10 Jul

The Unknown Champions

Veteran female runner

Next month, around 17,000 athletes from nearly 100 countries will compete for World Athletics Championship medals. The chances are you won’t have heard of any of them and you won’t hear anything at all about their golden exploits.

That’s because this particular event is not the Bejing-hosted IAAF Championships where Bolt, Farah, Ennis and the rest will be strutting their stuff in front of millions of television viewers at the end of August.

What I am talking about is the World Masters Athletics Championships which begin in Lyon, France two weeks prior. For nearly a fortnight the world’s greatest athletes 35 years and over will compete in a full age-graded track and field championships. In pure participation terms, it is by far the biggest track and field championship in the world, attracting athletes from right across the globe from Nepal to Norway.

Of course, the Olympic superstars deserve every bit of the spotlight that will shine in their direction over nine days in China. But perhaps a little more attention should also be paid to their elders, whose performances - in some ways - are even more remarkable than those of the higher profile, younger champions.

Take for example, Canada’s Earl Fee who last year set an over 85 world record for 800m in 3:09:10. Or Australian Levinia Petrie who set a women’s over 70 record of 44:43 for 10,000m in 2014.

Age group events move from 35-39 right up to 95-99.  It is quite humbling to see that 15 men aged over 80 will attempt the decathlon.

The motto of World Masters Athletics, the governing body behind events like that in Lyon on 4-16 August is ‘Athletics for Life’. It is an apt strapline for a sport that people can enjoy equally no matter what age they are.

The joy of events like London Marathon is not just in the incredible athletes at the front, but those also reaching their personal goals throughout the field. This feeling doesn’t seem to translate from road running to track and field. I’m not sure why.

The athletes in Beijing will be widely celebrated, but shouldn’t their counterparts in Lyon be similarly lauded?