It is halfway through the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, and it feels like each day just gets better and better. The bar continues to be raised in many events, and for the few Irish athletes out here it’s been another reminder nothing whatsoever comes easy at this level of the sport.
I have been here working as coach to five athletes at Union Athletics Club, representing the USA, Australia and Germany. As a result, my days revolve around which athletes are competing and helping with the final preparations of those yet to compete.
It also means when I’m in the stadium I watch races through different eyes, as when you are only watching your own athletes you can completely miss the whole race. So there’s always time needed to watch back over dinner at the house after the meet.
We are staying at a house up on Skyline Boulevard and as the name suggests we are up high in the trees looking down over Hayward Field in the distance. There is always time to get in a morning run on the endless wood chip trails, time to reflect on the day’s events, what’s coming up and plan out the day.
We are a decent walk downhill to the track, which always seems to take longer than you think it should, especially when you hit the steep incline on the way back.
We had three days of the women’s 1,500m, heats, semi-finals and final. Sinclaire Johnson of the USA and Jessica Hull of Australia finished sixth and seventh in a race that became split into two after Gudaf Tsegay, Faith Kipyegon and Laura Muir started like they were running an 800m race.
They stayed away with Olympic champion Kipyegon once again showing why she is the best women’s 1,500m runner in the world.
The athletes get to the stadium about two hours before their race, time to relax, warm up and go to the call room where they are checked for correct uniform and shoes before entering the stadium.
It’s a routine they will have done over and over again, but on the day of the final on the world stage it always seems that little bit more intense. The nerves creep in as you navigate the rounds and ultimately the final when all the years and months of training are on the line, chasing the dream result.
The men’s 1,500m produced the ultimate dream result on Tuesday evening for Jake Wightman. In one of the events, when most would have expected Jakob Ingebrigtsen to claim his first world title, the tables were turned by Wightman, who had been quietly plotting his route to victory while all the focus had been on Ingebrigtsen, who will now return in the 5,000m later in the week with greater motivation for victory over a gruelling 12½ laps of the track.
We had no athletes competing on Tuesday night so I was able to go to the stadium as a fan and sit in the stands. It’s a different feeling when you go to the stadium to watch when you’re not emotionally invested in any of the athletes competing and you can relax and enjoy the races.
I sat in the stands on Tuesday night with my daughter Sophie who came down from the University of Washington to enjoy a few days of athletics and the energy you get at a world championships, to walk among some of the best athletes in world, it’s hard not to feel inspired.
It’s nicely surprising to see the stadium fill up each day. Generally there have been just two track finals and two field event finals taking place at the end of a series of qualifying rounds so the sessions are short and finished each night before dark.
As an accredited coach you have access to the warm-up track and entrance to the stadium but no guaranteed seat. I have sat in a different seat every day and have never been disappointed. The stadium is purpose-built to give everyone the best view of the track-and-field event action — you’re never too far away — and there’s a giant screen to replay the action and introduce the athletes on the start line.
There was a worry if the fans would come and fill the stadium and so far they have: they understand and get involved in the action both on the track and on the field.
No matter where you sit there is excitement and everyone stands up to try to get a closer look at the close finishes, none better than on Tuesday night for the men’s 1,500m, when Wightman went to pass Ingebrigtsen, who up to that point seemed dominant and unbeatable.
But when Ingebrigtsen was unable to react, Wightman edged in front and held his one-step advantage while his father Geoff Wightman, the in-stadium announcer, held his composure and delivered the words as everyone got to their feet to see the first British 1,500m victory since Steve Cram back in 1983 at the very first world championships in Helsinki.
There is definitely a small-town feel about the World Athletics Championships here in Eugene and anyone that has made the trip will be glad they did. It’s a long time to be here for all 10 days of the championships, however, and you’d wonder if it could be condensed into fewer days and longer sessions.
As we head to the weekend, the seats may become even scarcer with more and more finals to navigate. I am back to work today for the heats of the men’s 800m with Donavan Brazier of the USA, the defending champion, and Konstanze Klosterhalfen from Germany in the women’s 5,000m.
For the Irish performances so far, I don’t think many rose to the occasion as much as they could have. It was a pity too that Rhasidat Adeleke didn’t get to run in the final of the mixed relay, but you could also see she wanted to have a good run in the open 400m, which she certainly did in her heat. It was strange though that they had two days off before the heats for the semi-finals.
We saw with Andrew Coscoran what he is capable of, running well in the heat, he had a good race but he couldn’t back that up in the semi-final. That does mean asking some hard questions, like how exactly do you fix that?
I’ve been talking to some of the Irish coaches, Rob Heffernan and Feidhlim Kelly, and the athletes will tell you themselves they are the most disappointed, so it’s about deciding what needs to be done now. If there are lessons to be learned, look at how Wightman came out here and improved as much as he did.
For some of the Irish, next month’s European Championships might have been the main target anyway, although that won’t necessarily be any easier. Look at how well some of the European athletes performed here, and there certainly won’t be any easier medals there either. There might be a better chance of making finals, but there is nothing guaranteed.