Thiam Mbacke from SenegalEdmonton 2001 truly Global Athletics
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
12 August 2001 – Edmonton - The final medals table is looking suspiciously like it used to do in the bad old days of the Cold War. But these are warmer times, and all credit to the Russians for getting their act back together after the considerable fall-out following the Soviet disintegration. They ended with 19 medals, the same as the USA, although the American drive on the closing day took them away from the Russians’ six golds, and ensured nine titles for Uncle Sam, which might have been ten but for the women’s 4x400 metres baton disaster on the last leg.

Perhaps more interesting for the future of the sport is the distribution of the other medals, and their destination. When a country like the Bahamas – population 275,000 – can win a gold and silver, with considerable input from individual winner, the elegant Avard Moncur on the men’s 4x400 relay, and countries like Senegal – to the joy of IAAF President Lamine Diack – and the Dominican Republic, and Mozambique and Jamaica can win gold, the athletic word is spreading well beyond its traditional frontiers.

That, of course was part of the rationale for bringing these 8th IAAF World Championships to North America, which despite the US domination of Olympic and World Championship athletics medal tables remains in many respects a wasteland for publicising the sport. The Bahamas deserves another mention for its athletes’ performances over the last three years. Gold in Seville and Sydney, gold and silver here.

In contrast, countries like Great Britain and France, where athletics has a long and honourable tradition are engaged in much soul-searching, as to how they might retrieve former glories. GB, for example had its worst ever championships, despite their wide medal potential. One attempt at revival in Britain, for is the inauguration this Autumn of a National Distance Running Academy in West London. The idea is to provide an university course for aspiring young middle and long distance runners, with medical and psychological back-up, and that the centre should prove a focus for any other elite runner who wishes to use it.

This initiative and similar ones in the USA (including at altitude) are attempts to reproduce the success in the distance events of countries like Kenya (three gold, three silver, one bronze here – Ethiopia (2-2-4), and Morocco (2-1-0), who have had camps such as these for years, thanks either to the national federations or to the clothing and footwear companies.

It’s good to see the Polish revival continue, after their surprise men’s victory in the European Cup earlier this summer. A one time post-Second World War athletics power, they all but disappeared from the track and field map over the last decade, albeit the double gold medal success here was due to the tried and tested duo, Simon Ziolkowski in the hammer and the indefatigable Robert Korzeniowski in the 50k Walk. But again, at the less traditional end of the scale, and even though we may only be talking about a single athlete, or small team, the representation of countries like St Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Surinam, Israel and Estonia on the medal table suggests that the athletic word in spreading wider and further.

The opinions and content of this article are those of the author and are not attributable to the IAAF, nor do they reflect or represent any official position of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.