Tyson Gay in the Osaka mixed zone (Bongarts) © Copyright
General News 25 August 2007 – Osaka, Japan

Life in the mix

Osaka, JapanAt each Championship, the most frenetic action does not always take place on the track or in the field. Often, it happens as the athletes have left the arena and are on their way to collect their kit.

Their route to their clothes is via an area called the mixed-zone - and here it can be judged who is in the medal zone.

It is where the athletes meet the media – the two parties ‘mixing’ together – and it is rare for one competitor to be the same as the next.

As the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics opened in Osaka yesterday, a fascinating insight into the emotions and the mindset of those chasing glory could be captured.

None more so than in the 100 metres, where Jamaican Asafa Powell, the World record holder who has made no public appearances all week, wandered through to a host of calls for an interview.

He did not say a word, just putting up a thumb as a way of recognising that all was well in his world.

Not long after, American Tyson Gay, the fastest man in the world this year, followed him off the track. He carried out two interviews, before disappearing into the night.

Powell just wanted to keep himself to himself. He did not want to talk about his run, about what he might achieve while Gay was happy to chat about how he had not performed at his best and there was more to come.

Who was trying to gain the psychological edge? Gay would have been left wondering how Powell felt while the world-record holder could have heard than his rival had been disappointed with his sluggish first round.

As Britain’s Kelly Sotherton left, she had to manouvre her way past two of her Heptathlon rivals who had not recovered from their 200m race and were taking an impromptu stop off to regain their breath. Bodies everywhere, and a host of smiling faces because many are just embracing what it is like to be at the Championships and are happy to talk all day.

And even the most successful refuse to say 'no'.

Take Carolina Kluft. She is arguably the Queen of the mixed zone because of the amount of people she talks to and it is not just the odd one-word answer.

There are others who have made the zone a place to make a statement. None more so than Britain’s 1992 Olympic champion Linford Christie, who would never talk during rounds, advice he passed onto the protégés he coached such as Darren Campbell, the 2003 World 100m bronze medallist.

It was all about keeping the concentration. Chatting about a heat before the next round was breaking the focus of what an athlete is at the Championship for. It is why the likes of Christie would walk through, showing they still have a job to do.

Yet it does not stop them being pursued, by television cameramen, by reporters, by radio writers. They are all looking for that odd quote, that catchy soundbite, when sometimes the answer is just a smile and a thumbs up – actions which can tell the story just as well.

Richard Lewis for the IAAF