With the COVID-19 pandemic it was a year like no other: no major championships but one that still had records, indoor events with fans, imaginative exhibition events, and some outdoor events mostly minus fans as athletics found ways to maintain its profile.
The cancellation in early February of the World Indoors Champs scheduled for Nanjing in China in early March was the first major sporting domino to fall anywhere as the pandemic rippled out from its place of origin that in so little time brought chaos to the world. T&FT had a group of fans scheduled to attend the Nanjing event and so was involved at the very start of the many problems that have since devastated international travel and sporting events.
During the early part of the indoor season athletes and fans alike were blissfully unaware of the problems to come. At the Glasgow indoor grand prix British fans were overjoyed to witness Mondo Duplantis’s WR 6.18m pole vault as both an indoor and absolute world record and Yulimar Rojas’s WR 15.43m triple jump performance at another indoor competition was a new indoor mark. Jemma Reekie’s NR 1:57.91 800m & NR 4:00.56 / 4:17.88 1500m / Mile runs saw her re-write the British record books and raise expectations for her year ahead too. The latter two records were set in the Millrose Games Mile in the USA, an event with the pedigree and heritage that athletics thrives on, but would soon be taken away from all of us as the sport came to a halt. Also indoors Mark Scott’s NR 13:08.87 5000m and Tom Bosworth’s NR 18:20.97 5Km Walk followed by Tom’s NR 39:10.15 10Km Walk outdoors showed that they were both in great form too. For Tom, however, he caught the virus in March and his recovery in spite of being fit and young was far from straight forward as he tried to return to training. His experience was to be a lesson to us all. “I was so desperate – I had come from a place where I had set back-to-back British records and world leads and that sort of thing, to being completely unfit – so I was desperate to get back there as quickly as possible and all I did was hinder the rest of the summer.”
During the summer whilst the Olympic Games and European Athletics Championships and many other athletics vents were either postponed or cancelled it took governing bodies and the event organisers’ imaginations to find ways to present the sport in order to keep it in the public eye. At the Bislett Impossible Games Karsten Warholm’s world best 33.78 300mH, a solo run, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s EurR 4:50.01 2000m were highlights in a limited events short programme format. The Ultimate Garden Challenge Pole Vault contest between Renaud Lavillenie, Mondo Duplantis and Sam Kendricks was a curiosity as a jumping endurance event – to achieve as many 5.00m vaults can be completed in 30 mins with Renaud and Mondo tied on an impressive 36. It was good to be distracted but the Herculis Monaco Diamond League event with 5000 fans was more the real deal – T&FT had two lucky clients attending that event seeing both Joshua Cheptegi’s WR 12:35.36 5000m and Laura Muir’s NR 2:30.82 1000m performances. Later in the season at the Ivo Van Damme, Brussels DL event at which T&FT were due to have had a group Mo Farah’s NR / WR 1 Hour 21,330m / 56:20.30 20000m and Siffan Hassan’s WR 1 Hour 18,930m records were an homage to the stadiums great long distance traditions and an echo of past performances. Closer to home, at an almost autumn British championships, Harry Coppell’s NR 5.85m pole vault was not set in his garden. As late as early October in Valencia two more distance world records fell as Joshua Chelegi’s WR 26:11.00 10000m and Letsenbet Gidey’s WR 14:06.62 5000m caused us to reflect on their talent… and the shoes they were wearing too!
The feeling of losing control, as described by Tom Bosworth, was something that the travel and events industry was becoming very familiar with as the year unfolded. There were periods at the start when nothing was possible at all but later during the summer when it was deemed possible to travel some T&FT clients chose to do so with accommodation and hospitality venues open and travel suppliers able to supply contracted services. However, as many sports events had earlier been cancelled as a precaution, or were held without fans, the complications then began. T&FT had been involved every day since early February in managing client arrangements for cancelled and postponed events and training camps and during the year we assisted 900+ clients with the ensuing issues. Our partners in the industry did their best to assist customers by being flexible where possible and providing refunds as appropriate and we are pleased that to date our coordinating role in supporting both clients and suppliers has been meeting the needs of clients and other parties in these unprecedented times. Forbearance has been required and we thank the patience of clients that have had their anticipation of attending events or training camps so unexpectedly dashed and the goodwill of suppliers that are coping with the collateral damage to their businesses as has, unavoidably, been the case for T&FT too.
However, during a year that saw T&FT complete its 30th year in business we also secured contracts and pre-paid deposits for 2021 & 2022 events as post COVID-19 T&FT will still be doing what we know and do best. Not a year that anyone would have wanted, or realistically anticipated, but a challenge that drew upon all the experience of the previous three decades in managing a situation that transitioned from what we had hoped would just be an unexpected hurdle or two to be cleared into a marathon steeplechase.