British athletes are riding a wave of success after the World Champs in Budapest, so it’s a shame there are no more competitive opportunities in the UK this season
As British athletics bathes in the aftermath of a hugely successful World Championships in Budapest, it is a shame there is no opportunity to welcome home the medal-winning class of 2023.
Instead of enjoying a heroic return to their own shores, Josh Kerr and Zharnel Hughes went to Zurich, Ben Pattison has flown to China, Matt Hudson-Smith is racing in Brussels and Keely Hodgkinson is gearing up for the Pre Classic in Eugene.
Caught up in the much-publicised travel problems in Budapest, some fans and media decided to go straight to Zurich instead of flying to London. Indeed, why not when there are no end-of-season meetings on British soil anyway?
It has not always been so. Shortly after the World Championships in 1983, Crystal Palace staged one of its popular late-season Coca-Cola meetings featuring a number of stars from those inaugural championships in Helsinki.
This included an epic showdown over the mile between newly-crowned world champion Steve Cram and world record-holder Steve Ovett with Cram taking a narrow victory in 3:52.56. Fresh from her 1500m and 3000m double in Helsinki, Mary Decker set a UK all-comers’ record of 4:22.66 in the women’s mile, while Kathy Cook set a UK 300m record of 35.51.
After the World Champs in Stuttgart in 1993 – an event that saw Britain win a record 10 medals – there was a similar chance to welcome home the medallists when the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield held the McDonald’s Games. Winners included world champions Sally Gunnell, Colin Jackson and Linford Christie, although Jan Zelezny stole the show with a javelin world record of 95.66m.
The absence of a big end-of-season British meeting is sadly not new either. What were commonplace in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – at Crystal Palace and, before that, the White City – began to dry up in 2003 when there was nothing of note in the UK after the World Champs in Paris.
Fast forward to the late summer of 2023 and there is nothing at all for elite track and field competitors in Britain. Even the popular Great North CityGames in Newcastle and Gateshead no longer happens. It is surely a travesty that the most successful European nation at the World Championships does not have a post-championships meeting to welcome home its stars, or to capitalise on the current interest in the sport when Budapest is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Imagine, for example, Hughes and Hudson-Smith going head-to-head in a much-anticipated 300m clash? Or Kerr taking on Ingebrigtsen in a 1500m rematch. Or Katarina Johnson-Thompson in action following her heptathlon win in Hungary?
There is no doubt the current British Athletics staff have been hamstrung by decisions made by their predecessors during the post-pandemic 2020-21 period. Major meetings are not easy or cheap to stage either and require considerable planning in advance as they can’t just be thrown into the international calendar.
But hopefully chief executive Jack Buckner, who coincidentally finished fourth in the 1983 Cram vs Ovett showdown at Crystal Palace, can use the feel-good factor generated by the success in Budapest to get a major domestic end-of-season televised athletics meeting back on to the schedule in coming years.
Wasn’t this partly what the Alexander Stadium and London Stadium were built for?
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