23 September 2008
Article by Ed Warner as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine
Rain has been the order of this British summer, so that flippers rather than spikes are at the top of many athletes’ kit lists. Last Saturday Manchester hosted the Street Athletics final. After the indomitable spirits shown by the London finalists two weeks before, this is one event that really deserves a big beam of sunshine over Albert Square.
The London finals were my first opportunity to experience Darren Campbell’s and Linford Christie’s brainchild first hand. Although the rain came and went, their 60 metre track in Jubilee Gardens was as slippery as a skating rink. This didn’t deter the ranks of young athletes who careered over the finish line before a packed stand of supporters.
Although the atmosphere was fun – from the London Eye backdrop to the rock acts between heats – the racing was deadly serious. Next stop Manchester, and then a kit contract from Reebok and a trip to watch next year’s Golden League in Paris for the winners.
Thousands of youngsters have now competed in Street Athletics since it started in 2004. Whether it will unearth Britain’s next global sprint champion or not, as an exercise in taking athletics to the country’s youth – rather than waiting for them to find the sport – it has a lot to offer. Given the huge competition for youngsters’ leisure time, athletics cannot afford to be complacent.
If it ever needed confirmation, the Beijing Olympics have shown once again that sprinting remains the most captivating discipline in athletics for a general audience. And especially a young one. Even Premiership footballers have been mimicking Usain Bolt’s post-race trademark salute in their goal celebrations. In its raw simplicity, a straight sprint is within everyone’s imaginations. As Street Athletics does, we must give those imaginations rein.
I occasionally encounter people – both within and outside UK Athletics – who get exorcised about whether or not such initiatives are ‘owned’ by UKA. For me this misses the point, which is that they happen at all. Better that such ideas be nurtured and bloom, than that the governing body becomes precious about who the head gardener is. And I’m very happy to recognise that they will often flourish more at a discreet distance from UKA.
Full marks to Darren, Linford and their colleagues, then. And here’s hoping that Saturday marked an important step in the careers of our sprinters of tomorrow.