Exclusive By Owen Morgan
Welsh athletes may currently be sidelined under lockdown, but in just over two years they may be facing the busiest schedule the highest level of the sport has ever witnessed.
Welsh coach James Thie says athletes will have decisions to make with the World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Athletics Championships now all due to be held within the space of six hectic weeks in the summer of 2022.
“As a coach it’s going to make it very, very interesting,” says Thie, whose endurance training group is based in Cardiff.
“I’d love to have my athletes at all three and hope we do have athletes at all three. In terms of coaching, it’s going to be a very, very busy time.
“But in terms of athletics, in terms of raising the profile, it will be an amazing six weeks, and we might need another few months off after that!”
The congested calendar has been caused by the Tokyo Olympics having been pushed back 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To avoid a clash with the new Olympic dates, the World Athletics Championships, due to take place in Oregon next year, have also been pushed back a year.
Thanks again those tuning in live & also getting it done in their own time💪I’ve been blown away by the kind messages & hearing how people are feeling part of a community by getting involved👍Cheers JT👊https://t.co/JpOQonFU88@SauconyUK @BritishMilers @SOSRehydrate @CMetSport
— James Thie (@TeamThie) April 13, 2020
That means three major athletics events will be staged during July and August 2022, which already accommodated the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the European Athletics Championships.
The world championships will run from July 15 to 24, followed by the Commonwealth Games between July 27 and August 7, with the athletics timetable at the multi-event European Championships in Munich starting on August 15.
Thie says the new schedule could create opportunities for some and headaches for others as athletes and coaches calculate whether it is feasible to contest all three, or whether compromises will have to be made.
It is a unique situation for athletes from the home nations as they are the only ones eligible for all three championships.
“It’s a knock-on effect obviously of everything going on,” says Thie. “The programme right now means that if you are an athlete of world standing and you are supported by British Athletics, or under a contract with a shoe manufacturer, it’s all about the World Championships. There is no denying that.
“But then you’ve got the flip side of those home country athletes, who feel a real sense of pride, I think they will still want to head to the Commonwealth Games.
“The problem is, it is obviously transatlantic. You have jet lag and then you throw in having come from the biggest competition in the world.
“Some of the events are more feasible to do. You could never run a marathon at the world champs and then go to the Commonwealth Games and run another marathon – that just wouldn’t happen.
“But you could throw a hammer, or be a long jumper at the world champs and then go to the Commonwealths – that could happen.
“I think some British athletes will skip the Commonwealth Games. I don’t think Welsh athletes will if they’re picked because there is a huge sense of pride. I think some of the English athletes, too, but that’s just a rough guess.
“Some will target the European Championships because there is a bit more of a recovery in between.”
However, the situation may open up opportunities for some athletes says the endurance coach.
“Maybe it does open up the opportunities for those up-and-coming athletes who don’t make the world championships team but make the Commonwealth Games.
“There may be some global superstars missing the Commonwealths because there is technically a clash.
“It might mean that there are opportunities at the Commonwealth Games that wouldn’t be there if it was a stand-alone championships which would almost be the standard of a world championships. It might open up some of the events.”
Some athletes have already said they are relishing the challenge of competing the hat-trick of events.
Thie says the possibility of attending all three championships will depend on which events athletes are competing in and at what level.
“To do all three, which some people are talking about, I think would almost be impossible in some events.
“You could throw the shot at all three and be perfectly fine, but you couldn’t run a 10k at all three. Even in the sprints, to go all the rounds, 100 and relays and then more sprints again at Commies and Europeans, that’s a lot of races in a short space of time.
“Also remember, at the world championships there is prize money and you get money in your contracts, but at the Europeans and Commonwealths there is almost nothing unless you are the champion and even then it’s very minimal.
“At certain levels, money does talk. But I do think for Welsh athletes there is a huge sense of pride and we know that, we have seen it over the years.
“I think Welsh athletes who make the World Championships will hopefully look to do the Commonwealth Games as well if possible. But it’s also about how well they can travel, how well they can recover and how hungry they are when they get to the start line at Birmingham.
“I think it is also about where you are as an athlete. If you are at a world level, then you are not going to turn down a World Championships in Oregon because that is the pinnacle.
“The Olympic Games, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Europeans, that’s the order. But for Welsh athletes there is a huge sense of pride because it only comes around once every four years.”
Much will also depend on selection policies with the World Championships and European Championships featuring Great Britain teams, while the Commonwealth Games will feature teams selected from the individual home nations.
Thie says: “I can see the Europeans that year maybe being more of a development competition for under-23s, potentially. Because the best senior athletes, I don’t think they will want to go.
“As I’ve said, once they’ve been to a World Championships, anything afterwards is going to be a bit tough to get up for.”
Thie has sympathy for the organisers of all three events.
“It’s just a shame in that calendar, especially with Birmingham – the amount of time and effort they have put in, you want the best athletes to be there.
“So my heart goes out to those guys because that’s tough. But it’s equally tough for Oregon having been scheduled as the Championships in 2021 and to have to shift it a whole year.”
Whatever happens, Thie says it’s going to be a hectic period for athletes and coaches alike, totally in contrast to the current situation.