London 2017 co-chair Ed Warner puts this year’s massive summer of athletics into perspective
If you want an idea of the size of the challenge facing organisers of London 2017, the Olympic Stadium will stage a football season’s worth of athletics in a mere five-week spell later this year. It is a prospect that is sure to keep the team on its toes as they approach what is sure to be a memorable summer of athletics.
“We’ve got 22 days of international athletics (this summer),” says Ed Warner, the chair of UK Athletics and co-chair of London 2017. “We have 11 days of the IPC Athletics Championships and 10 of IAAF Championships plus one day of Diamond League. That’s a football season’s worth of sport.
“West Ham will play 22-25 games at home through a whole season from August until May. We’ve got that squashed into a much smaller period. And the turnaround time from Diamond League to IPC Championships is a few days and then two weeks before the IAAF Championships.”
The Müller Anniversary Games on July 9 is effectively staged by the same federation-led local organising committee, while the World Para Athletics Championships (formerly known as the IPC Championships) run from July 14-23 and the IAAF Championships from August 4-13, but the athletics takeover of the Olympic Park really begins on July 2 with the Great Newham London Run.
As readers of the November 17 London 2017 special issue of AW magazine will realise, Warner was instrumental in bringing these global championships to the UK and he describes the 2011 bid victory over Doha to stage the IAAF World Championships as his proudest moment in a UKA chairmanship which is due to end late this year.
“We have two championships next summer but the IAAF event we want 700,000 people walking away from the stadium with great memories of great sport and if you can secure that in your own city in the home country then it makes you very proud, there’s no doubt about it,” he says.
“The sport likes to come to Britain as it gets well received. It loves that fan engagement”
“British Athletics has a 100% record during my chairmanship of winning bids. Everything we have bid for, we have won. We win the pitches. Look what we have coming up – we have a World Indoors and European Indoors, we’ve had European Team Champs here, a World Cross, European Indoors. We go in and win them partly because we know what we’re doing in putting the events on but we also win them because of British fans, I believe.
“The sport likes to come to Britain as it gets well received. It loves that fan engagement. And that’s a real ace up our sleeves. We are also well supported by UK Sport, who want to see major events come to the UK, so we can go to them for some funding and logistical support. Other countries don’t have that and Britain is quite lucky to have a Government wanting to have major events coming here, whether it’s for athletics, swimming, cycling or gymnastics.”
Warner is also excited by the World Para Athletics Championships being staged in the same city – London – in the same year for the first time. As chairman of the World Para Athletics technical committee, he was out in Rio for the Paralympics but not the Olympics and is keen to see this part of the sport shine in the spotlight.
“It’s massive for the IPC Championships because the glow of being part of a summer of athletics is really important. We’ve heard para-athletes down the years complaining about lack of opportunities versus their able-bodied counterparts and lack of publicity but the summer of athletics will give equal prominence to the two championships, which is fantastic. It’s a first for London and a first for the world as well as the fact that these two championships have never been in the same city let alone the same country in the same year.”
Will it set a trend with future bid cities wanting to hold both global events in the same summer? “I hope so,” he says. “I think it should do. The Rio engagement with the athletes was fantastic and the crowd atmosphere was brilliant and we’ll get that again in London.”
A few weeks before the Paralympics, it was being billed as a disaster waiting to happen due to lack of money and resources. But Warner says it was nowhere near disastrous. “The sun shone in the way that it didn’t during the Olympics,” he says. “The transport flowed more effectively because they didn’t have all the Olympic lanes clogging up the city. People were happy. They got to the stadium and competed in front of a crowd and got great feedback from that crowd.”
With stars like Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockroft and Libby Clegg ready to perform, he adds: “One of the things I’m confident about next year is that people who get a ticket for the IPC Championships next year will see great sport. And they maybe don’t realise that quite yet but they will.”
“It’s a first for London and a first for the world as well as the fact that these two championships have never been in the same city let alone the same country in the same year”
But what about British medal hopes at the IAAF World Championships? With Jess Ennis-Hill retiring and Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford not getting any younger, where are the podium places coming from and are GB hopes slim?
“I think you could have said that eight years ago in the UK,” he replies. “Back then you couldn’t have had Greg Rutherford nailed on as a twin Olympic medallist. Eight years ago you wouldn’t have thought Mo Farah was going to win all these Olympic and world titles.
“I think there’s more than enough young stars coming through and a lot of it is very exciting. Look at Laura Muir. In the great summer of British sport that we had, the average person on the street won’t have heard of Laura and won’t recognise that she broke Kelly Holmes’ British 1500m record and then did it again. She smashed it. That woman has an amazing future if herself and her coach can keep it together and do the things they’ve been doing. If Laura Muir wins a medal next year, that will be a great story. She wasn’t on people’s radars four to eight years ago.”
Warner cites the women’s long jump as an example of British athletes emerging as a force. “Look how many world-class contenders we have got in an incredibly difficult event where you have to jump seven metres to win a medal and we’ve got people who can do that.
“Also, look at the women’s high jump, which is coming on. And it helps that our relay programmes are kicking. We’re still gutted we didn’t win three or even four medals in Rio in the relays. In every major championships we should be in the mix in at least three of four relays. And if you can win three medals in the relays then that’s a great contribution to great British memories and creating British stars as there are four in each team.
“I think there’s lots to be excited about,” he says, adding: “I think what people sometimes forget in athletics when they compare it with, say, cycling is that they would expect every event in the cycling velodrome to have a competitive British athlete but there aren’t that many nations who take track cycling too seriously as it’s expensive and you require a velodrome and people prefer road cycling. Athletics is 200 nations in 47 disciplines and no one, except for America, is strong across all events.
“So you have Jamaican sprinters and Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners and Britain has some real pockets of strength. Russia aside when they are there we are unambiguously the strongest European nation and that’s quite an accolade in our sport and it’s quite easy to forget that.”
British athletes won two golds, one silver and four bronze medals at the Rio Olympics but only three countries – the United States, Jamaica and Kenya – won more than two golds, which illustrates the tough nature of global track and field.
“I have every hope (this year) that we win medals through the week (at the IAAF Championships) and end up with a bunch of relay medals on the final weekend and we can walk away saying ‘it’s never been that good’.
“It could happen if Mo stays fit, while Katarina (Johnson-Thompson) will get it right one day and it’ll all come together – I have no doubt of that and if it’s in London next year it will be sensational.”