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What's the point of indoor athletics?

Katharine Merry | 09:05 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Track and field for 2009 is up and running. This weekend sees the richest biggest and best one-off indoor meeting in the world - the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham at the NIA.

But all this week I have had to defend indoor athletics, as some viewers and athletes were not happy having seen last weekend's European Trials in Sheffield. "Flat" and "no atmosphere" were some of the comments.

So what really is the point to indoor athletics?

Yelena Isinbayeva enjoys success indoors and outdoorsThe reasons for any athlete competing during the indoor season can vary massively.

Many use it to break up the long winter training, to acquire vital competition experience (especially for juniors), to improve confidence, to test their levels of fitness, and also, for the top athletes, to earn some money.

In Birmingham, the track and runways are fast, the prize money is good and the competition is hot.

I competed twice in this Grand Prix event setting two British records and now work as the in-field presenter at the event. Every year I get excited about heading to the NIA because of the quality of the event.

The main aim for athletes this season is the World Championships in Berlin in August. Will those competing indoors be picking up the medals in the summer? Speaking as a former athlete, that is the plan! But of course we know it doesn't always work like that.

I saw indoors as fun and never altered my training sessions for it, like Christine Ohuruogo is doing this year. A former training partner of mine, former world indoor champion Jamie Baulch, saw it as his time to shine and he was arguably a more successful athlete indoors.

The question is always asked. Can you be successful at both indoors and outdoors in the same year?

Look at the likes of triple jumper Phillips Idowu last season, going from World Indoor champion to Olympic silver medallist, and Yelena Isinbayeva, who heads to Birmingham this weekend having just broken her 26th world record (indoors and out). It can be done.

The reason why this isn't attempted by all athletes is that many are scared of damaging the outdoor season - which is often the main goal.

I also feel that some coaches don't have the inclination or the knowledge of how to get their athletes to peak for both indoor and outdoor championships.

So this weekend Birmingham welcomes the world's best talent. The indoor circuit is always more relaxed and the athletes have one eye on their performances, but they know in the back of their mind it is the summer that counts.

Athletes can take the pressure off themselves and also fall back on the line "it's the summer that counts" if they underperform.

Kath will be appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live's London Calling programme on Thursday 19 February from 2100 GMT

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good points made.
    I agree many coaches don't know how to train their athletes to do well indoors and out.
    Once again raising the issue of coaching standards in this country.

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't think it is so much that UK coaches don't know how to prepare their athletes for indoor competition - the methods are pretty much the same as they'd use to prepare for the outdoor season at the end of winter training. I think its more that coaches question the value of competing indoors and with the unavoidable disruption this causes to winter training schedules. This is probably more acute for distance athletes who are out grinding out the miles and long track sessions in the winter. For the coaches to take them off this for a few weeks to prepare for indoor competition can put a dent into the strength work that they might regret come summertime.

  • Comment number 3.

    You've undone the whole point of the article with this bit at the end:

    "The indoor circuit is always more relaxed and the athletes have one eye on their performances, but they know in the back of their mind it is the summer that counts.

    Athletes can take the pressure off themselves and also fall back on the line "it's the summer that counts" if they underperform."

    If the athletes aren't that bothered, why should the spectators turn up?

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting article. My sprints group could almost be a test case for this.

    Most of them have run indoors and generally done really well with a couple of them winning age group regional and national titles.

    As I'm a CP athlete and we don't have any specific indoor events I don't do indoors because it doesn't really give me the feeling of a competition - it doesn't matter whether I win or lose to the people I run against as I'll never have to beat them in competitions that really count. Outdoors is all that matters to me as a result.

    Be interesting to see how it pans out for all of us in the outdoor season - suspect they'll be sharper early on but I may have a better end to the season, which is when my big competitions are anyway.

  • Comment number 5.

    Idsupa,

    I hope your comment isn't aimed at the actual coaches. My colleagues and I coach at Cardiff AAC in all weathers throughout the year - for free.

    It's quite annoying that coaches of other sports get paid and we don't. Volunteer coaches are what's keeping the sport alive and bringing the young athletes into the sport so that we can produce future Olympians.

    Due to the amatuer status we have to put our day jobs first as that's what pays our mortgages or rent - and we simply don't have the time or the money to research new methodologies or technology.

    The lack of indoor facilites also holds back many Amateur Athletics Clubs as not many have access to an indoor track, which is very different to an outdoor one.

    Imagine a rugby kicker having to practise without a set of posts - it just wouldn't happen.

    Athletics is expected to deliver a high number of Olympic and World Championship medals yet it's government funding spreads very thinly indeed to help it achieve long term, substantial success.

    Tim Fry

  • Comment number 6.

    The best in the world! Does that mean Mr Chambers is running, Does anyone know,

    By the way Katherine Merry, you are fantastic, loved watching you run

  • Comment number 7.

    Hmmm.... the indoor season is just an excuse to hold athletics in the cold wet months in europe.

    Surely if athletics want to expand its global reach then we should have 'outdoor' international meets over the whole year which means athletes going to the southern hemisphere and places like Dubai etc... there is no reason why we cannot have high profile regular season events outside of Europe. The Golden league should expanded to be held in February, March and April in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro etc...

  • Comment number 8.

    Many use it to break up the long winter training, to acquire vital competition experience (especially for juniors), to improve confidence, to test their levels of fitness, and also, for the top athletes, to earn some mone

    ----------

    NONE of that is any argument for indoor athletics.

    Long winter training can be broken up by any number of things, including but not limited to competing in warmer climates and the southern hemisphere. Granted not all athletes can do this but all the top ones can.

    Acquire experience/confidence/test fitness - This can't be done outdoors then?

    All you do here is paint indoors as the rubbish step-child of proper outdoor athletics. You undo your own arguments by insinuating that young athletes might find it easier (they do, because the quality is lower).

    There is a place for indoor athletics of course, not all athletes have the option to travel to warmer climes, and there is a need for lesser competitions for experience but please stop pretending that it is in any way an important part of the season, the mere idea of having world championships and records for the events is at best questionable and at wort simply fraudulent.

  • Comment number 9.

    As a middle distance athlete the indoors was always a bit of fun. I never adjusted my winter training before the indoor season, we just used it as a bench mark to see how I was progressing in training (taking into account the lack of fast work that would normally happen before the summer season starts).

    It was also a great way to break up the endless pounding away of miles and longer reps on the track in the winter, as Katherine points out.Of course half the problem is that athletes, unless living near an indoor track, are unused to performing indoors (it is different).

    Interestingly my view slightly changed when at university. Due to the congested fixture season and university term times the BUSA (as it was then) Outdoor Championships is always very, very early in the season and as a result I felt that my performances at BUSA Outdoors were rather disappointing (when compared to my performances in August time say). I now look back at the BUSA indoor championships as the highlight of my time in university athletics. Maybe in part this was due to the lack of perceived pressure as the outdoors was what mattered and maybe also because I had no expectations (unlike with the outdoors) so was always happy leaving Sheffield or Glasgow.

    I think indoor athletics is worth while. Its great for the spectator (how often do we see poor spectators at Gateshead being drenched), offers light relief for athletes from winter training and is an excellent bench mark for training. I also believe it is slightly more marketable for UKA.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hackerjack it is indeed lesser than outdoors and I don't think you'd find any athlete who'd disagree beyond maybe a few 60m specialists.

    But actually the points you attack Katherine on are wrong. Indoors can indeed build confidence and experience - for juniors running as many races as possible is generally a good thing to know what to do in competitions in th future.

    You can break up training by going abroad but as you say not many can do that and even so it is not necessarily the ideal thing to do for all cases.

    It depends on how you see them. For me I don't use them for reasons I've already explained, I know my training partners are more confident going into the new season on the back of very goood results. Neither party is wrong, it's about what works for each athlete.

    I don't see anything fraudulent about having records and championships at all. It is different to running outdoors so it is separate but most people see them as of lesser importance. Saying they are useful is not the same as saying they have the same importance as outdoor events.

  • Comment number 11.

    What's the point of athletics?

  • Comment number 12.

    Athletics just seems to be a good way of funding research into performance enhancing substances, so far as I can tell.

    Even if (for sake of argument) I agreed that there is some validity in modern athletics as a sport, this article did nothing to persuade me that there is a point with indoor athletics, just a way for often artificially enhanced athletes to earn more money.

  • Comment number 13.

    sheepyknees wrote:

    "What's the point of athletics?"

    ------------------

    Absolutely.

    It's the 21st century.

    TAKE THE BUS.

  • Comment number 14.

    For me personally having watched indoor athletics over the years. I have noticed how certain athletes do take the indoor season seriously. And that is because it's a chance to shine as Mary said, and to win something early.

    Even now with the performance scrutiny that the UK team are under it's important now more than ever.

    All the big guns from the UK and USA used to use the indoor season as a tune up for the big outdoor season ahead.

    I like the indoor season. I like to guess who will bring their indoor game outdoor.

  • Comment number 15.

    Re point 5: Liardtim

    "I agree many coaches don't know how to train their athletes to do well indoors and out.
    Once again raising the issue of coaching standards in this country"

    Yes I was meaning actual coaches, and I believe many, not all, coaches do not know how to really get the best out of their athletes in summer if they do indoors.
    Many have a plan, but some wing it.
    I am not saying you are one, but there are some, you have to agree.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree, there is no real point of it. It's just to allow people to watch athletics during a time when there is none.

    If people get bored and stop watching, then the sport will soon die. Already signs of that for the indoor season but the outdoor season looks pretty strong still.

  • Comment number 17.

    I rather enjoy indoor athletics, OK the round track can be tight, but it never rains, there is no wind. Some athletes like Jamie Baulch and Jason Gardner did very well. I remember watching Katharine break the UK Indoor 400m record in Cardiff- though they subsequently found the track lanes were a cm or so out, so negated.

    I get a good view, good facilities, love it. Much more enjoyable than a wet and (always) windy Bedford.

  • Comment number 18.

    sheepyknees, there speakes a fat person

  • Comment number 19.

    sheepyknees there speaks an unfit person

  • Comment number 20.

    As a 'lay-person', the point of indoor athletics is that the fantastic efforts of everyone yesterday inspired me to get off the sofa and my 5 year old daughter was so inspired that I had to go online and find this website so she can now watch her 'new favourite person in the world' win her race over and over again (well done Christine Ohuruogu - you are amazing!). I hate sport and only watched yesterday because I was flicking between channels, but yesterday has inspired me: this should be proirity viewing - beats football and snooker! Indoor, outdoor - who cares!Anything that inspires my 5 year old to take up sport has a point and we should be proud of our athletes who keep the true meaning of athletics (improving one's personal best) alive: stop complaining, you lot!

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi all.

    I am glad the blog has sparked some good discussion.

    I feel most of us agree there IS a point to indoor athletics for the reasons I stated in the blog, breaking up the winter training, competition experience, increasing confidence and testing fitness levels. Great examples of these points were displayed at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham.

    EG:

    Mo Farah will go outdoors a better athlete because of what he has already achieved indoors. His confidence is sky high from the times he has already run, and the scalps he has taken, and therefore will go outdoors with a real spring in his step.
    Trust me, you can not under estimate the power of confidence!

    Indoors has a point, it just depends what your point of view is.
    Jamie Baulch and Jason Gardener are 2 of the greatest indoor athletes GB has ever produced, but by their own admission, they didn't replicate the same success outdoors and therefore would put emphasis on indoor competitions.

    However as Christine O told me, for her, "it's just a bit of fun", but she will still take confidence that she has tested her fitness levels and is in decent shape going into the outdoors to defend her World title in August.

    For many athletes the main focus is the World Championships, but we have seen through this indoor season new faces gaining invaluable experience from competing indoors giving them opportunities that they may not have received outdoors.

    In regards to some of the comments:

    No 20: willichichi
    I am glad your daughter enjoyed the athletics. Birmingham was great and shows that when a sport has a good meeting and quality tv coverage it can inspire and create interest in a sport. As long as we keep having GB athletes like Christine and Mo running well it all helps promote and encourage people to take an interest in the sport.
    No14: Outspooken
    The indoors does gives us an exciting taster for the outdoors, like you said to see who brings their indoor game outside!
    My pick is Simeon Willimason running a personal best of 6.53s yesterday...what does that mean he could run over 100m? He has a personal best of 10.03s, and now he is quicker over 60m than ever before...sub 10secs?
    No 8.Hackerjack:
    I feel you have misunderstood some of my points.

    "Long winter training can be broken up by any number of things, including but not limited to competing in warmer climates and the southern hemisphere. Granted not all athletes can do this but all the top ones can."

    Indoor athletics is one of the most popular ways of breaking up winter training, as it is easier than flying to the southern hemisphere, which isn't even an option for some elite athletes.

    "Acquire experience/confidence/test fitness - This can't be done outdoors then?"

    The answer to your question is no not really, as unfortunately there are no outdoor track and field competitions in the winter here in the UK, that I know of. I am sure you would agree it is far too late to be building confidence and testing levels in the outdoor season, when if they choose, they could do it indoors.

    "All you do here is paint indoors as the rubbish step-child of proper outdoor athletics. You undo your own arguments by insinuating that young athletes might find it easier (they do, because the quality is lower)."

    Firstly I would see indoors as the cousin of outdoor athletics, giving juniors vital competition experience, in much the same way as cup football would give younger players. That doesn't mean it's easier.

    "but please stop pretending that it is in any way an important part of the season, the mere idea of having world championships and records for the events is at best questionable and at wort simply fraudulent."

    To say it is fraudulent is simply wrong. Firstly many events are different, the conditions are different, the techniques are different, the track size and race distances are different, eg 60m and these must be ratified.



  • Comment number 22.

    For those that watched the Grand Prix at the weekend on BBC, they must surely now think Indoors athletics is very worthwhile. It was a great meeting, and backs up the need for it.
    For the person who said you shouldn't have world records,(hackerjack) what rubbish is that?
    Of course you have to have records, the track events are different. A 60m straight and a 200m oval.....

  • Comment number 23.

    In the same instance maybe one could ask what's the point of this blog?

    What purpose does it serve?

    Can someone write about both indoors and outdoors with the same enthusiasm?

 

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