WRITTEN FOR THE LONDON 2017 WEBSITE ON BEHALF OF BRITISH ATHLETICS
A collection of British former world championship medallists recently recalled their happy memories of the biannual global event, and passed on their words of wisdom to the current crop of athletes aspiring to compete on home turf at London 2017.
Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell, Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram and Kelly Holmes took the time to relive their track and field heydays and offer some experienced advice ahead of the 2017 IAAF World Championships in the capital’s 2012 Olympic stadium in Stratford.
For the majority, the sixteenth edition of the event will treat British athletes to an once-in-a-lifetime experience and with just two and a half years to go, the British greats of the sport were keen to emphasise the importance of the championship in an athletes’ career:
1988 Olympic 100m hurdles silver medallist, Jackson claimed the 1993 world title in Stuttgart in a blistering 12.91 world record which stood for 13 years and still remains the European record today.
The Welshman also took 4x100m silver in the German city before grabbing the 1999 hurdles crown in Seville, after sprinting to the silver medal in Athens 1997 and the 1987 bronze in Rome at the beginning of his illustrious career.
The 48-year-old BBC athletics commentator recalled:
“I won two titles, broke a world record and medalled in every single world championship I completed so I have many great memories that will stay with me forever.
“London is a great city to host an event of this magnitude. Remember that when you’re entering the field wearing the GB vest, you will never be alone!”
A year after Gunnell had sped to the Olympic 400m hurdles title, she too stormed to 1993 world gold in Stuttgart in a 52.74 world record which lasted for two years and is still the current British record.
The 48-year-old additionally claimed the 4x400m relay bronze in Stuttgart, two years after breaking onto the global scene with world silver in Tokyo.
“I wasn’t sure what I was expecting at the world championships after my success at the Olympics the year before – I didn’t want to be a ‘one championship’ winner and knew that I had the opportunity to establish my career in history,” Gunnell revealed.
“I remember it feeling different to Olympics – I wasn’t feeling 100% and I had a lot of doubts, much more than the Olympics. I was actually shocked to come away with the gold and a world record. I learnt a lot about myself from that race!”
On London 2017, she continued:
“It is a great opportunity, not just for athletes but for the general public to get behind the country and understand what athletics is all about.
“Just seeing what London 2012 did for the host nation’s athletes, 2017 has given them another opportunity and it’s about taking those opportunities as athletes and using them to your benefit. Great Britain as a nation are passionate supporters of their athletes and provide them with great energy.”
Three years after flying to the world marathon record, Radcliffe captured global gold for the 26.2 mile distance in Helsinki at the 2005 event.
The 41-year-old had earlier claimed the 10,000m silver medal in Seville in 1999 in addition to three titles each at both the world cross country and world half marathon championships.
The BBC athletics commentator explained:
“My first world championships was Stuttgart and it was my first year as a senior, so it was very special. I found it very inspirational with the likes of Colin and Sally winning, which was amazing and I came away pleased.
“Seville was special, too as it was my first global gold medal – I’d made the move up to 10,000m and had got engaged that year so I was happy despite carrying a niggle. I remember I was over-hydrated but I did all the work in the race and did my best on the day so I was over the moon.”
On her championship record-breaking 2:20.57 victory, Radcliffe added:
“Helsinki was a late decision to do the 10,000m as marathon preparation (where she placed ninth) – my back was locked but I knew I was in really good shape and it did me no harm. (Six days later), the marathon went to plan – it was really important after Athens (where she failed to finish in the Olympic marathon) – it was a hilly course so not as fast a I’d have liked but it was a big relief to win.”
Having missed the London 2012 marathon through injury, she stressed:
“The British athletes will have been inspired by 2012 – the amazing crowds, organisation and volunteers, so there’s no better backdrop to do their best.
“Take advantage and use the crowd support and home advantage – it’s going to be a huge motivator especially for juniors aiming to make their first global champs there, it will never get better than this and will really help them to get a better performance out of themselves.”
For Cram, the Helsinki 1983 event was a golden experience with 1500m glory in the Finnish capital, a year before he collected Olympic silver and two years ahead of breaking the world record.
The 54-year-old BBC athletics commentator recalled:
“1983 was the very first IAAF World Championships and after boycotts at the previous two Olympic Games, it seemed like the first true global games of my career.
“The men’s 1500m at the time contained many of the sport’s biggest names and I had worked really hard to arrive in Helsinki ready for anything. As it turned out, I ran probably the best tactical race of my career and I remember with 30m to go, realising I was going to win.
“It’s a special feeling and I’ll never forget it. To win a world title with one of your best performances was a very proud moment.”
On his advice to London 2017 hopefuls, Cram continued:
“It will be the chance of a lifetime for many athletes – research has shown that home advantage can boost medal count by as much as 25% so everyone wearing a GB vest will have an opportunity rarely afforded to most athletes.
“For some, this will be their first major championships and they may never get a better platform to raise their performance. Don’t miss out – just ask anyone who competed in London 2012! It’s really exciting to have the prospect of repeating that experience all over again.”
Meanwhile, Holmes – the 2004 800m and 1500m Olympic champion – recollected on how the IAAF World Championships shaped her career:
“At my second world championship (in 1995 in Gothenburg), I won a silver medal in the 1500m and was gutted but I went on to win bronze in the 800m and was elated, so I was pleased to win two medals at the same championships,” she said.
A ruptured calf and torn Achilles together with an untimely bout of glandular fever, followed by tonsillitis ruined her chances in 1997, 1999 and 2001, respectively before she returned to the medals podium with 800m silver in Paris in 2003.
On the 2017 championships coming to London, the 44-year-old British 800m and 1500m record holder and Commonwealth Games England President added:
“Athletics has had a real following in the UK since the 2012 Olympics so I am sure it will be a fantastic event.
“What a massive opportunity to compete on home turf – if you didn’t compete at 2012 then this is the one to go for – home support, high profile, Olympic Park, what else could you think about more so go for it!”