Athletics: perfect moments

Sport, so often, and with apologies to Martine McCutcheon, is about moments, perfect moments. No more so than in athletics, where fractions of seconds or centimetres make the difference between a reservation in the Beijing Olympic Village and two weeks of moping around watching the second greatest sporting event on telly.

There were plenty of such moments at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium last weekend, where the national championships were doubling up as the Olympic trials. Jo Pavey’s win in the 5,000 metres was enthralling to someone who puffs around Regents Park twice a week. Goldie Sayers in the javelin was in a different class to her competition, although will need a favourable wind, literally, to be involved in the later stages in Beijing. Philipps Idowu is clearly something special (and the speed with which triple-jumpers approach the board is unbelievable).

Athletics is a bemusing sport, however. The steeplechase, for starters – what is that about? The third placed female athlete was unable to jump the obstacles without stopping – technique seems irrelevant, and the event therefore futile. Athletes and organisers were reportedly pleased with the size of the crowd, which only confirmed that athletics is, in the UK, a minority sport – there were nearly as many officials as paying spectators, and that’s not even considering the endless stream of children wandering around with yellow boxes to hold the athletes’ track-suits.

And then there are drugs. One athlete who will be watching events at the High Court this week with particular interest is Carl Myerscough, who, on Sunday, won his sixth consecutive shot put title with a throw of 20.15 metres. Suspended for two years for testing positive for anabolic steroids in 1999, the lifting of the ban for Chambers would, theoretically, open the Olympic door for the only British shot putter regularly making the ‘A’ qualifying standard.

The standards themselves are somewhat confusing. But by the time I left the stadium on Sunday not only had I understood them, but I had pledged to make a return trip to an athletics ‘meet’, for two reasons.
Olympic trials and tribulations
Firstly, it is wonderfully entertaining. Events progress concurrently at speed, and with seamless organisation that there is always plenty to see.

Secondly, because of a man called Richard Yates. The 22 year old won the 400m hurdles in 49.50 seconds. He had to wait several minutes to hear confirmation of his time, which meant nothing to me until I was told that this is exactly the ‘B’ qualifying standard. His new personal best was not enough to immediately book his bed in Beijing, but having achieved this time, there is a good chance that he will be selected in the final Team GB on Saturday – the ‘B’ standard is the minimum required for athletes showing promise for the future.

If he goes, Yates won’t do very well in Beijing, but he will be an Olympian. It will be all about the taking part. His very own perfect moment.
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This Friday I will be at the Batley Variety Club in West Yorkshire to watch a set of sportsmen who probably thought their perfect moments were well beyond them – the legends of darts. Contrary to stereotype, none of them are as large as Carl Myerscough. At the end of the night my childhood hero Keith Deller will be playing Eric Bristow in a repeat of the 1983 World Championship final. It makes me wonder what Richard Yates will be doing in 2033.

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