There are 48 medals on offer over the 10-day competition, which puts athletes from every corner of the world to the test. However, so far the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland have secured just four medals, with two from the same man, Mo Farah, the only Brit to stand alone on the podium at these championships. With reports suggesting that this will impact UK Sport investment, Bubble Sport Contributor, Georgia Vinall assesses the importance of such funding.
Historically, we have never dominated the medal table. Having yet to top the table, our best performing year was two years ago in Beijing, where we won four gold medals and came fourth in the table, behind Kenya, Jamaica and the USA. However, two of those medals were acquired by Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford, the former now retired and the latter out injured. Farah continued his legacy by winning gold in the 10,000m on the very first day of the meet this year, before picking up a second career silver on the penultimate day. Nevertheless, UK Sports set a target of 6-8 medals for the games – which ‘we’ have fallen way short of. But what does this tell us?
Evident from the statistics is that we are relying on the same athletes to win medals. The danger of this has revealed itself in Ennis-Hill’s retirement and Rutherford’s absence. We also see the same countries are continually topping the table, with the United States dominating in all but four Championships which have taken place, and they are set to win by a landslide again this year, finishing the penultimate day with nine gold, eight silver and ten bronze medals. Kenya sit second with just eight in total, 19 short of the US.
Having fallen short of expectations, this is set to cut funding for athletics, which was awarded £27.1 million in the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 70% of UK Sport’s funding is awarded through two channels; Central funding for sporting National Governing Bodies (NGBs), ensuring athletes have access to outstanding support personnel and training environments to ensure they are among the best prepared in the world, and awards paid directly to athletes which contributes to their living costs. Although this funding has increased greatly over the years – athletics was awarded £11m in the 2000 Sydney Olympics cycle – a lack of medal success should not dissuade investment.
We have seen that we are relying on the same athletes to guarantee golds, but this will always be a plan with a sell-by date. What is essential to the success of the sport is engaging with new and upcoming athletes. Laura Muir, a rising star in British athletics, missed out on a medal in the 1,500m by just 0.7 seconds, but has set high hopes for her upcoming performance in the 5,000m final on the last day of the games.
This is what we need to see, new faces sporting medals around their necks. However, this will only come with the right level of funding which will allow new athletes to engage with GB athletics and to train to worldwide standards. A lack of success due to retired athletes should not discourage, but rather encourage new athletes to step up and take the place of greats, such as the aforementioned. To respond by cutting funding is not a solution.
The Championships themselves are a display of persistence. Take, for example, Isaac Makwala. After being denied access to the 200m heats due to suspected norovirus, the Botswanan fought for his place in the final. The IAAF admitted their wrong and allowed Makwala to run a solo 200m on the track to qualify for a place in the final. Worth a watch, the 30-year-old conquered the track like it was his own stage, running a fierce time and finishing his performance with a set of push-ups at the end of the line – showing he was fit and healthy and would not have his thunder taken from him.
Therefore, we should take a leaf out of athletes’ books, and not bow down when we face setbacks. With more funding we will attract new athletes and develop rising stars. GB athletic success is fantastic for the nation, providing a sense of solidarity and strength. We should not slow down, but push harder for great success in Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.