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10 reasons why athletics has been a beacon of optimism and hope during the coronavirus pandemic


We would all agree that living with a global pandemic has not been fun. Nonetheless, athletics has shown that it can and has been a beacon for optimism and hope in these challenging times. Here are 10 reasons why the sport and its athletes have risen to the challenge.

1. Greater access to our stars

Has there ever been a time in history when the stars of athletics have been so accessible?

The greater periods of downtime athletes are currently experiencing has created far greater opportunity to connect through a whole of range of mediums such as the Wanda Diamond League Call Room and online Q&A sessions with athletes.

Countless athletes, from world long jump champion Malaika Mihambo to retired marathon great Paula Radcliffe, have provided fitness videos to further foster a sense of connectivity. Also offering a window into their world during lockdown with their homemade videos have been the likes of world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson and marathon superstar Eliud Kipchoge.

 

2. Virtual racing

Unlike many sports, athletics, and more particularly running, has been able to maintain meaningful competition with the explosion of virtual racing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rock n Roll Marathon series launched the Rock n Roll Virtual Running Club with the first Rock n Roll VR1 event attracting 11,000 people from more than 80 nations. A whole host of other virtual races and series have popped up all around the globe from the UK to New Zealand, helping generate some much-needed competition in a world bereft of events in its traditional form.

 

3. Improvisation and resilience

With so many athletes shorn of access to traditional facilities, athletes have been forced to adapt like never before, providing a series of inspirational stories.

With the help of her father, Harry, world indoor pole vault champion Sandi Morris has built a pole vault pit and runway in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina.

Olympic shot champion Ryan Crouser has constructed a shot circle in his back garden while Greek pole vaulter Emmanouil Karalis has taken to pole vaulting on his bed!

Meanwhile, in Italy Mondo has stepped in to provide portions of track for athletes to use at home, Italian one-lap ace Davide Re and 2017 European U23 400m hurdles champion Ayomide Folorunso among them.

 

4. Greater participation

Running could become the great sporting winner out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions across the world have used their 'exercise time' to run – many far more frequently than in the past and many others for the first time in years.

Events such as the 2.6 challenge as part of the London Marathon and the Weltklasse Diamond League’s plan to launch the 'OneMillionRun' to encourage people in Switzerland to rack up one million kilometres of running in one weekend will further encourage future participation.

 

5. Generous acts

The athletics community has rallied around to offer their supports for the coronavirus pandemic in a variety of ways.

Ethiopian distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie has donated US$50,000 to an initiative, the Covid-19 National Resource Mobilisation Committee, which was set up to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Mondo Duplantis has raised US$3000 via an online auction for his bib number worn when setting his 6.17m world record in Torun. Czech hammer thrower Katerina Safrankova has sewed almost 700 face masks while Belgian marathon record-holder Bashir Abdi has set up a charity in his name to aid health workers’ fitness and well-being by building sport and relaxation areas and purchasing sports equipment.

 

6. Retro athletics

Who doesn’t like a bit of nostalgia? Well, in the absence of so much current competition, we have all had a chance to pause for breath and check out an old YouTube video (or two or 10) of a past competition or race.

World Athletics is helping too with their regular YouTube re-runs and watch parties of magic moments from past World Athletics Championships – guaranteed to satisfy your athletics appetite.

 

7. Inspiring acts

Running has provided hope and inspiration during these troubled times. Take the case of 32-year-old furloughed restaurant worker Elisha Nochomowitz who completed the full marathon distance on his 23-foot balcony.

Meanwhile, former javelin thrower and Scottish record-holder James Campbell ran a marathon in his backyard on a course barely six metres long and raised more than US$27,000 for Britain’s National Health Service.

 

8. Elite competition

Despite restrictions around social distancing, athletics has found a way to stage meaningful competition for elite athletes.

It has required agile and innovative thinking but events such as the Ultimate Garden Clash between pole vault superstars Mondo Duplantis, Renaud Lavillenie and Sam Kendricks earlier this month proved a huge hit. And yesterday it was the women’s turn, with Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi coming out on top in a contest with two-time US indoor champion Katie Nageotte and Commonwealth champion Alysha Newman.

The forthcoming Impossible Games at Oslo’s Bislett Stadium will go ahead on 11 June and will feature world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm, who will be chasing the world best in the 300m hurdles. Meanwhile, the Czech Athletics Federation is preparing a series of 'micro meetings' from 1 June. 

 

9. Continued engagement

Athletics has also found a way to maintain engagement in many novel and fun ways at both an elite and grassroots level. Cool examples are many and varied but some worth a mention is the STAY-AT-HOME club/team competition launched by the Danish Athletics Federation and Roster Athletics involving events such as the standing long jump, paper towel javelin and shot put with a shoe.

Another is the Living Room Cup in which an elite athlete will challenge the world to beat them by creating videos. Athletes have also been creative on social media with Italian combined-eventer Simone Cairoli’s 'Decathlon in a Room' proving a particular hit.

 

10. Reminder of how much we all miss athletics

Another bonus of our time under significant restrictions is that it acts as a healthy reminder of how much we miss regular competition.

When athletics events once more return to the calendar in it more traditional format, we’ll be guaranteed to appreciate every moment. And, the good news is, that moment will one day return!


Steve Landells for World Athletics