Arwyn Davies, and of course the real catalyst to Matt and Jimmy’s London 2012 blog is the fact that Thomas recently beat Watkins’ Welsh indoor 800m record.

The video (below) sees the bearded Jarrett mingling with Thomas during a training session as they wait for Watkins to join them. But, in bizarre scenes, Watkins is seen lazing at home, drinking alcohol, eating cheap baked beans out of a can and wearing nothing but a pair of underpants, fluorescent Royal Mail bib and an old track medal.

Jarrett wears a GB athletics sweatshirt, a large straw hat and Watkins’ old Nike “lucky shorts” as he instructs Thomas to “turn left” during training when the athlete approaches each bend.

Despite the colourful language, it is sure to earn cult status. Who knows, Watkins and Jarrett could even be athletics’ answer to Reeves and Mortimer. If we give them a chance, that is.

» The March 15 issue of Athletics Weekly contains 12 pages of coverage from the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

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