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It was announced a few days ago that the American sprinter Justin Gatlin is on the shortlist for the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) “Athlete of the Year” award for 2014. This is largely due to his having set the fastest times over both 100m and 200m this year; faster than Usain Bolt, faster than Yohan Blake, faster than anyone. In fact, he has set 6 of the 7 fastest times over 100m in 2014! Also, he has run faster over both 100m and 200m than anyone one else in their 30s (he is 32). Ever. But, should Gatlin be considered by the IAAF for such a prestigious award? Should he be even allowed to compete at all?



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For those of you not familiar with Gatlin’s athletics career, he has twice been banned for failing drugs tests. In 2001 he failed a doping test, testing positive for amphetamines. He was given a 2 year ban by the IAAF, but Gatlin appealed saying that his positive test was due to medication that he had been taking since he was a child. Upon appeal, Gatlin’s ban was reduced by the IAAF to 1 year. It was made clear by the IAAF to Gatlin that, despite his ban being reduced to 1 year, that it would stay on his record and a second positive test would result in a life-time ban. In 2004 he won the Greece Olympics 100m, and in 2005 he won both the 100m and 200m at the World Athletics Championships.

In July 2006 he was found guilty of doping for a second time, from a sample taken after a relay event in late April. After the usual denial of guilt that 99.9% of athletes give, in August 2006 Gatlin avoided a life-time ban (which should have been his punishment for a second offence) by agreeing to cooperate with the doping authorities, and also because of the “exceptional circumstances” of his first positive doping offence in 2001.

Then, Gatlin appealed this 8-year ban which he had negotiated at a Court of Arbitration in the US, who reduced the ban to a 4-year ban. Gatlin then appealed this ban to the World Court of Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne, asking for it to be halved again to 2 years, but in December 2006 the Lausanne Court upheld the 4-year ban the US Court had given.

So, by 2010 he was back competing, and since then his results have steadily improved after a 4-year absence. In 2011 in the World Athletics Championships he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100m. In the 2012 London Olympics he won Bronze in the 100m, and in the 2013 World Athletics Championships he won Silver. This year, he has beaten all before him and has not lost a single race at either 100m or 200m.

Many feel, given his having been banned twice for drug doping, that the IAAF should not be including him in any shortlist of Athlete of the Year. Sebastian Coe, the current vice-president of the IAAF, and hotly tipped to become President next year, has voiced his concerns, and he is not alone.



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Personally I feel that Gatlin’s second doping offence should have resulted in a life-time ban, or at least the 8-year ban that he negotiated with the IAAF (which, at his age, would have essentially been a life-time ban). Even if he is allowed to compete, I feel he should be banned from taking part in major championships, and certainly should not be considered for any awards like Athlete of the Year. Athletics (“Track and Field” as Americans call it) have a big problem with doping, particularly in the sprint events. As I have blogged about before, a disturbingly high fraction of the top sprinters have been found guilty of doping over the last 30 years. It is not a problem that is going to go away when cheating athletes are given a third chance.

If you take a look at the list of the 8 finalists from the 100m in the most recent Olympic games, the 2012 London Games, the number who have served doping bans is pretty shocking.



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Of the 8 finalist, 4 (four!) of them have tested positive for doping. As I’ve commented before, athletics, particularly the men’s 100m, is teetering on the brink of losing all credibility as a clean sport. Shortlisting Justin Gatlin for an Athlete of the Year award does nothing to enhance its already tainted credibility.

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Sixty years ago today, on the Iffley Road running track in Oxford, Roger Bannister became the first person in history to run a mile in under four minutes. Helping him achieve this were Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. On the 6th of May 1954, Bannister recorded a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. His record only lasted 46 days!



Roger Bannister as he crosses the line in 1954 to break the 4 minute mile barrier.

Roger Bannister as he crosses the line in 1954 to break the 4 minute mile barrier.



Bannister is, sadly, the only one of these three still alive. Chris Brasher, who was instrumental in establishing the London Marathon, died in February 2003; and Chris Chataway died just a few weeks ago in January (2014).



Chris Chataway and a Roger a Bannister. Chataway and Chris Brasher acted as pace makers for Bannister.

Chris Chataway and a Roger a Bannister. Chataway and Chris Brasher acted as pace makers for Bannister.





The blue plaque at Iffley Road running track.

The blue plaque at Iffley Road running track.



The current men’s mile record is held by Morocco’s Hicham el Guerouj. It was set in July 1999 and stands at 3 minutes 43.13 seconds.



The progress in the men's 1 mile World record.

The progress in the men’s 1 mile World record.





The progress in the women's 1 mile world record

The progress in the women’s 1 mile world record



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On Saturday (17th of August) Mo Farrah won the 5,000 metres at the World Athletics (Track & Field) Championships. In doing so he became the double double champion, holding both the 5,000 m and 10,000m titles at the Olympics and World Championships at the same time, only the second male athlete in history to do so, after Kenenise Bekele.

Does this make him the greatest British athlete ever? The BBC commentator, and ex-long distance runner Brendan Foster,,, seems to think so. As you can see in the image below, in the commentary section I have highlighted what “Big Bren”, as he is sometimes known, had to say about Mo Farrah.


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Britain has never had an athlete, male or female, who has held two titles at both the Olympics and the World Championships at the same time. So in that sense, certainly Mo has achieved more than any previous British athlete. But, Mo has never held a World record. So can we say he is better than Paula Radcliffe, who set the World marathon record in 2005 and still holds it? Or Sebastian Coe, who won Olympic gold in the 1500m in 1980 and 1984, and set the World 800m record in 1981, which was not beaten until 1997? Or Daley Thompson, who won back-to-back Olympic golds in the decathlon (1980 and 1984)?

Mo made an interesting point in an interview the day after his 5,000m triumph. He said he was planning to try and break a few World records next year, but that whereas records are broken no one can ever take away from you winning the gold in a major championships. He said that is how people tend to be remembered, for winning golds rather than for setting World records. Personally, I think it can be either. Colin Jackson, of Wales, held the 110m hurdles World record from 1993 to 2006, but he never won an Olympic gold. Yet he is still considered a great athlete.

All I can say for sure is how impressed I was with Mo Farrah’s two victories in these championships. And how pleased I was for him and his family, for all the sacrifices he and they have made for him to accomplish this remarkable feat. I was so delighted to hear him thanking the public for all their support in his post-race interview. Great athletes can sometimes become arrogant, but Mo Farrah remains humble and thankful to the people who support him and cheer him on. I hope his winning ways continue for many more years.

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This morning, the news from the Athletics (Track & Field) World Championships in Moscow is all about Usain Bolt regaining his 100m World Title (he was disqualified for a false start two years ago in Daegu after winning and setting a World record in Berlin in 2009). The British newspapers are also waxing lyrically of Mo Farrah’s impressive win in the 10,000m on Saturday evening, beating Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan, the man who beat him two years ago into second place.

There is, sadly, almost no mention of what to me was the most impressive performance of the weekend, that of Tirunesh Dibaba. She won the women’s 10,000m in majestic style. There is nothing about her victory in the Disnunited Kingdom’s The Times, The Telegraph or The Guardian (the three quality British newspapers), The New York Times mentions her in passing in its summary of the weekend’s action, and France’s Le Monde also fails to mention her completely. The BBC sports website has a very short mention of her; not quite nothing but little more than nothing.

Why is this?


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Admittedly it is difficult to compete for headlines with the showman of athletics, Usain Bolt. And in winning his fourth World Championships gold medal (100m and 200m in Berlin in 2009, 200m in Daegu in 2011 and now the 100m in Moscow), he is cementing his place as one of the all-time great sprinters. He is a larger than life character, and the cameras follow his every move when his is competing. Last night, Bolt was competing in the 3rd of the three semi-finals, a couple of hours before the final. The camera was panning down the starting line-up for the 2nd semi-final, but just before the runners went into their blocks the TV coverage cut away to show Bolt sitting watching the semi-final before his! We nearly missed seeing the start of the second semi-final just so we could see Bolt watching it.

In contrast, in very stark contrast, Tirunesh Dibaba virtually goes below the radar. Why is this? Last night she won her fifth World Championships Gold medal, adding to an already impressive tally of gold medals which also includes 3 Olympic Gold medals and 5 World Cross Country Championship Golds. She has never been beaten in a 10,000m race. Yet I suspect most people have never heard of her.


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One possibility is that the 10,000m is not as “sexy” an event as the 100m. But the coverage given to Mo Farrah suggests that people are interested in the 10,000m. So I can only assume it is because Dibaba is a shy, unassuming athlete. Also, she does not speak English, so doesn’t give any interviews to the English-language media. She doesn’t seek the spotlight, she just gets on with winning, and winning to such an extent that she is probably the greatest women track athlete of all time.


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At least Dirbaba is a heroin in her native Ethiopia. She probably would prefer that were not the case; unlike Bolt who relishes the attention of the World’s media, one gets the impression that Dibaba would hate that level of attention. So let us give her the privacy she prefers, but revel in the privilege of seeing such a remarkable athlete run, or should I say flow (as she has one of the most beautiful running styles I’ve ever seen) on the running track.

Do you think Dirbaba is the greatest woman athlete ever?


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On Sunday evening (27th of January 2013) the Penarth & Dinas Running Club had its annual prize evening. For the 2nd year in a row I managed to win my category, old farts. Over the course of the year the Club nominates 15 races which count towards the Club Championships, and one’s best 8 races will be chosen if one runs more than 8.

In 2011 I ran 10 races, and my best 8 races gave me a points total of 160 out of a possible 160. This last year (2012), mainly because I ran two marathons, I entered fewer Club Championship races, only doing 8, and my score for these 8 races was 155 points out of a possible 160. In 2nd place in my category was Steve Goodfellow, who got 109 points. In the overall Club Championships, I came 5th with a points total of 127, 10 points behind Malcom Bradley, our exceptional Senior Vet, who seems to defy age and beats many members less than half his age.


Receiving my tropy for the 2011 Club Championships.

Receiving my tropy for the 2011 Club Championships.


Receiving my trophy for the 2012 Championships.

Receiving my trophy for the 2012 Championships.


As of today, we have had our 1st Club Championship race, the Lliswerry 8 this last Sunday. I have done very little running the past two months, having what turned into a 7 week break after the Florence Marathon on the 25th of November, so I ran this year’s Lliswerry 8 with only 2 weeks’ training. My lack of fitness showed, I finished in 1 hour 5 minutes 38 seconds, a full 8 minutes and 21 seconds slower than my 2012 time! (but still over 4 minutes quicker than my 2011 time). I was beaten by two others in my category from Club, so I will need to get back into shape pretty quickly to stand any chance of retaining my title for a 3rd year in a row. What better incentive do I need to knuckle down to training after my lay-off? The next Club Championship race is in less than 3 weeks, a 10-mile race in Llanelli. So I’d better get my arse into gear!

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This Sunday (27th May) I will be running the Edinburgh marathon. This will only be my second marathon, I ran my other one 30 years ago in 1982! It was the second ever Cardiff marathon. I did obtain a place in the 1983 London marathon, back in the days when it was first come, first served. I queued all night outside the post office in Sloan Square during my first few months at Imperial College.

Unfortunately I did not start the 1983 London marathon, some 6 weeks before hand I developed shin splints, probably due to overtraining. This time around, 30 years on, I have been far more sensible about my training. Apart from my training going off the rails a little during and after my holiday in Cuba, I feel my training has gone well. I’ve done three 20-mile runs, and probably another 4 or 5 runs over 15 miles. I haven’t suffered any injuries, and now with only 5 days to go before the big day I’m getting really excited (and a little nervous).

Obviously, the frequency with which I have done marathons says it all – it is not a distance I like. It is way too far.I much prefer 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. I guess we shall see whether I ever do a 3rd marathon, and if I do whether it will be in another 30 years’ time!

So who do we have to blame for this ridiculously long run of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km)?

We can blame it all on Pheidippidees, a messenger. Legend has it that he ran from the Greek city of Marathon to Athens to announce the victory in battle of the Athenians over the Persians in 490 BC. The legend also says that, upon reaching Athens and announcing the victory, Pheidippides dropped dead of exhaustion.

A painting by Luc-Oliver Merson of Pheidippidees arriving in Athens to tell of the Athenian victory over the Persians in Marathon

When the Modern Olympics were revived in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the distance from Marathon to Athens was measured at approximately 25 miles (40 km). The marathon at the 1896 Olympics was won by Spiridon (sometimes spelled Spyridon) Louis (appropriately of Greece) in a time of 2h58m50s. By today’s standards this is a pretty slow time, but it may not have been helped by Louis apparently being fuelled along the way by wine, beer, milk, orange juice and even an Easter egg!

Spiridon Louis, who won the marathon in the 1st ever modern Olympics, of 1896

Tomorrow I will give the story behind the marathon’s distance being increased to the now standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards.

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On Saturday (19th) I, and several other Penarth & Dinas Runners club members, drove a couple of hours up to the Elan Valley in mid-Wales to compete in the Elan Valley 10 mile race. The previous Sunday (13th), I had run a 10k race in Bute Park in Cardiff, and had got (back) under 45 minutes, my target for 2011. The Elan Valley race was a different story.

Elan Valley is home to a series of reservoirs which were built in the 1893-1904 period. The reservoirs are Craig Goch, Pen-y-Garreg, Garreg Ddu and Caban Coch. Claerwen reservoir was added in 1946-1952.

Elan Valley reservoirs

The start of the race was next to Caban Coch reservoir, about 10 minutes walk from the visitor centre. This is a photograph my 13-year old daughter took with my iPhone near the start of the race. As you can see, the autumn colours were beautiful, making this one of the most scenic races I have done.

Caban Coch

Caban Coch reservoir, Elan Valley

There were about 120 or so runners doing the race, and as I looked around at the start I could see there were very few younger (under 30) runners. This is usually a sign that the course is going to be tough, and in fact our Club captain Clem and his wife Janice had warned us of a nasty hill at 2 miles. We had a good turnout from Penarth & Dinas, in addition to myself there was Paul W, Paul F, Malcolm, Yvonne, Sara, Clem and Michelle. Steve H and Janice came up too to support us (shout at us).

The race started at 1pm, with the mayor of Rhayader setting us off on our way. The first mile was downhill, and when I checked my time at the first mile marker and saw it reading 6 minutes 45 seconds, I told myself to slow down! The course was then flat for the best part of a mile, but just approaching the two mile marker a local (who looked like a farmer) told those of us bothering to listen that a “short, sharp hill” was approaching. He was right about it being a hill, and it was sharp in places, but there was nothing short about it. It carried on for a good mile, with numerous false “peaks” where one thought one had reached the end of it. From the top of that (never-ending) hill through to the end the course was undulating, with hardly any flat stretches.

Elan Valley 10 mile race

The route of the Elan Valley 10 mile race

This was the 3rd ten mile race I have done this year, with my previous best being the 2nd one at Brecon, where I did 1 hour 21 minutes 13 seconds. I was aiming for a time of 1 hour 20 minutes, and went through halfway in 38 minutes 40 seconds feeling fine. But, after mile 6, my lack of distance runs of late took their toll. I have concentrated my training since the Swansea Bay 10k on speed work to get my 10k time down, and have not done many runs longer than 6-7 miles. From 6 miles onwards my legs turned to lead, and it seemed everyone who was behind me started going past, including Paul F from our Club.

I ran with Paul for about half a mile, but could not keep up with him as my legs tired more and more. By 8 miles I knew I was going to miss my target time, and in the last mile (which was slightly downhill), I could only muster a time of 8 minutes 3 seconds, pretty pathetic for the last mile of a race, and a sure sign of how tired my legs were. I finished in 1 hour 21 minutes 53 seconds, nearly 2 minutes outside my target time, and a terrible second half to the race after going through the first 5 miles well under my target time.

I was very disappointed to miss my target time, but did feel a little better when other members of the Club who had done the Brecon 10 mile race told me how much slower they were in this race. I was only 40 seconds slower, several who had done the Brecon 10 were 2 or 3 minutes slower. Also, it was good to cheer in the (few) Club members who came in after me.

After the race, we all retired to the visitor centre for the prize giving. I’m delighted to say that our Club chairman Clem won the male 50-60 category, with an amazing time of just over 1 hour 5 minutes. Here he is receiving his prize.

Clem receiving his 50-60 category prize

So, the previous weekend I do my season’s best for 10k, this weekend I was disappointed to not beat 1 hour 20 minutes for a 10 mile race. The ups and downs of running. But I, and all the other Club members who ran this race, need to remind ourselves just how tough a course it was. We should be pleased with ourselves we actually competed in it and completed it!

Our next Club championshp race is this Sunday, the Drovers run, an “off road odyssey” which I am sure will be equally as challenging at the Elan Valley 10.

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