I had the great opportunity last night of experiencing one of the best examples of what track and field really should be like (photos taken by me!). This meet in Leverkusan, Germany, has been going for only a year or two. It's limited to just pole vault, and has gone from a BBQ and a couple of cases of beer with a few officials and a handful of jumpers, to what happened last night. It now has a proper sponsor, about 200 spectators, and a DJ with full audio set-up. The punters braved the cold, the vaulters entered in a stretch hummer (cheesy as hell, but kind of cool), they had a live singer belting out some Beyonce, more media than at Australian Nationals Championships (not hard), and, wait for it... 1 euro beers.
I'm not very savvy with pole vaulters' names in the Europe, but this field was hot! Three guys were there who have jumped over 6m, and it exhibited competitors from Australia, Germany, Ukraine, Korea, and the USA. You would have to say one of the best fields outside a permit meet in the world!
What I loved so much about this meet was the atmosphere that was created by the culture of this event. There is no doubt that field events in athletics sometimes get a hard deal, but the thing about pole vault (and pole vaulters) is the attitude they have to each other, their sport, and those who love watching it! The je ne sais quoi is hard to pin-point, but there is a positivity and friendliness that oozes from these guys that is very infectious.
I have never met a pole vaulter I don't like, and being great mates with Hooker has given me the opportunity to meet vaulters from all over the world that I now can call true friends. Last night I met a few more I can do the same with, and most of the crowd hung around for hours after the meet, catching up, drinking, eating. I don't know many other events in athletics where this kind of thing happens so effortlessly. It is obviously a special meeting, and I can see why Steve made the big effort to come and compete here (for no money at all, I believe), and plans to continue for years to come.
Working and travelling with athletes from lots of different sports as a therapist, I am often so jealous of the real community culture, especially in team sports. But this little pole vault meet in a small town in Germany has inspired me that there is a great community and culture in athletics that is lying underneath the lycra and egos that stereotypically holds this culture back. How do we expose and get more out of this? I don't know. But it has certainly got me thinking, and I plan to ask my mates in this great sport to put some ideas together.
It's so easy to get caught into the self-involved web of interest in aths. But there are so many great people in this sport who truly love it and love being around it. I know I have been guilty of being way too caught up in my own shit to know what's going on around me sometimes. But over the past few years I have learned that the people are what makes this sport truly great, and I think we can do better at making this known and making the most of it. I've been lucky enough to accomplish a lot in this wonderful sport, but to be honest, the things that I remember most and the things I will miss are the amazing friendships, the hilarious and tragic stories, and the weird and wonderful places.
We all have our own jobs to do, but why can't this still be a focal point and a backbone in the sport. It will always be there, of course, but why not capitalise on this and make it more of a focus? Make meets more social! It's not only better for the spectators, but the support that is given to the athletes is terrific, which can't be bad. Organise structure in camps and comps that helps develop this culture and stigma in athletics. I see in every single meet at every level in Belgium food and beer being enjoyed by almost all who aren't competing. Where is that social atmosphere in OZ?
It's possible my rant here is just idealistic nonsense, but it seems we are not making the most of something that already exists in our sport. I love this sport and what I do, but I love it more because of who I do it with.