Stuart Weir shares his thoughts on the success of the Great CityGames

I love the Great CityGames series. The events seem to bring together all that is best in our sport. At one level it is just like any other track and field meeting – you have races where the fastest on the day wins and a long-jump competition where the idea is to jump further than everyone else.

But the resemblance ends there. The track is not in a stadium but built on a street – in the case of Manchester this Friday (May 20), Deansgate.

That there are only four lanes adds intimacy. The fans are so much closer. With in-stadium field events, spectators are often on the other side of the stadium, 50 metres from the action. At the CityGames you can be within touching distance of the athletes.

That some races are over rarely-run distances – with 110m and 400m hurdlers, for example, doing battle over 200m hurdles – adds to the intrigue. I recall seeing Christine Ohuruogu beating some 800m specialists over 500m – would the outcome have been the same over 600m, I wondered?

The organisers always seem to get a high-quality field, with Usain Bolt a past winner at Manchester along with many other Olympic and world champions. Since his appointment as president of the IAAF, Seb Coe has spoken of the need to modernise athletics. Street athletics events are part of his strategy: “The Great CityGames is the perfect product to take athletics to new iconic venues and reach a new generation of fans. Wherever the location, it always delivers a huge impact.”

“The Great CityGames is the perfect product to take athletics to new iconic venues and reach a new generation of fans. Wherever the location, it always delivers a huge impact” – IAAF president Seb Coe

Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth long jump champion Greg Rutherford, who is among those competing in Manchester this weekend, is another who is a fan of the concept. He has said: “It’s a great way to showcase the sport, and they are great events. I hope there are more of these around the world, and I would happily do these all year round. You relax and have a good time, and I jump well when I do that.”

I asked several other world-class athletes for their thoughts on the event. European 100m hurdles champion Tiffany Porter told me: “This is so much fun, one of my favourite meets to run in. The crowd is amazing – you feel you can touch the fans. The pressure is low so you can come out and have a good time so it is fun to run with a different feel for a change. But we are competitors so we want to go out and compete but at the same time we are having fun.”

USA’s Olympic and world champion Allyson Felix, a frequent visitor to Manchester and Gateshead, is also very positive about the event. “It’s fun,” she said. “It’s different. You don’t get to do it all the time.

“It is more low key and you get to interact with the crowd more. I find it a nice change. It takes you back to when you’re were younger and running in the street – of course you didn’t have a track.”

Paralympic long jump silver medallist Stef Reid was once taken aback when asked for an autograph as she stepped out of the sand pit, but she is a big fan of this type of meet. “We want to give the message ‘athletics is fun, it’s accessible, get involved’,” she said.

“Sometimes I worry that there is so much pressure at world championships and Paralympics that when you look at athletes’ faces you would think this must be an awful experience, so I want to show people that athletics is fun.

“The primary aim is fun but don’t misunderstand me, it is still competitive and you want to win but the primary aim is entertainment. It takes me back to running as a kid in front of your house.”

“Sometimes I worry that there is so much pressure at world championships and Paralympics that when you look at athletes’ faces you would think this must be an awful experience, so I want to show people that athletics is fun” – Stef Reid

And about that autograph request? “I had never been asked during a competition before,” she admitted, “but I just thought it was appropriate.”

It is interesting how many of the same words and ideas come out in the all the quotes above: fun, entertainment, like when we were kids, fun but competitive, enjoying interaction with the fans. The combination of all these makes the event.

With USA’s world indoor 60m champion Trayvon Bromell taking on Britons Richard Kilty and  CJ Ujah in the men’s 100m and world champions Dafne Schippers and Tianna Bartoletta contesting the 100m, while Rutherford goes in the long jump, Friday’s Great CityGames action in Manchester will not lack excitement or class.

» Check out the May 19 edition of AW magazine when it hits newsstands for a look ahead to this weekend’s Great CityGames Manchester and Great Manchester Run action. Further details can be found at greatcitygames.org