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A look back at 2013

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Mo Farah

Attempting to re-establish focus after the excitement and pressures of a home Olympic and Paralympic Games, the season to follow could perhaps appear lacklustre.  However in a year post-London 2012, British Athletes certainly didn’t disappoint. 2013 saw no fewer than six British records rewritten, with GB & NI making the podium on 97 occasions at major international events spanning track, field, mountain and trail. We caught up with Ian Hodge, British Athletics statistician, to shine a light on his most memorable moments of 2013.

What was your 2013 performance of the year?

For me it was Ohuruogu (coach: Lloyd Cowan) at the IAAF World Championships because it was that bit more unexpected. It was the finest performance of her career and it was exciting, so it actually had a lot more ticks than Mo Farah (Alberto Salazar), amazingly enough. So I would say Christine. It was a personal favourite of mine and obviously from that point of view I would list her.

Who was your breakthrough athlete of 2013?

That would have to be Adam Gemili (Steve Fudge). You may say why not Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Mike Holmes), who won British Athletics Young Athlete of the Year, and there are a lot of similarities between the two; same age and they’ve broken through in same way. But he, of course, switched events and it certainly looked as though the 200m would be the focus in order to make an international final. He’d probably have to run under 10 seconds in order to do that for the 100m, so the 200m seemed the better option. But, to almost win a medal and to run below 20 seconds was quite unexpected. So yes, him instead of Katarina; who did nothing more than I thought she would.

Who do you predict will breakthrough in 2014 and reach a new level in the way Gemili did?

It has to be Katarina. You see, Adam may never make the top of the podium because it’s pretty hard in sprints; there is always a Jamaican. Katarina will make the top of the podium; there is no question about that. She will win gold medals. And of course there are no global medals to win next year, unless she wins the world indoors – which she could – but I believe she will continue to make these massive steps forward. But she’s there already in a way, she’s already established herself. So adding to what you said, Desiree Henry (Rana Reider) perhaps. She’s already a world champion at under-18 level but now she’s at university, in a different environment, she’s grown up a bit and she could make massive steps forward. There’s no question that she has the natural ability, so perhaps her. Not everyone would pick her, so that’s why I’ve chosen Desiree.

Team of the year 2013?

It would be the European Junior team, simply because we won our greatest number of medals; 19 is one more than we’ve ever had before. It’s actually extremely difficult to go beyond that. Even if you have 40 quality athletes, there are various reasons why they don’t all win medals – maybe one athlete beats another, someone drops a baton or someone gets injured, so to achieve that figure was actually quite outstanding. Of course the target now is for half of those to win senior medals at some stage in their career. That won’t happen, but that has to be our target. We have to somehow bring more through from junior to senior.

What do you think was our most unexpected result of the year?

It’s almost a bit of a cheat in a way, but anyone that is younger will improve at a faster rate. So in the space of a year you can go from perhaps not knowing who they are, to then all of a sudden watching them win an international medal. We always seem to have a conveyer belt of sprinters, so I won’t mention a sprinter. But middle distance runner Kyle Langford (George Harrison) was a great story from this year, winning bronze over 800m at the world youth championships and he looks like he will become a 1500m champion too in the future. I’d never heard of this fellow before May. Then I hear of him in June and he gets an international medal in July! That’s quite special and I never saw that coming at all.

At global level, the medals won were won by those you’d expect. There weren’t the likes of Greg Rutherford (Jonas Tawaih-Dodoo) coming right out of the blocks and doing something quite along those lines or like Robbie Grabarz (Fuzz Ahmed) and what he did. So it just highlights just how tough they are.

Tiffany Porter (Reider) is worth a mention too. She hadn’t shown world-beating form at all until she went to Moscow. Then, all of a sudden, things really clicked for her. She beat Dawn Harper, someone she’d never beaten before and got on the podium.

What do you think will be our most successful championship of 2014?

There is no easy year. There used to be easy years a long time ago - there were no championships at all in certain years! And now of course, there happens to be three and it is much tougher on any athlete. Take Mo Farah, he’s been at it the last two years, hard at it. There was extended pressure on him and for all we know, he may not run in any championship at all next year, but it just highlights how it is so much harder every time. But the strange thing is that, as a country, we have the most pressure on us for the European Championships because we always do perform well. So we’ve got to come out again and win let’s say 20 plus medals and eight gold’s - that’s a hard ask. On and off we’ve been doing that for 20 years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to do.

Obviously the Commonwealths are a totally different environment, but if you look back to 2010 and then 2006, you suddenly realised it was a much stronger championship than it used to be. And I feel that this time as it’s in Europe, you’ll get more Jamaican’s deciding to compete than the last two games (those having been in India and Australia) so it is no easy task.  So, if you are Eilidh Child (Malcolm Arnold) for instance, you may think you have a big chance this time, but it will be tougher than people think.  Even in what people believe to be the weaker championships, every medal won is a proper medal won. So I think that praises the championships.

But coming back to the question, yes I believe it will be the European Championships where we will succeed the most because Britain’s standing in Europe is still in essence on the vice. Russia has dipped slightly, so I think Britain will certainly challenge them and Germany and get near the top.

Do you have any medal, or even record predictions for the coming year?

Well as I said, looking at medal predictions, it’s very hard for athletes to break through. We’ve just mentioned Katarina and Adam who have broken right through to the world’s elite in 2013 and actually, they still haven’t won a medal. The people that win the medals have that level of ability. So if you can get to that level, if you are a Mo Farah for instance, and you understand how hard it is to win medals in his environment, you are one of the very, very few who can win. So there is a great chance that you can keep winning them; that’s the way of things. 2013 was a tough year in terms of people falling by the wayside, such as Jessica Ennis-Hill (Toni Minichiello) and Greg Rutherford (Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo), so it’ll be interesting to see how they come back and try and win medals once more. I think it’s a ‘wait and see’. Greg knows he can be right in there at the European championships, but it will mean he will still have to jump pretty much as well as he did in London to win a medal. Jessica’s a different person of course, she doesn’t have to do as well as in London. But she’s still got to get back to 95-98% of her potential and, when you think about it, that is still quite a task.

Going back to the Commonwealths, it’s almost a question of how many medals Scotland can win as opposed to how many medals British athletes will win. They are the hosts and Scotland has got a stronger team than for the previous 25 plus years. They could win six or seven medals and, in many respects that’s going to be the story. England is secondary and it will be very interesting to see what Scotland manage there.

Hopefully we can win half a dozen at the world indoors, simply because it’s such an elite event these days that you know any athlete that gets selected for Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a great chance. We’ll send strong relays; we’ll have certain athletes who competed outdoors well last year that will be doing the world indoors so I think we have the chance to get six or seven medals there which I think we’ll be quite pleased with.

If we turn our attention to records, I’d say it’s always a bit of a lottery. Take this year for instance; Mo Farah excelled in an event you didn’t consider he would; the 1500m. Christine certainly surprised us, as well as Sophie Hitchon (Tore Gustafsson) in the hammer. But they are the only three athletes at senior level.  That just highlights that every year we shouldn’t expect any at all because if you do get any, it’s a delight. I’d say Holly Bleasdale (Scott Simpson) has the strongest chance now she’s back on track as her outdoor record isn’t anywhere near a reflection of her potential. Aside from that, we’d love to see the women’s 4x100m relay broken as that’s the oldest on record and it’s the one that this year we came quite close to. That would perhaps be the most satisfying of all for that simple reason. So my personal highlight would be that.

What are your predictions for this year’s major championships?

Regarding the IPC European championships, Para-athletics is an area of my knowledge that is constantly growing. I think the interesting thing there is that there are people like Libby Clegg (Keith Antoine) or Stef Reid (Reider) who are competing at the British Athletics Glasgow International Match and are now established names and have been in the sport for a five or six years. Then you have Jonnie Peacock (Fudge) who’s been in the sport for about three years, along with Hannah Cockroft (Jenny Banks). Then you have people like Sophie Hahn (Joe McDonnell) who have only been in the sport for one year and has already won two world titles. So, it just highlights that you’re old if you’ve been in it for a while and anyone can come into the sport as a novice and win global titles within 36 months.  The question is, how long will that continue?

I think next year we might begin to start seeing people starting to stay at the top longer in events like the sprints, in the same way they do in the wheelchair events, where there has been a lot more competition in the past. I therefore think it will become far more equal with able bodied athletics. It will be so much tougher to get any medals. But going back to what I said, those athletes mentioned along with Denisha Marshall-Brown (Debbie Cook) who is only 13, really have the chance to do something special next year. They are the likely athletes who will take the sport forward.

Looking at the other major championships next year, James Dasaolu (Fudge) will hopefully be a big talking point. The moment of the year for a lot of people, certainly in domestic athletics, would be his sub-10 second time. I think that was something that, if you spoke to your next-door neighbour, they can relate to, whereas a lot of athletics they cannot.  Running below 10 seconds meant so much and actually boosted the sport just because someone had done it. But, he didn’t actually fulfil his promise so what that does mean is, providing he maintains his form, he will deliver this year. James running together with the likes of Adam Gemili will be something to savour. But they won’t race together very often as they are now training partners, so it will be quite rare. But having said that, James will obviously be looking for the British record (that in itself will be quite something) and trying to emulate Linford Christie in winning a European title. That is definitely a possibility.

I want to mention Sophie Hitchon as well, as she really is the only elite thrower we have, sadly. Obviously in the last three or four years, she’s only been able to compete in global championships, however now she’s got a chance to compete at the Europeans and the Commonwealths. I know the European standard in the hammer is still almost as high as it is globally, but she could be on her way to winning medals at senior level and that would be wonderful for the sport, as we’ve not had a hammer medallist for 80 years! Sophie also has that unique ability of being able to perform brilliantly on the day, so I look forward to her winning a medal, if not next year then very soon. I’ve mentioned her already, but it will be interesting to see how Eilidh Child performs. At the last Commonwealth Games she almost should have won; she certainly could have won. She got second and it’ll be interesting to see whether she can take that step up and win the gold medal that has eluded her.

Are there any other special moments of 2013 you feel deserve a mention?

Mo Farah was an interesting one, given the way his year developed; it was so extraordinary was that he did exactly the same things that he did the year before, winning two gold medals, but in totally different ways. There was a horrible amount of pressure in London, where a lot of people were wondering ‘might he win?’, which he proved he could. Then he goes to Moscow and everyone expects him to win. There was no ‘will he?’ it was ‘of course he will’.  But it was incredibly tough to do what he had done and then to do it again. Now there is someone who has won five global titles in 24 months, which is far more than any other Brit has ever done so that was quite special.

I think as well as that, there was also the disappointments of the year, the main one being the men’s 4x100m relay. A medal was lost. After almost being in touching distance it just slipped away, which has quite an effect on the nation. They like to accentuate the negative almost; the man dropping the baton is sometimes the news that becomes most talked about and so it is so much more embarrassing when something like happens. It seems like a piece of soap in a way, and although this time it wasn’t the case that it was dropped, you hope that next year we will just get it round. You don’t want another DQ; there will be a bit of expectation next time I think.

Another disappointment would be Perri Shakes-Drayton. She wasn’t going to win the world title, but it certainly did look like she was going to be second, so another medal went for a totally different reason. Again, prior to a championship we talk about how many medals we might win, but no medal is guaranteed. She was 53 seconds from winning a medal and it didn’t happen. On the start line it was almost a certainty but it wasn’t to be and the sad thing is that next year it will happen again to someone else. All of a sudden they will fall at the last hurdle and it’s a shame there will always be someone in the disappointments column. But that’s what life is about – success and failure. It keeps it exciting I suppose.