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Save our sport! British athletes plead with Lord Coe to step in and rescue UK Athletics

Some of Britain’s leading athletes have pleaded with Lord Coe to step in and save the sport in this country after becoming furious with the current regime at UK Athletics.

Sportsmail has been told the impassioned encounter between the World Athletics president and several GB track and field stars took place by chance at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Zurich last Thursday.

The conversation, which followed the Diamond League finals earlier that evening, was described by one source as a ‘proper cry for help – the athletes were really reaching out’.

Some are even considering the drastic step of walking away from UKA’s World Class Programme if changes are not made.

That would mean the damning move of operating entirely outside the British system and foregoing lottery funding for the sake of disassociating with UKA, though they would still be eligible for selection to championships such as the Olympics.

At the heart of the athletes’ exasperation, according to insiders, is a perceived lack of expertise and presence from performance director Sara Symington and the Olympic head coach Christian Malcolm.

They were both appointed last autumn under chief executive Joanna Coates, with the trio mockingly described as the ‘three amigos’ by one figure close to the system.

The appointment of Symington, who worked under Coates at England Netball, has attracted fierce criticism within the sport, with the performance director accused of lacking athletics knowledge.

Malcolm’s selection last year, ahead of the vastly experienced and respected Stephen Maguire, also raised eyebrows. The 42-year-old former GB sprinter has been considered ‘out of his depth’ by several athletes and coaches.

‘There is no attention to detail from any of them,’ said one coach. ‘The situation could be a catastrophe for the sport for years if it does not change.’

It was also flagged up that Symington and Malcolm were on holiday instead of attending the Diamond League finals in Zurich, where Dina Asher-Smith returned to form and Keely Hodgkinson won the 800m title.

The anger from athletes expressed to Lord Coe, which extends to the lack of British-based competitions and questions about medical provisions, comes at a time when some of Britain’s leading coaches are facing growing uncertainty about their positions.

Sportsmail understands a number of coaches and coaching consultants have been told by UKA in the past fortnight that their working hours could be reduced or their consultancies terminated.

Such letters have been sent to Andy Young and Scott Simpson, who respectively led Laura Muir (1500m) and Holly Bradshaw (pole vault) to Olympic medals. A letter was also sent to high jump coach Fuzz Caan, with consultancies held by coaches Tore Gustafsson (hammer), Leon Baptiste (sprints) and Jon Bigg also under threat.

UKA indicated in the letters that future consultant posts will be advertised after their current coaching review, but it has caused alarm that the positions have been adjusted or terminated prior to the establishment of a new system.

While coaching reviews tend to follow an Olympics, and indeed certain changes are quite possibly warranted after an underwhelming haul of just six medals, the ‘cold’ nature of the letters has been criticised.

It was also noted that Young had not received so much as a note of congratulation for orchestrating Muir’s brilliant 1,500m silver medal, though over the weekend it is believed he was told a new contract would be forthcoming.

Among the changes on the way, Rob Denmark is expected to leave his interim head of performance role.

A UKA spokesperson said: ‘Any suggested changes to the coaching structure are not set. We understand for some the changes are difficult, yet for others, some changes are not fast enough.

‘We would urge athletes to continue to feedback to UK Athletics and also engage with the Athlete’s Commission as we are fully committed to ensuring we place athletes first and at the heart of our plans going forward.’

SEB COE: Kenya’s Athletics Religion shows way forward Britain’s programme

Athletics re-emerged from Tokyo as the No 1 Olympic sport and the broadcast numbers beginning to drift in, although still a little raw, point to that.

I’m writing this column from Nairobi, Kenya where the World Athletics Under 20 Championships are taking place. This is a country that is passionate about athletics. It borders on a religion.

In the entrance hall to the Kasarani Stadium, hosting the event, and known locally as the Home of Heroes, there are framed photographs of well over 50 Olympic Champions and world-record holders.

Athletes from 16 countries competing in Olympics after CHEATING

Athletes have been competing in Tokyo after cheating by manipulating times and photo-finish pictures, as well as shortening courses.

Competitors worldwide broke the rules to make the qualifying standard for Tokyo, World Athletics investigators have found.

Cheats from up to 16 countries were identified before the Games, leading to eight bans from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

But some of those suspected of wrongdoing are thought to have made it to Tokyo, having cheated via methods that also included the use of unauthorized field equipment and the illegal use of pacemakers.

The wide network of cheating is expected to have taken in officials from national federations wanting to get their athletes to the Games.

Competing in the Olympics can lead to considerable financial reward, especially for athletes from less wealthy nations. There are also political benefits in having as large a presence as possible at the Games.

‘In preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, our team identified, analyzed and investigated potential instances of competition manipulation,’ David Howman, the AIU chair, said in a statement.

‘Thanks to our investigations, World Athletics refused to recognize several questionable qualifying performances. The AIU will continue to investigate these matters to determine if any fraudulent conduct was involved.’

The AIU identified cases of suspicious qualifying performances from 31 athletes across 16 countries in the lead-up to the Games.

Other cases have led to further investigation to determine if cheating took place.

The AIU has had considerable success in bringing sanctions against athletes since it was set up in 2016 under the stewardship of its head Brett Clothier, an Australian former lawyer with a background in sports integrity.

It brought forward the one doping case at Tokyo 2020 when the sprinter Blessing Okagbare, a Nigerian world silver medalist, was suspended after testing positive for human growth hormone.

Are super shoes distorting history?

Athletics chiefs are under pressure to outlaw controversial ‘super-shoes’ after the sport’s top scientist admitted the rules governing them need to be revamped.

Olympic records are expected to tumble at Tokyo 2020, with competitors using hi-tech footwear that has led to record books being rewritten at an astonishing rate.

Usain Bolt last week joined the outcry against the governing body for permitting the shoe technology, with the sprint legend describing the situation as ‘laughable’.

Bermon suggested that the current regulations, which simply limit the depth of the sole and the number of hi-tech stiff ‘plates’ within it, are not sophisticated enough.

Figures within World Athletics have previously avoided giving any indication as to whether the rules will need to be changed once a moratorium on doing so ends after the Games. ‘After the moratorium we will very likely have new rules governing these shoes,’ said Bermon. ‘In the longer term, we will probably have new rules based on different characteristics other than a simple measurement.

‘It seems what is mediating the highest performance-enhancing effect is likely the stiff plate. Regulating this would mean — and this is something we are likely going to move — just regulating on measuring the shoes and the number of plates is not enough. We should move to a system that is based on energy return.’

Elite road running has been transformed since Nike released its VaporFly shoe four years ago, with athletes producing a slew of remarkable performances.

They included the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge breaking the fabled two-hour marathon barrier wearing a pair, while his compatriot Brigid Kosgei beat Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old marathon world record by 81 seconds a day later.

The introduction of track spikes using similar technology has had a similarly transformative effect and will be widely used in Tokyo. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei set world records over 5,000m and 10,000m wearing a pair, while in June Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocked 10.63 seconds in the 100m, second only to Florence Griffith-Joyner.

Fraser-Pryce last week argued that too much signifance has been assigned to the shoe, saying: ‘You can give the spike to everyone in the world and it doesn’t mean they will run the same time as you or even better. It requires work.’

But Bolt believes they are unfairly enhancing performance, saying: ‘It’s weird and unfair for a lot of athletes because I know that in the past shoe companies actually tried and the governing body said ‘No, you can’t change the spikes’, so to know that now they are actually doing it, it’s laughable.’

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce argued that too much significance has been assigned to the shoe

Scientists are uncertain why the shoes bestow such enormous benefits but it is understood the key technology is the stiff plate, often made of carbon, and the ultra-light, springy foam.

Along with an upper in the road shoe that is more curved than previous designs, it is felt that these qualities significantly reduce the amount of energy the runner expends.

World Athletics has capped the depth of the sole at 40mm to limit the effect of the foam and insisted on a maximum of one plate per shoe. Critics have said those rules do not go far enough. Especially when some athletes find much less benefit from the shoes compared to others and some enjoy no improvement at all. The reasons for that phenomenon has also so far baffled the scientists.

‘The same shoe gives you a massive variability among different athletes — even greater than 10 per cent [improvement in performance] in some cases,’ says Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, who sits on the science and medical commission of the International Olympic Committee.

‘How you respond to the shoe can determine if you’re going to be an Olympian or watch it on TV. You know who is going to win and who can qualify [for the Games]. Athletes have qualified because they had access to a super shoe. And many who were not running in these shoes didn’t qualify.’

Pitsiladis compares the shoes to a form of ‘technological doping’ and wants the regulations to be changed so that the shoes cannot determine the outcome of a race.

‘One solution is to minimise the stack [sole] height, while allowing the shoe companies to innovate in a smaller area, minimising the impact of any performance-enhancing mechanisms such as the carbon-fibre plate,’ he says.

‘Let the best companies come up with half a per cent [improvement in performance], say, or one per cent. But not a situation where you have improvements in running economy of even greater than seven per cent.’

Experts fear that the working group World Athletics has put together to advise the ruling body on the regulations post-Tokyo will not go far enough, especially when representatives of six sports brands are sitting on it.

‘The moratorium was also because we had to discuss with the manufacturers,’ said Bermon. ‘It’s very important that you respect the manufacturers. They have spent a lot of time and money designing these shoes. We have to take decisions that do not put them into difficult economic circumstances.’

The working group also includes representatives from the governing body itself, its athletes commission, the ‘sporting goods industry’ and a scientist. World Athletics said: ‘The group is examining the research around shoe technology in order to set parameters, with the aim of achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage, universality and availability.’

Thomas Baines – National 800m runner – I tried the shoes for size, and flew!

I raced in the Nike Air Zoom Victory spikes for the first time on Saturday and broke my 800metres personal best by more than a second.

I reached 600m and thought ‘Wow, I have a lot left in the tank’. I felt like I saved more energy with each contact with the ground.

They are so springy. I put my foot down and felt a burst of energy, a lovely bounce, when I came up. They really work with you, you get a spring up and it is a lot more efficient, as it absorbs the energy when you go down and pushes you back up, so you fatigue less.

National 800 metre runner Thomas Baines raced in the Nike Air Zoom Victory spikes

You just don’t have to work as hard so it is helping with the basic biomechanics of running. It allows you to get a longer stride without putting any extra effort in. It is not that the spikes make you run quicker, just that you have so much more left at the end. That’s the key.

I finished in 1min 49.6sec at the Loughborough Grand Prix, which is 1.1sec off my previous best. I was second behind a 1500m European junior champion also wearing the spikes.

My aim now is to get to GB under-23 level, to compete at the European Championships. If I can keep improving the spikes will definitely help too. I trained in the Vaporfly trainers on a 10km run last week.

Running at an easy pace I would normally be clocking 4min 40sec pace per kilometre. Putting in the same amount of effort, I got a few kilometres in, glanced at my watch and was ‘Oh my God!’ I’m running 4.20 per kilometre. It felt very easy. The same route took two minutes quicker in the end.

You can see why the professionals are using them. You can see the difference they make in the times. In 2019 there were two runners who ran under 1min 45sec. This season already there are six, with Elliot Giles now No4 on the UK all-time list behind Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott, with Oliver Dustin No6.

We haven’t had these sort of times run before from so many in the same season. It is making a big difference but at the Olympics all the elite athletes will be wearing spikes that use this technology, so it is a fair test.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony boss sacked day before show

The director of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been dismissed after reports about his past comments on the Holocaust.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told a briefing that Kentaro Kobayashi had been dismissed because of comments that made fun of the atrocity.

The opening ceremony of the delayed Olympic games is due to take place on Friday.

It comes after it emerged that Mr Kobayashi made light of the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis in a script for a 1998 comedy act, including saying, “Let’s play Holocaust.”

Jewish human rights group The Simon Wiesenthal Centre [SWC] had condemned what it called past anti-Semitic jokes.

Jewish groups condemned the jokes (Image: REUTERS)

SWC Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper said: “Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.

“The Nazi regime also gassed Germans with disabilities. Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.”

The Games, set to begin tomorrow, have already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic, and will take place without spectators.

Amid a rise in coronavirus cases the chief of the organising committee has not ruled out a last-minute cancellation.

A surge in cases has now seen 67 people become affected ahead of the first events on Wednesday and the official opening ceremony on Friday.

Toshiro Muto said: “We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

 

Usain Bolt reveals signed football team

Athletics legend Usain Bolt announced he has ‘signed for a football team’ and will disclose who he has joined on February 27.

The eight-time gold medal Olympian is a well known fan of Manchester United and has previously had a trial with German side Borussia Dortmund in a bid to kickstart his football career.

At the age of 31, the sprinter is eyeing a fresh challenge having retired from the athletics track following the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.

After the video was posted on Sunday, fans have been quick to speculate as to who will be the team Bolt has chosen to represent with United, Dortmund, Arsenal, Real Madrid and even Accrington Stanley suggested.

His personal affiliation with United would no doubt be his first choice but with the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League at full throttle, the necessary quick transition may even pass the legendary sprinter by.

Dortmund have already looked under the bonnet and did not appear to take it further while a sponsorship link with Puma and Arsenal has been suggested by others.

The Jamaican’s agent revealed in September that a dozen clubs had expressed an interest in Bolt and the larger than life personality has never played down his ability on the pitch.

Speaking to Laureus last year, Bolt believed he could reach the levels set by former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney.

‘I’m not going to say I’m going to be the best footballer in the world,’ he said.

‘But I will be at a good level I would say, maybe at Wayne Rooney level, you know what I mean?’