By Len Johnson
One of the stranger things about the world championships is waiting for them to start. There is a hell of a build up and then, two weeks or so out from opening day, we go into a state of suspended animation.
Scarcely any competitions of meaning. A steady drip-drip of withdrawals, this time including champions such as Jacob Kiplimo, Sydney McLaughlin and Nafi Thiam. Endless speculation on the fitness or form of others. It’s all just waiting for the worlds to come.
We arrived in Budapest at 7am Friday morning bright and bushy-tailed (that may be a fib!). We shared the flight over with a couple of nervous parents of Australian team members and a mini-bus ride to our accommodation and several calls to instruct us on how to get in we actually accessed the apartment.
We were so excited then – it doesn’t take much on championships’ eve – we race straight back downstairs to have breakfast at the world-famous Café New York coffee house (look it up: I did). Our separating the twobuilding is just across a small side street .
Although you could probably open one of the bedroom windows and yell across the way to secure a table, the fact there was a line for tables all of two people long lulled us into what turned out to be a false sense of security. By the time we had got down the stairs and into the street one group of a dozen, followed quickly by another of similar size, had come out of nowhere to make a daunting queue.
All I can say is that next time you’re in Budapest, the café across the road, while not as ornate as the New York, is also pretty darned good.
Breakfast done, it was out to the track to pick up a media accreditation. Budapest’s new national athletics centre is mighty impressive. Its one major drawback is that it has more unutilised space than the Sahara Desert.
Curiously, although the capacity of the stadium will be reduced post-championships from 35-40,000 to not much more than half that, the complex gives an air of having been built with an eye to future expansion. World Cups, European championships, Olympic Games even?
Anyway, there’s a lot of room for expansion. We missed the train stop for the stadium and went 2-3 kilometres along the line to the next one. Wisely, we decided to wait for the train coming from the opposite direction rather than leg it back. Then we had to walk about half the distance anyway, back to the media accreditation centre, tucked away behind a service station.
So it’s going to be with some relief that we will greet the opening of the championships with the men’s 20km walk on Saturday morning. It will be all over by the time you will be reading this and hopefully Declan Tingay will have added a world championships top-eight finish to his laurels, perhaps even a medal.
Then it’s off to the stadium with heats of both 1500 metres, the women’s in the morning session the men’s in the evening. Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, Tom Walsh and the rest of the big men shot putters don’t much about: they’ll be up in the morning session for qualifying and back for the final in the evening. If it’s as good as the last couple of major championship contests it might take a new world record to win it.
The men’s 10,000 will also go down on opening night. The event suffers with the absence of Kiplimo, but the tactical battle between defending champion Joshua Cheptegei, Ethiopian pair Selemon Barega and Berihu Aregawi and anyone else who can keep up until deep in the race should be fascinating for those of us who like the how of the win as much as the who.
Australians will see plenty of action on day one as you’d expect with a team of almost 70. Stewie McSweyn, Adam Spencer and Matt Ramsden race the men’s 1500 heats, Linden Hall, Jess Hull and Abbey Caldwell in the women’s. Matt Clarke goes in the 3000 steeple heats while on the field Matt Denny will be in discus qualifying, Aiden Hinson and Julian Konle likewise in the triple jump and Rohan browning in the heats of the 100 metres.
Oh, and the 4×400 mixed relay will also be decided. What can you say about the missed relay: not much really, but like any relay it is fun to watch.
At least things will be under way. And not a minute too soon.