Contrary to the Headlines, Athletics Is Clean and Rio Will Be Incredible

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With the Rio Olympics fast approaching, track and field athletics is once again embroiled in scandal, controversy, and disgust. Or in the media it is. On Friday night I was lucky enough to bear witness to the electricity meter at the London Olympic Stadium explode with the buzz of the Anniversary Games. It was just fantastic for the world to focus solely on the talent.

I’m 17 years old, and have been a dedicated club athlete for nearly a decade now. I know what it’s like for the 99.9% of athletes, all of whom compete clean. On those bitter winter nights when the wind is gusting and the nation’s hand is putting on the kettle, we’re out battling the elements, building strength and endurance.

It was heart-warming and actually quite emotional to be at the centre of such excitement, inspiration and acclaim at the Anniversary Games. The noise level was insane, light and colour brighter than one could describe. There was endless love and admiration for the world’s greatest athletes; personal bests, world leads, British records and even two world records, were set left right and centre. The tunnel of noise for Laura Muir, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah was astounding. And what those watching on television didn’t see was the abundance of grassroots talent on show in the 4x100m relays for London athletes aged 12-20 earlier in the evening. What a night it was.

As one can only expect, those not involved in athletics often rely solely on trusted International media organisations for news about the sport. However, too often the only headlines written are those of disgust: alleged Russian state-sponsored doping, corruption embedded within the sport’s governing body the IAAF, alleged doping by Kenyan doctors working with certain British athletes and multiple-time drug cheats themselves, namely Justin Gatlin, being allowed to compete guilt-free on the global stage.

And what a great shame this is. The dopers form less than 0.1% of the sport, they don’t represent us – the real athletics community – and the authorities are constantly trying to eliminate them, as we saw with the decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian track and field athletes from Rio. Yet, it’s of such media interest, whereas the countless achievements in recent times of the young, bright current British athletics team are shunned from the headlines.

The ultimate goal of every athlete is to reach the Olympics or Paralympics. At London 2012, the spotlight was firmly on the athletics, and what an oozing summer of joy and gratitude it was as a result. For this, that year was special. Just look to the scandals of Olympics and Paralympics past and present, even today the fears surrounding Rio 2016 – the event is all politicised by the media.

Yes, London 2012 had its security fears, but hysteria surrounding Rio has been taken to another level by news hacks. Exploited workers, incomplete stadiums, police injustice, rising crime, the threat of hostile social inequality spilling out from the favelas, a perilous government, an economy drowning in recession, a soft target for fundamentalist terrorism. It’s the real world, yes. But hey, never mind the talented, immensely dedicated athletes who have worked tirelessly for years to reach this point, let’s just focus on the rumbling politics.

Although, resting all blame on the media would simply be unfair. The starry eyes of the International Olympic Committee have a tendency to permit the games to take place in countries with political situations bound to distract from the talent. Maybe the IOC looks to FIFA for inspiration, which has ludicrously entrusted Russia, a haven of corruption and lies, and Qatar, a den of instability and exploitation, with the next two World Cups.

And this is what made the Anniversary Games so special for me – they were a true and much-needed celebration of British and worldwide athletics, in its own light. Those thirsty readers and watchers across the globe could , for once, appreciate track and field without distraction, perhaps awakening them to the true reality of the sport.

Athletes young and old nationwide are training right now, as you read. They are gritting their teeth reaching personal goals and breaking boundaries, whatever they may be, pursuing a sport that they love. Not only those club-affiliated, but running groups and casuals alike. They love running, jumping and throwing, we love it, and have every reason to do so.

At 9am every Saturday morning, runners from every walk of life, age regardless, ability regardless, turn up in parks across Britain to do a ‘Parkrun’. The free initiative sees thousands running a 5k, pushed all the way with friendly and confidence-boosting support from volunteers and the local community. Rain or shine, windy or still, warm or chill, they love it anyway, even if it may not feel like it in the last kilometre.

This is what athletics is about; this is our community. It’s not cheats, it’s not corruption, it’s not politics – it’s doesn’t even have to be about hurtling down a 100m straight in less than 10 seconds. It’s about you, your passion, commitment and enjoyment, and every one of us makes the sport that today more than ever inspires generations. If our media and the IOC could get their act together, we could inspire yet more, and as real athletes know all too well, anything is possible. Rio is special, the London 2017 World Championships are special, and we will make them amazing, as they deserve to be.

North Devon Athletes compete on national stage at Gateshead

North Devon Gazette

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Isabel Wakefield came third in the under 17 women’s long jump at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan SomervilleIsabel Wakefield came third in the under 17 women’s long jump at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Eight North Devon athletes shone at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships last weekend, with two setting club records.

Competing in Gateshead, Isabel Wakefield of North Devon Athletics Club (NDAC) came third in the under 17 women’s long jump with a club record distance of 5.80m.

In the same age group, Maia Dart battled tough conditions to place sixth in the javelin with an NDAC record of 40.31m.

More stand out performances landed in the sandpit as Caitlin Gallagher came 18th in the under 17 women’s triple jump with a distance of 10.45m, and Emily Tyrrell placed 11th in the under 15 girls’ long jump final with 4.98m.

Caitlin Gallagher competed in the under 17 women’s triple jump at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan SomervilleCaitlin Gallagher competed in the under 17 women’s triple jump at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Elsewhere on the field, Emma Sharpe, who is a first year in her age group, placed 14th in the under 17 women’s discuss with a distance of 30.80m.

On the track, the 1500m steeplechase saw under 17 Evee May Banbury finish 10th with a personal best time of 5 minutes 21 seconds, whilst Martika Gallagher of the under 20s finished 11th in 5 minutes 20 seconds.

Caitlin’s sister Megan also excelled, reaching the final of the 300m hurdles and crossing the line sixth in a time of 45.80 seconds.

Reflecting on her feat, she told the Gazette: “I’m happy that I got to the final, but upset I didn’t get podium position as my personal best time would have placed me second.”

Megan Gallagher reached the final of the 300m hurdles at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan SomervilleMegan Gallagher reached the final of the 300m hurdles at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships in Gateshead. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Issy Wakefield, who will be relocating to London for heptathlon training this September, said: “It was a great surprise for me as the long jump isn’t my main event, so to pull out a PB of almost 20cm on competition day was the icing on the cake.

“I never become overwhelmed by the occasion of a big championship; if I take everything one step at a time and be consistent, I know I will have a good chance of reaping the rewards that I deserve.”

North Devon athletes to represent South West at championships

North Devon Gazette

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Nine athletes from North Devon have been selected to represent the region at the English Schools’ Athletics Championships.

The North Devon Athletics Club members qualified as members of a strong Devon team at the South West Schools’ Athletics Championships in Exeter.

In the 1500m Steeplechase, Evee May Banbury qualified in the inter girls category and Martika Gallagher in the senior girls.

They were joined on the field by inter girl Emma Sharpe, who qualified for the discus, and Maia Dart for the javelin.

The long jump saw Emily Tyrrell qualify for the junior girls and national-standard heptathlete Isabel Wakefield who had already met the benchmark prior to the competition, for the inter girls,.

Max Whitecross also excelled in the senior boys long jump, setting a new personal best of 6.60m.

The jump means he will be a reserve for the South West team.

But it was twin sisters Megan and Caitlin Gallagher who again set the track alight.

Megan sailed through her 300m Hurdles heat, going on to become South West champion in a winning time of 44.22 seconds.

This was a tenth below her former personal best of 44.32, set at Exeter the previous weekend.

Meanwhile, her sister Caitlin fought a nail-biting battle in the triple jump, overcoming a series of no jumps to win with a distance of 11.04m, 14cm ahead of the English Schools’ qualifying standard.

The nine athletes will compete for national titles at the English Schools’ Championships in Gateshead on July 8 and 9.

North Devon athlete sets national record at Exeter

North Devon Gazette

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A Torrington teenager has broken the national record for the Under 17 women’s 300m hurdles, placing her third in the UK.

Megan Gallagher soared ahead of the inter-girls field at the Devon Schools’ Athletics Championships in Exeter on Saturday to finish in a time of 44.32.

The performance was 2.28 seconds quicker than the English Schools’ Championships standard and 0.68 seconds ahead of the national standard.

The 16-year-old now ranks third in the UK for her age group.

She will now represent Devon for the third time on Saturday at the South West Schools’ Championships.

Her twin sister Caitlin will also be representing the county in the triple jump and is only 1cm away from reaching the English Schools’ standard of 10.90m.

Megan, who goes to Great Torrington School, began running the 300m hurdle discipline last season, but it already seems likely that she will be representing the South West for the third time at the English Schools’ Championships in Gateshead on July 8 and 9.

Megan said: “It feels fantastic that my hard work is starting to pay off.

“I have put in a lot of time and dedication and had a good mentality to be able to take the losses and come back stronger.”

Megan also praised her coach Garry Gahan, who trains the senior sprint group at North Devon Athletics Club.

She said: “I’m incredibly appreciative for everything that Garry does; he does it off his own back for free and is very dedicated to helping the group achieve success.”

However, Gahan was keen to leave the plaudits with Megan.

He said: “Yesterday’s run was a cracking one, and there’s much more to come out of her as well.

“She is setting herself up perfectly for the 400m hurdles next year.

“However it’s about the athlete not the coach as you can’t create a hurdler, a hurdler is born.”

North Devon athletes set records in the South West League

North Devon Gazette

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North Devon’s athletes triumphed in Exeter yesterday (Sunday) against tough opposition in the second fixture of the second division South West League.

North Devon Athletics Club (NDAC) achieved a total of 756 points, finishing third out of six teams behind Cornwall AC with 1005 points, and Newquay and Par AC who won with 1494 points.

A one-member team from Torridge also gained 81 points.

In 25 degree heat, NDAC’s Megan Gallagher won the 300m Hurdles in a time of 45.63 seconds to set a new league record.

Erin Silvester also set a new personal best in a fierce U17 women’s 200m, winning in a time of 26.92 seconds.

On the field, Emma Sharpe’s tireless training paid off as she won the Women’s U17 Discus with a new league record of 34.69m.

However, it was in the middle and long distance races that the bulk of the points were won.

In the U15 boys category 800m, Jack Dutton was tactically astute as he overtook his rival in the home straight to finish in a winning time of 2:09.11 for a new personal best.

Adam Leworthy also excelled in the U13 boys 800m, smashing his personal best to win in 2:27.44.

In the U15 boys 3000m, North Devon had a one-two-three finish, with Sid Baldaro taking third, Finley Ball second and Hamish James winning in the time of 10 mins and 3 secs, despite it being his first time running the distance.

Steve Choules, NDAC team manager, said: “There were many good performances from the club and we scored big points across the middle and long distance events.

“We had hopes at the start of the season of gaining promotion to Division One, but we will need a big team performance at the next match at home in Braunton and then the final fixture in Yeovil to finish in the top two.”

Sunday’s meeting means that North Devon remain third overall in the league, 1,043 points behind Cornwall AC in second.

Do you love running? All are welcome to come along to the track in Braunton on training nights and give it a try. Find out more on the club website northdevonac.org