First morning thoughts

The European Athletics Championships, Roma 2024, started, as TS Eliot might have said had he been here: not with a bang but a whimper.  The magnificent Stadio Olimpico, which has hosted a World Football World Cup Final and the 1960 Olympics, was all but empty at 9.35am when the first discus was thrown.  There will be bigger crowds as the week progresses, but filling a 60,000 stadium for a track and field event anywhere in Europe outside of the UK will always be a tall order.

On a hot morning, the British athletes picked Jemma Reekie, who won her heat with the minimum of effort. Normally, an 800m runner, Jemma, who was running 15 mainly to help her 800 stamina, finished in 4:06.68. Afterward, she said, “I’ve felt no pressure here, just that I want to do well. I’m relatively happy. I just wanted to stay out of trouble and get through those rounds because I have never got out of a 1500m round before. The first job is to get that done. They kept clipping me from the back, so I thought, ‘Do you know what, I’m going to move. Everyone starts panicking, and then it’s like you end up swamped. 800 races always go out a decent enough pace that it’s not crowded really, the 1500m however, if it goes slow then everyone is involved!”

Georgia Bell, Katie Snowden, and Ireland’s Ciara Mageean and Sarah Healy reached the final, meaning that five of the twelve finalists are from the British Isles. Elliot Giles and Thomas Randolph made the men’s 800 m semi-finals, and Lizzie Bird qualified for the 3000m steeplechase final. Two field-eventers, Jacob Fincham-Dukes (long jump) and Lawrence Okoye (Discus), also made the finals.

European Athletics has adopted the policy of giving the top 12 in the shorter races a bye into the second round.  Personally, I have never been a fan of this policy. Firstly, surely a championship should be fair,4 with all athletes having to run the same number of races to win rather than giving an advantage to some by requiring them to run one race less. Secondly, at a time when you are struggling to sell the tickets, is it a good idea to make the early sessions less attractive by excluding, by definition, your best athletes in a number of disciplines?