Just over a year has passed since London 2012. For the first time since then, the world’s greatest athletes this month assembled together, this time against a rather different backdrop. Swapping Big Ben for the Kremlin, the Pearly Kings and Queens for Babushkas and a pint of good old British ale for a bottle of vodka could only mean one thing…the World Championships had arrived in Moscow.
Finding itself in the shadows of the electric Queen Elizabeth II Park, Russia had big shoes to step into. And sure enough, the general consensus from the media was that the World Championships in Moscow left much to be desired. Through our television screens the lacklustre reaction from the sparsely occupied spectator stands was clear. The sporting powerhouse Usain Bolt was one of the event’s harshest critics, awarding it a feeble ‘7 out of 10’ and drawing the rather damning conclusion that it “wasn’t the best”.
But what the event lacked in atmosphere, it certainly made up for in controversy. Even before the starting pistols were fired, athletes were making headlines, as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell faced doping charges and were subsequently banned from competing in the 100m and 200m competitions. With some of the biggest names in sprinting quite literally out of the running, the competition immediately got less interesting, as victory for Usain Bolt was a certainty.
And the Jamaican did not disappoint; adding three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay to his trophy cabinet and equalling the records of American sporting greats Carl Lewis and Martin Johnson. The Lightning Bolt once again caused a storm.
On the home front, we do have reason to be cheerful, but there remains some room for improvement. Great Britain just about hit its medal target (phew), despite a string of disappointments from some of Britain’s best and brightest. The nation’s sporting sweetheart Jessica Ennis-Hill had already declared herself out of the competition due to injury. Greg Rutherford, who just 12 months ago was decorated with an Olympic gold medal, was hindered by injury and his disappointment was shared by the likes of Perris Shakes-Drayton and Dai Greene in the women’s and men’s 400m hurdles respectively.
The pressure was on, then, for another of our sporting heroes, Mo Farah. With his victory came a place in history: he is only the second man ever to have claimed the 5,000m and 10,000m crown at both the Olympic Games and the World Championships. In a competition that broke many of last summer’s British heroes, Mo Farah reignited Britain’s pride in its sporting prowess.
It is important to view the Championships as the perfect opportunity to showcase the burgeoning talent Britain has to offer. Take Adam Gemili, whose debut on the world stage made him only the second Briton in history to post a time under 20 seconds in the 200m. His performance, along with that of youngsters Chris O’Hare and Katrina Johnson-Thompson, suggested that perhaps the London 2012 legacy does live on, after all.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia claimed the biggest number of medals, but in doing so they also attracted the most controversy. The Russian crowds may well have roared as Yelena Isinbayeva claimed a gold medal in the pole vault, but the rest of the world roared even louder in light of her later comments in support of the Russian government’s attitude towards gay rights. The future ‘mayor’ of the Winter Olympic Village in Sochi 2014 appeared to advocate a law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ in her country, although later retracted her statement, saying that she opposed any discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexuality. Her timely comments, in a week where the tenability of Sochi 2014 has been thrown into doubt, raised the question of whether it was to be politics, not performance, that would define the Championships.
With the Winter Games in Sochi drawing closer, it would seem that Russia has a lot to learn from its dry-run at the World Championships. How should it secure a sell-out run and bring the focus back onto sporting prowess and away from political beliefs? Perhaps its primary focus should be on tolerance, and ticket sales will surely follow.
Perhaps we should all dust off our big fur hats, after all.
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