*T&FT@30 – Rewind 1997

With Europe the centre of world athletics in 1997 as Paris, Turin and Athens hosted the IAAF World Indoors, World Cross Country and summer World Champs, and with the Europa Cup Final in Munich, 700+ fans travelled with T&FT to these 4 easily accessible events – a record volume for T&FT for that period.

Athens was the focus of the year which the hosts successfully used as a vehicle for promoting their 2004 Olympic Games bid. Attendances over the first two days being underwhelming the organisers decided that in spite of having sold 10 – 15,000 tickets for the  evening sessions by opening the gates for free 15 – 30 minutes into the session they could fill the 60,000+ seater stadium. The venue became a battleground on many evenings with T&FT fans in prime stadium positions at the centre of endless squabbles as the most unreasonable locals sat in paid for seats and would not move.  The same happened in Doha in 2019, of course, but in 1997 it was a surprising revelation.

The classic ancient Greek event of the Men’s Discus was celebrated with Lars Reidel winning his 4th consecutive world title although Sergey Bubka in winning his 6th world title (incl. indoors) with a CR of 6.01m trumped that. Tomas Dvorak’s  8837 points and the USA Women’s 41.47 secs 4x100m were also CRs. Britain’s Kelly Holmes was having the season of her life but was a DNF in her 1500m heat on the morning of Day 1 as her Greek tragedy of an achilles injury prevented her progressing – that her greatest triumph was to be in the same remodelled stadium in 2004 was sweet revenge that her  1997 tears could not have imagined.  Dalton Grant again set a WR entry height at 2.32 m but as in 1991 he was only able to finish 4th. GB won 6 medals in total which was less than expected with Holmes’ demise. During the event these were 5 silvers – Jackson, Edwards, Backley & Lewis and M 4x400m – plus a bronze in the M 4x 100 (incl. Campbell & Devonish also waiting for 2004). Years later the British M 4x 400m team were allocated the gold as a USA team member was DQ-ed.

Returning to Athens scene of a career triumph was a theme of our T&FT Tour Party with Daley Thompson (82 European Decathlon) – and friend and former teenage club-mate of T&FT’s DB – and Ian Stewart (1969 European 5000m) among the guests. Mary Peters joined us too as well as some athletes from the British squad. Hosted by the BBC’s Paul Dickenson it was a delightful event.

Steve Smythe, then of Runners World, made his T&FT Newsletter debut and we all became familiar for the first time with his deep knowledge and punning headlines – “Freeman Hardly Wilts” headlined the report of Cathy Freeman’s 400m win proving his high street retail gen.  T&FT proudly and amusingly handled a booking for IAAF sponsor Carlsberg’s 50 clients and in wanting to have Carlsberg available in their chosen hotel they had to agree to supply the 300 room hotel free beer  for the duration of the championships !