This week I had the incredible opportunity to go to Doha, Qatar with Qatar Airways to watch the IAAF World Athletics Championships (they were the National airline sponsors of the event).
Highlights were watching team GB win two silver medals and cheering on runners in the 1500m, 5000m and 4x 100m relays. We were treated to amazing box seats with an amazing view of all the action, but it’s weird having watched on the BBC all week, not having their commentary to run through it all. I still don’t quite know what happened to the GB mens 4X400m!
Team GB came away with five medals, four of them by the women! Dina Asher-Smith was amazing with her triple medal count; gold in the 200m, silver in the 100m and silver in the 4 x 100m relay. Katarina Johnson-Thompson also won gold in the heptathlon! I hope this inspires the next generation of female athletes – it certainly inspired me.
Note also has to go Callum Hawkins for his gusty performance in the marathon on Saturday night. And to the mens 4 x 100m relay team – I am a little in love with Adam Gemili!
For my American readers, you guys cleaned up! I actually saw Allyson Felix at Hamad International airport on the way home and I audibly gasped, and bumped into Christian Coleman getting a coffee in the Oryx lounge. I loved watching Nia Ali win the 100m hurdles 16 months after giving birth, then taking her kids on part of her lap of honour.
I also loved Roberta Groner, a full time nurse from New Jersey placing 6th in the marathon, and Shelby Hoolihan coming fourth in the 1500m with a new PB and American record.
Now lets address the elephant in the stadium… the empty seats at the start of the championship. On the BBC, both Gabby Logan and Denise Lewis were very vocal about their disappointment. It was really sad to see world class athletes perform to a virtually empty stadium, doing their lap of honour to empty seats.
However, my experience in the stadium on the Saturday and Sunday nights in Doha couldn’t have been more different. Sunday night in particular was totally full with an amazing atmosphere, with the Kenyan supporters really taking it up a notch and outshining the rest of the world with their cheers and dance moves.
I asked the PR’s that were looking after us whether they knew anything about why it was so empty, and how they filled it up later during the week and they said that a lot of companies bought extra seats to give to employees as well as increasing promotion to locals. Additionally, they said that most people start work at 7am, meaning that a 11pm finish was pretty late on a weeknight for many locals, which is why it might have been busier over their weekend. Regardless of how they did it, I’m so glad they were able to increase crowd support for both the athletes and the other fans!
With high temps outside, it was amazing how well the air-conditioning worked within the stadium, there was never a point when I was hot. They were pumping cold air around the seating and onto the track to ensure the athletes could perform to their best. There were a lot of PB’s, season’s best and national records set so it obviously worked! And it bodes well for the football World Cup in 2022, although the timing (Nov-Dec) should make temps outside a lot more pleasant. However it is clear that the female marathoners suffered in the heat with 41% of the field dropping out. Luckily the conditions were much more preferable for the men’s race, although it does call into question whether the athletes should have been allowed to compete in such heat and humidity.
Aside from the obvious draw of the athletics, I really enjoyed my 48 hour trip to Doha and we certainly packed a lot in! Highlights were the National Museum of Qatar, Museum of Islamic Art and the Kataria. The museums were amazingly put together with impressive collections. I particularly liked the pearl jewellery display. Plus, they were all wonderfully air-conditioned, definitely something you need to think about when it’s 35* plus!
I could have also quite happily spent the whole time at our gorgeous hotel. We stayed at the newly opened Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel which had one of the most impressive hotel gyms I’ve ever been in to (and the cleanest glass doors in the gym, which was the cause of a rather embarrassing face-planting/bruised nose and ego situation!)
The Importance of Supporting our Sport
This year more than ever I’ve become more aware of the importance of following and supporting our sport. The more attention we give running as an elite sport the more funding it will be given by sponsors and governments at a professional and grass roots level. Team GB had some amazing performances, however some of those in Doha and those coming up through the ranks, are seriously underfunded.
There’s passion, inspiration, motivation and knowledge to be derived from following the best in our field. Seeing their determination, dedication and discipline, as well as the grace with which many of them handle their defeats. In a world where celebrity seems to be king, many of these men and women are great role models for us and for future generations, (although in light of this week’s Salazar announcement, I think we can all agree that many are not).
We got to meet 5000m runner, Eilish McColgan on the Sunday night at the athletics and chat with her briefly about her race, performance and how she felt simultaneously happy with a PB and Scottish record, and disappointed to have come 10th again.
The Americans runners (the women in particular) do an amazing job at putting themselves out there for us to follow, to fan girl over and to care about their training/racing (in fact a number of them including Sara Hall and Molly Huddle have contributed recipes to my book, Cook Eat Run!)
I think the Brits have a lot to learn but we can all start by taking an interest, following, watching and learning. Lets make these athletes household names, lets help raise their profile alongside the sport, get sponsors and companies to invest more in them and let that support, enthusiasm and legacy trickle down through to future track and road superstars.
I’d love to share more of the British athletics/running scene on my blog and instagram if that’s something you guys would be interested in? perhaps alongside the American runners many of us already know and love to please readers on both sides of the pond! Particularly as we ramp up towards Tokyo 2020!
Huge thanks to Qatar Airways for an amazing trip!