It doesn’t really need to be said, but it’s a very challenging time at the minute for Athletics, as it is for pretty much every aspect of our lives. I’d say these last 6 weeks have been the toughest since we first locked down 11 months ago. Here’s why.
I used to be a massive football fan. I’d go along and support my team, buy the shirts, idolise the star players. However, no much how much I put into it, nothing I could do would have an influence on the success or failure of my beloved team. Occasionally you might get a hastily given autograph if you were lucky, but that was as close as we ever got. Athletics is different. It’s the most fantastically accessible sport, and we have so much control and ability to shape our athletics journey.
Thinking back a year ago, we would train wherever and whenever we wanted, with fantastic access to facilities. Often, we would train alongside elite athletes including Olympians, as well as training next to clubmates and friends. On a Friday we would watch those stars at Diamond League on TV, and then on Saturday we would go and replicate our heroes at our championships and league meetings. Sometimes we would go to events and compete on the same schedule as our idols, getting a cheeky photograph and having a chat with them. We would see clubmates and fellow athletes all the time, and forge friendships.
It felt like anything was possible and given hard work and commitment there was a clear pathway to achieve our dreams.
Right now, things are so different. Of course, we are in the midst of the pandemic and we have to accept that right now we can’t train together – however it feels like that gap between grassroots and elite is growing and that accessibility that we all love feels far away. Watching the recent world indoor tour events has left me feeling a little sad, and this weekends European trials events held across the UK have been open to such a small number of athletes. I feel desperately for those senior athletes who are on the cusp of elite level but have not been given access to facilities or invites to events. It should be said, the cold, harsh winter certainly has been harder to take than the balmy spring of the first lockdown. During lockdown our athletes have adapted fantastically well and continue to train and keep the passion live - this never fails to inspire me.
I feel for athletes looking to transition from junior to senior level, who are missing out on some of the most crucial years in their development. Of course, it pains me the most that our young Team Blyth juniors and friends all over the country cannot train together, access facilities or see friends.
So what does the future bring? Fingers crossed, restrictions will slowly be eased soon, and we can start training in groups and accessing facilities again. I sincerely hope our NGB’s (national governing bodies) give consideration to how we are going to invest in the future of athletes of all ages and abilities. Facility operators need to commit to opening up to the community and allowing athletes to train in a safe environment, with access to train for ALL events. This needs to be consistent across all regions. Clubs and coaches have a huge role to play in welcoming athletes back to their clubs, and this should be done sensitively and with real thought.
In regard to returning to competition, it may be a controversial view, but I am of the opinion that outside of elite level, there should be no championships this summer season at local, regional or national level. Its just not a level playing field (I know it rarely is), and I worry that to much pressure to perform could be counterproductive. Let’s keep it fun, relaxed, and allow time for genuine athlete development. Championships can return in good time.
At Team Blyth we will do all we can to help our young athletes, and the role we will play shaping the futures of these fantastic young people is all the more important now. My message to all young athletes - Everything is still possible, and these hard times will just make the journey all the more memorable
This season I competed in the York Summer League series, which is a four-round athletics competition hosted by the City of York Athletics Club. Competitors can enter up to 3 rounds and have a choice of many track and field events. At last year`s competition, I took part in just one round but I liked the venue so much that I wanted to come back this year and compete in every round for a chance to win the under 13 overall title.
April was the first round of the competition where I chose Long Jump, High Jump and the 75m Hurdles, which was to be my first time trying hurdles at this distance. Up first was Long Jump in which I was up against some high quality athletes including Joshua Chrisp who was the current UK number 1 Long Jumper. I got a solid 4.48m jump that put me into second place and a good start to the day. I went into the High Jump with the sun shining and I was delighted to get a PB of 1.40m. My final event of the day was the hurdles where I got off to poor start but managed to power through to cross the line in first place.
In round 2 I competed in Long Jump and High Jump and thought I`d try my luck at 200m as well. I was up against Josh again in Long Jump where conditions were quite windy but I still pulled off a decent 4.31m jump to claim another second place. As soon as it finished I hurried over to High Jump but by then the wind had picked up making conditions tricky. 1.35m was the best I could manage but I still finished in first place. The 200m went well despite being up against, you guessed it, Josh Chrisp! The rain was pouring down hard for the race but I finished second with a PB.
At the penultimate fixture I entered High Jump, Long Jump and 100m. First was High Jump and I was chuffed to bits to get a fantastic PB of 1.42m! I felt strong going into the 100m in which I was racing against a tough crowd, but finished in last place which was big learning experience for me. After this disappointment I had to pull off a special jump in the Long Jump, and that`s what I did with a 4.50m effort - my second best ever jump.
I went into the final round of the competition in first place overall but I still had to focus because there was a strong year 2 York athlete who was sitting only 5 points behind me in second place. First event was the hurdles but I was far more confident this time round having gained experience over the season. I won the race with a 4 millisecond PB of 13.15, which I was very pleased with. The long Jump was next but my first attempt was poor and I had a no jump for my second attempt, which put me in third place with one jump remaining. Luckily I hit the board absolutely on the edge and jumped an official PB of 4.66m which was a big relief. I finished the day with a solid 1.40m jump in High Jump which concluded my Summer League campaign and made me the under 13 overall champion. I look forward to receiving my award and to hopefully be back next year to try and defend my title.