Willkommen in Berlin!
Ask a group of seasoned travellers to list their top 10 cities in the world and you are bound to get a list as diverse as the number of people you ask. Now ask the same group of seasoned travellers to list their top 10 “coolest” cities in the world and you are much more likely to find Berlin appearing on multiple lists. Why? Well, because it is, quite simply, very cool.
Quite why it is so cool is an interesting conversation for the bar. Perhaps it started at the beginning of the 20th Century with the Bauhaus School of Art. Certainly the 60s has a great deal to do with it with ‘that’ speech by JFK, the Cold War and the frisson of excitement whenever one visited Checkpoint Charlie, the meeting place between two such vehemently (and occasionally violently) opposing philosophies. Then there’s the music; David Bowie and Iggy Pop both called Berlin home in the 1970s. More recently, it has become a fashionable place to live and work by being somewhere that has not priced everyone out of the market in the way that London risks doing for instance. It is still possible to live in Berlin and find cool stuff to enjoy doing without having to be uber rich in the first place.
And when it comes to sport, it has a stadium so steeped in history that it frankly knocks most other stadiums into the heritage ‘cocked hat’. The Olympiastadion in Berlin was built by Werner March for the 1936 Summer Olympics, those Games made especially memorable by the incomparable Jesse Owens winning the 100m and 200m in front of a rather well known Dictator and in so doing sticking two fingers up at the vile regime said Dictator was planning to try and foist on the rest of the world. The rest, as they say, is history.
To visit the Olympiastadion now is to see a stadium beautifully refurbished and modified for modern use (it has a capacity of almost 75,000) and, like the Olympic Stadium built for the London 2012 Olympics in Stratford, one very well served by an efficient public transport system. And so it was to the Olympiastadion in Berlin, a monumental coming together of the old and the new, that the best athletes across the whole of Europe descended for the 2018 European Athletics Championships in August this year. And at this point, we issue a spoiler alert; the rest of this article doesn’t contain anything about cycling or cyclists. In fact, it’s purely about Track and Field athletes but we reason that if you read Criterium Cycle blogs, you’re the kind of person who like things a little different anyway! So with that spoiler alert out of the way, let’s press on.
The European Championships 2018
The Championships of 2018 were a little different this time round. Usually, individual sports arrange their own individual Championships but this time a new format was trialled whereby the sports of Athletics, Aquatics (Swimming and Diving), Cycling, Rowing, Gymnastics, Golf and Triathlon all held their European Championships at the same time over an eleven day period that was dubbed by some commentators as a mini-Olympics. All sports other than Athletics took place in Glasgow whereas Athletics took place in Berlin, principally because Berlin had already won the right to stage the European Athletics Championships prior to the multi sport format being finalised. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future but the initial reaction to the format seems to have been pretty positive with the TV viewing figures across Europe looking encouraging.
Track and Field events took place in the Olympiastadion in Berlin from 6th – 12th August. We were lucky enough to be there for the entire competition and it is fair to say the event was brilliant from start to finish. The Germans are well known for great organisation and they didn’t disappoint but Berlin was also incredibly welcoming. It clearly embraced the fact that the Championships were being held there and was determined to party along with the fans.
British Athletics took a team of just over 100 athletes, the largest ever and with slightly more female athletes than male. The performances justified the decision to take a large team. Watching Dina Asher-Smith win Gold in the 100m and 200m (breaking the British Record and setting a World Leading time for 2018 in both events) then winning Gold in the 4 x 100m relay will live long in the memory. So will Zharnel Hughes winning Gold in the Men’s 100m, Matthew Hudson-Smith doing the same in the 400m and Laura Muir bringing home Gold in the 1500m. But so many other performances caught the eye as well for different reasons; Eilish McColgan ran a superb 5000m full of tactical nous and grit to win Silver. Katerina Johnson-Thomson set PB after PB to grab silver in the heptathlon and the list goes on and on. Nethaneal Michell-Blake showed why he is such a 200m prospect bagging a silver in that race finishing second only to World Champion Ramil Guliyev, who won Gold in an astonishing time of 19.76 seconds.
The traditional end to an Athletics Championships are the Men’s and Women’s 4 x 100m relays. It has been suggested relay medals are marginally easier to win than individual ones. That couldn’t be further from the truth as these are tough, technical events where every tiny little detail matters. To get a baton round a 400m track in 37.47 seconds (yes, you read that right) as the British guys did in 2017 to win the World title and set a European Record in the process requires an extraordinary amount of skill, practice and commitment. These medals matter just as much as any other.
A genuinely European competition
What was also really positive about the whole event was that it wasn’t just a couple of nations that dominated to the exclusion of others. In fact, many European nations came away with medals, something that is not only great for them but also great for the sport. Domination can lead to boredom and complacency amongst those watching. Not so in athletics, certainly not if these Championships are anything to go by. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of blatant patriotism though; the team from Great Britain & Northern Ireland topped the athletics medal table this time round. It’s never guaranteed of course, but nice just the same.
The next European Championships are in Paris in 2020 which is also an Olympic Year in Tokyo. At these European Athletics Championships, we were lucky to witness the continuing development and real success of some wonderful talent and not just in the British team; there were some outstanding performance from many others. If you didn’t manage to watch the men’s Pole Vault competition then it is worth doing so on ‘catch up’ TV if you can. Watching Armand Duplantis, the 18 year old Swede ‘wunderkid’ clear 6.05m was quite something special as it no doubt was for him as well!
But let’s be honest, it’s the GB athletes we care about first and foremost and in Berlin, at the European Championships, they gave us further reasons to be really positive about the future. Congratulations to them and thank you Berlin. It was a wonderful sporting occasion and one that will live long in the memory.
Now, of course we turn our attention back to the bike and the Vuelta a Espana which begins on the 25th August and which we will be covering in our regular blogs. Can this summer of sport get any more exciting? We very much hope so!
Note: Richard Bowker, Director of Criterium Cycles, is also Chairman of UK Athletics so freely admits to a passionate love of all things Athletic as well as madly cheering on any athlete wearing a British vest in Berlin (or at any other time)!