Niels de Vos: Barcelona was wonderful but the whole sport is blossoming
Monday, 02 August 2010
Times, distances and heights are the very foundation of our sport and beyond that some would question the need for other stats in athletics and often I would agree.
But I was presented with some numbers this week that really gave me food for thought, signalling that British athletics is a sport with a very bright future.
The IAAF World Junior Championships were held last month in Canada and many of you may have read some of the extensive coverage on Jodie Williams (pictured) and her outstanding gold medal in the women’s 100 metres. But she wasn’t the only GB medallist in Monkton nor the only gold medallist, with Sophie Hitchon also a World Junior champion, winning the hammer in style with a superb final throw. In fact British athletics had its best world junior event for two decades or to use another stat, for the last ten editions of that event.
This, combined with a series of other results from last year, including our best ever World Championships since 1993, our best ever European under-23 and World under-18 showing, clearly demonstrates rising performances across the board in all disciplines as well as an increase in strength and depth as athletes move up the age groups.
So there were eight medals for the Aviva GB Junior team in Canada, that’s three more than in 2008 and 2006 and eight more than we achieved in 2004. But what we are trying to achieve in athletics goes beyond the medal tally, it’s about each athlete stepping up and performing beyond expectations and progressing at each and every major championship. We saw that this year, there were nine outstanding personal bests from some young and very talented athletes, across a range of events taking in running, jumping and throwing, all of which bodes well for the future of athletics.
Additionally beyond those eight medals a further seven athletes placed in the top eight . This is a particularly important statistic; once an athlete has made a final anything can happen. However we generally work off of a fifty percent conversion rate in finals with half of those in finals expecting to medal. So clearly the more finalists we have the more medals we have a chance of winning.
We have similar stats for our senior programme, that also demonstrate improvements, not just year on year, but Olympic cycle on Olympic cycle which is excellent news just two years out from London. But more about that on another day.
We have also revolutionised the way we support these young athletes and their coaches. Previously they would have been put on funding and become part of the World Class Performance Programme. Instead we now support the athlete coach pair directly, recognising that the needs of these young athletes are different to their senior counterparts and the hugely important role that their coach plays in nurturing their talent. The coach is supported as much as the athlete as it is clear both will play such a central role in the future of our sport.
The progression of the junior programme, led by our Head of Coaching and Development Kevin Tyler and former Olympian Jo Jennings is a crucial part of our 2012 legacy.
As the guardians of the sport in the UK we must strike a very fine balance between success and medals at our home Olympic Games in 2012 and ensuring we use this once in a lifetime opportunity to get the sport in the best shape possible to continue that success at 2016 and beyond.
So all things considered as I sit and write this from Barcelona on the morning of the penultimate day of European Championships where the Aviva GB team has won 11 medals after four days of competition, with, I’m sure more to come, the number one Olympic and Paralympic sport is faring well. Those green shots of recovery have started to blossom and the numbers show you how.
Niels de Vos in the chief executive of UK Athletics