In 2005 on the streets of Helsinki Paula Radcliffe, like Greta Waitz at the first World Champs in 1983, confirmed her status as the best woman distance runner of her era and in Bushey Park, London the embryonic Parkrun gained inspiration to the benefit of generations of runners to come.
In complete contrast to Athens, the previous year, the cool conditions and flat course at the Helsinki World Champs saw Paula secure the major world level gold medal that her career deserved but, like Ron Clarke, it had seemed possible might elude her. Her dominant championship record run raised the spirits for British fans that had been starved of medal success until the final weekend of the event when Paula’s victory was book-ended by two bronze medals in the Men’s 4x100m and Women’s 4x400m.
A very damp and chilly event held in a stadium that may have resonated with the echoes of Emil Zatopek from 1952 and Carl Lewis, Steve Cram and Daley Thompson et al from 1983 but in all other respects was an exceptionally uncomfortable place to spend 9 days: never have so many fans paid so much money – with the ticket prices by far the most expensive for a world championships even until this day – for such a poor stadium seating and viewing experience. Preserving the 1952 Olympic stadium as a museum piece is one thing but hosting a major event there was not ideal – but then the Finn’s had stepped in to replace the London 2005 failed attempt to bring the event to Picketts Lock so GB had some responsibility.
That the weather conditions were consistently dreadful was highlighted when Rens Blom won the Men’s pole vault having cleared 5.80m and thereafter the rain prevented any other athletes having any serious opportunity to clear the bar. How Bershawn Jackson ran 47.30 secs in winning the 400mH with a PB in driving rain with the track deep in water does, however, live in the memory as one of the most remarkable track performances of all time. In between the rain astonishingly there were 6 CR performances and even two world records with Yelena Isinbayeva clearing 5.01m in the pole vault and Osleidys Menendez throwing 71.70m in the javelin – the latter an homage, perhaps, to Finn Tiina Lillak’s famous victory in 1983 that broke Fatima Whitbread’s heart. The anticipation of further Finnish javelin glory was all too much for Tero Pitkamaki with the weight of expectation matching the rain as he underperformed and the Estonians went totally crazy as Andrus Varnik won – another fond stadium memory to warm against the dampness as in Finland the javelin is the event and the atmosphere of that session was remarkable. Sweden also won their private “Finnkampen” with 3 medals – golds for Kluft and Bergqvist – as against Finland’s solitary bronze which was won by Tommi Evila in the long jump.
2005 was also memorable for Lee Munn joining T&FT with his first international event the March European Indoor Champs in Madrid. As with Helsinki we had a large group in attendance and at least indoors there was no rain – even outdoors it was probably warmer than it had been in Finland! Jason Gardener harvested another 60m gold as the GB team won 6 medals. Chris Lambert took advantage of the last ever 200m indoor major championships for the event with silver and John Mayock, Kelly Sotherton and the Men’s 4x400m also secured 2nd places: in the Women’s 4x400m GB won bronze. Meanwhile Sweden won 5 medals with Holm and Kluft predictably securing gold and Susanna Kallur just edged her sister Jenny for a famous 1-2 in the 60mH: Robert Kronberg won the “missing” hurdle bronze coming 3rd in the men’s event.
At the European Cup Super League the GB men were back in Florence but with just 3 event wins through Christian Malcolm and the two relay squads finished 7th out of the 8 teams and only just managed to avoid relegation to the lower division. The GB women in Leiria, meanwhile, Portugal had an overwhelming team win to secure their place back at the “top table” having been relegated the previous year. Very soon the format of the event would be changed to ensure that in the major TV markets the possibility of major athletic nations falling out of the top division would be greatly diminished.
Parkrun’s momentum in 2005 was in many respects the most significant achievement in British athletic / running performance circles of that year with its growth from the first organised run in late 2004 in Bushey Park. With great imagination and spirit it continued to grow and gain recognition to become the world-wide running community and healthy active living promotor that it has become. The brain child of Paul Sinton-Hewitt his recognition since, with various awards including a CBE, is as well-deserved as any world or Olympian achievements: as Paul Radcliffe MBE knows very well as a contributor to Parkrun’s regular RunPod podcasts. So, even in what seemed at the time to not be the most exceptional of years great things can.