News30 Sep 2021

Looking back at World Athletics’ stories of inspiration and experience


Inspiration and experience

Over the past few months, World Athletics' platforms have shared some of the many inspirational stories from within the sport, while there has also been a focus on experiencing athletics at all levels. Here are some of the highlights.


In July we launched a new series called Why I ... featuring some of the sport's stars as they shared insight into their passion for their event.

"There was something immediately captivating about the event. I was aged 14 or 15 at the time and I liked the fact that a javelin thrower is not confined to a circle. There was an energy about using a runway, followed by the snap of the javelin and the way the javelin floated in the air," said world champion Kelsey-Lee Barber.

"When all is going well, each throw feels effortless. The timing comes together and you feel the spear snap off the fingers, the energy flows through the shaft and the javelin flies. Of course, not every day is a good day. On the bad days the event is really tough. Your timing may be off by a fraction of a second and you have to work hard to piece it all together. But that is what I appreciate about javelin, it is such a humbling event. It is a technical event which is not just based on raw power but a certain finesse and beauty – like all the throws.

"My manager explains it perfectly by describing javelin as like a 'relaxed explosion'. In some ways that moment of release is a bit like a car crash, but it is important to remain relaxed. It is like being in a peaceful state in a moment of chaos."

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Instalments: Yoshihide Kiryu | Verena Mayr | Perseus Karlstrom | Kelsey-Lee Barber | Sam KendricksTobi Amusan | Joshua Cheptegei | Dina Asher-Smith


Our illustrated features took a look back at the careers and lives of Cathy Freeman, Betty Robinson and Ghada Shouaa.

Nineteen million Australians had their eyes on one athlete at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games: Cathy Freeman. And 112,000 people were watching her live at the Olympic Stadium on the night of 25 September. They all witnessed her lighting the Olympic cauldron at the beginning of the Games, and now they were all holding their breath for 49.11 seconds to see if their Australian star would deliver on home soil.

And she delivered, offering Australia its best sporting moment of the past century.

Freeman won the women’s 400m in Sydney, becoming the first Aboriginal athlete to win individual gold for Australia. She redefined what delivering under pressure really meant. No other athlete had to carry so much pressure building up to their Olympic race.

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On 13 July we remembered Italian race walking maverick Ugo Frigerio on the anniversary of his third Olympic gold medal win.

He was a friend of Mussolini and even conducted an orchestra in the middle of an Olympic final. To say Ugo Frigerio was one of athletics’ all-time characters doesn’t do the Italian justice.

The son of a greengrocer, he starred in three Olympic Games 12 years apart and is the second most successful Olympic race walker of all time, ranking behind only Robert Korzeniowski’s total of four golds.

In the 1924 Chariots of Fire Games, while Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell ran to glory later immortalised in an Oscar-winning film, Frigerio was race walking to 10km gold on 13 July by a massive 49 seconds over second place.

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On 22 July, to commemorate the last day of the athletics programme of the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris, we opened the Olympic Athletics Collection room in the virtual Museum of World Athletics (MOWA), featuring artefacts from Emil Zatopek, Naoko Takahashi and Eliud Kipchoge.

The new gallery in MOWA, the world’s first virtual sports museum, has been designed in the shape of a flower, its four petals displaying artefacts from more than 40 Olympic medallists representing 23 countries.

The displays in glorious 360˚ 3D – which are supported by text in English, French, and Spanish languages, and are illustrated by numerous stunning photographs – celebrate the history of athletics inside the modern Olympic Games since their revival in 1896.

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Also ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we launched a new way for fans to follow the action: Inside Track Tokyo 2020. The second screen experience offered a choice of six live feeds, with celebrities, experts and families sharing their expertise and emotions in real-time.

“Whilst the performances of our athletes have been exceptional, I know many of them wish their families and friends were here in Tokyo to share their moment,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “I also know we have thousands of fans that follow our sport, literally, from city to city. I am sad that they are not with us in Tokyo.

"However, I am really proud with the way our athlete families, our athletes and our superfans have come together to share their experiences and expertise through Inside Track Tokyo 2020.  

“Some of the funniest, most honest and definitely most insightful comments on our sport at these Olympic Games have come through the live feeds. I want to thank all of our digital stars for giving up their time, their insights and, most of all, their passion. You have all been exceptional, thank you.”

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For those inspired by the action in Tokyo, we shared some tips for beginner track runners.

Among those who will no doubt be watching the track and field competition will be the huge number of people to have taken up running for the first time during the pandemic. Despite the terrible global cost of Covid-19, one overwhelmingly positive consequence of it has been the boom in new runners. If you are one of them, you might be tempted to try running on an athletics track for the first time. Or maybe you have children who, inspired by the sight of formidable Olympians giving it their all, start dreaming of future glory on an athletics track.

Whatever the reason, now is the ideal time to just have a go at your local track. But where to start? What are the rules? Can you just turn up at a track and run? Here are my tips for complete beginners who want to dip their toe in and give it a try.

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We then relived the Tokyo Olympic Games by highlighting 10 magical moments, from shared high jump gold to a bracelet gift and more.

With three world records, 12 Olympic records and dozens of area and national records, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was officially the highest quality major event in athletics history.

But beyond the record-breaking performances, what made the Games truly memorable were the other moments that happened on and off the field of play.

From heart-breaking post-race interviews to mid-race fist-bumps, the 10 days of athletics action were one long emotional rollercoaster. Here are just 10 of the moments that will long live in the memory.

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And we told the story of how Refugee Olympic Team athletes stepped up and inspired in Tokyo.

On the opening night of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tachlowini Gabriyesos served as a flag bearer for the Refugee Olympic Team. On the Games’ final day, he lined up on the front line at the start of men’s marathon. Standing six runners to his left was the reigning champion and world record-holder, Eliud Kipchoge.

By any measure, the 23-year-old – who fled conflict and bloodshed in his native Eritrea at age 12, journeyed through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt before crossing the Sinai desert on foot – had come a long way.

But his journey to that start line wasn’t just about reaching it.

"I want do the best I can, not just to be in Tokyo but to do a really good competition,” he said in mid-June, just a few hours after learning that he been selected for the team. “I want to make history for refugees by making a very good competition in the marathon.”

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From one marathoner to another, we celebrated Wami Biratu, the grandfather of Ethiopian distance running.

Wami Biratu is hardly known outside of his homeland, Ethiopia. Within the country, however, Biratu’s story is infamous.

Biratu was born in Sululta, Ethiopia, where countless Ethiopians and international runners now train. “I grew up running after animals and catching animals,” he said, speaking in his dimly lit home in Addis Ababa. He still wears his Ethiopian national team tracksuit on a regular basis, and occasionally drapes all of his medals, which weigh about two kilos, around his neck. In the living room countless photos and newspaper clippings of him and Bikila, and some early Ethiopian athletes, line the walls.

“One day my grandmother came from Addis, where she bought some coffee, which was wrapped in a paper,” Biratu tells of his origin story. “When she was making the coffee she threw the paper aside and I saw on it a picture of a sportsman. I am tall, and the sportsman was short. So I thought, ‘if I have a competition with this guy I will win because I am taller’.”

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As attention turned to the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, we shared some advice for aspiring sports stars, highlighting three ways to help youngsters get off to a great start in athletics.

While watching the Tokyo Olympics, I often thought of the old proverb ‘From little acorns, mighty oaks grow’. We witnessed a changing of the guard and the arrival of a new generation of young stars. Teenagers Athing Mu, Keely Hodgkinson, and Erriyon Knighton performed with maturity and excellence way beyond their years. We were left wondering how they could be so… well, simply so FAST, at such a young age. They are still small acorns in terms of their age, but already mighty oaks in terms of their performances.

Developing children into strong athletes and confident adults is all about inspiration and experience. Giving children inspiration, for example through visible role models who they can relate to, and positive experiences of training and competition, is the foundation of creating a lifelong love of sport and being active.

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Among the many World Athletics U20 Championships stories told from Nairobi was one focused on the new wave of race walking stars, led by Heristone Wanyonyi of Kenya and Amit of India.

For fans of athletics, perhaps the best thing about age-group championships is how they offer a window into the future of the sport – a glimpse of the names and faces that will light up the track, field and roads at senior level in years to come.

But it’s not just the stars you can first identify here, it’s the trends. When an event goes through a transformation at senior level, the roots of that are typically traced back many years to U20 level. In this, the most global of sports, one event in particular showed a changing face at the World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 21.

Two nations that had never appeared on the medal stand for race walking in previous editions of the championships were India and Kenya. But that changed in Nairobi, with Heristone Wanyonyi of Kenya and Amit of India dominating the men’s race to win gold and silver respectively.

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Then, on 30 August to mark the moment's 30th anniversary, Mike Powell reflected on his record-breaking leap at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.

A measure of a true champion is how they respond when the pressure is on, their ability to produce the biggest performance of their life when it matters most.

For Mike Powell, that moment came on 30 August 1991 at the World Championships in Tokyo in what went down as one of the greatest duels in athletics history.

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From being inspired at the National Boys’ and Girls’ Schools Athletics Championships to becoming the icons themselves, we looked back on the journey of Jamaican sprint stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah - from 'Champs' to champions.

For five days, this joyous carnival sprint production show packs Kingston’s National Stadium to its 30,000 capacity. It is the talk of the national radio shows and fills the front and back pages of Jamaica’s national newspapers. Every second of the action is screened live on national TV.

High school students and alumni come dressed in school colours and make a partisan racket with their drums, horns and thunder sticks. Dotted around the packed-full bleachers, you can spot the graduates who made it to the top, all sporting their old school colours.

Such is the jaw-dropping standard and depth of the high-speed sprinting on display, Thompson-Herah never managed to get on to the podium. Fraser-Pryce only won the once and nine years later, she could be seen enjoying the action from the bleachers. 

“That’s what Champs does to you,” she said, beaming her infectious smile. “It’s the whole atmosphere and the excitement about how everybody’s competing."

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With the World Athletics U20 Championships still fresh in the memory, we heard from three Athlete Refugee Team runners who had competed in Nairobi.

At first, it seemed like mission impossible complicated by the pandemic, confinement and lack of competitions in 2020. It was not easy getting these athletes out of the refugee camps, but the dream came true for 16-year-old Joseph Loboi Morris (3000m), 18-year-old Emmaculate Napeyok (200m) and 16-year-old Alice IIam Samuel (800m) at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi.

In June, World Athletics facilitated travel and full board for an U20 Athlete Refugee Team (ART) selection process at the regional trials that took place in Iten, Kenya, which led to the discovery of these three young promising athletes. They come from the Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement which at the end of July 2020 registered 196,666 refugees and asylum-seekers, mainly from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda. The mission was a joint effort on the part of World Athletics, Athletics Kenya (AK), the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF) and the UNHCR.

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We then spoke with Kenya's 2007 world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei, who remains a heroine even after changing her career from an athlete to a coach and mentor.

“I am doing this because of the love I have for running and for the athletes. Running changed my life in a big way. I find great joy in nurturing and guiding young runners and in seeing them begin to excel in their careers as well,” said Jepkosgei, referring to the numerous selfless contributions she has made to support young runners from different levels and backgrounds and the training camps she has set up to do so.

“For me to become a successful runner, I had to go through a number of good people in my life that helped me, including some of my relatives, my first coach Paul Ereng and later on, coach Claudio Berardelli. I want to be able to give out the same help I received and change lives as well.”

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As focus then turned to the return of big city marathons, we delved into the numbers behind the Elite Platinum Label races, including the expected 2021 participation figures as the mass field comeback continues.

Due to the pandemic, several races that are traditionally held earlier in the year were postponed to the last few months of 2021. It means that distance running fans will be treated to an intense and exciting 10-week period of the world’s biggest road races.

Many of the world’s leading road runners have already been confirmed in the various line-ups. Here’s a closer look at the numbers surrounding each race.

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More exciting content is planned for the rest of this year, when our attention will shift to participation and celebration.