Hungarian hosts are confident of putting on a brilliant global event and we also take a look at World Athletics’ historical museum in Budapest
With less than 50 days to go before Central Europe’s first World Athletics Championships in Hungary’s capital Budapest, British fans are on course to provide the most overseas spectators at the event next month.
Hungarians will of course provide the most with around 90,000 having bought tickets at the beginning of July but Britain (17,494), Germany (14,088), USA (9,794), France (6,673), Spain (6,540), Ireland (5,572), Netherlands (5193), Czech Republic (4584), Italy (4,265) and Poland (4,211) complete the top 10.
Hungary does not have a huge athletics fan base and while their athletes are on an upward curve (gaining promotion at last month’s European Team Championships), they have relatively few medal chances.
The hammer provides their best hope with Bence Halász, a world and European medalist in recent years.
While the organisers are confident of eventually selling out, there are still tickets remaining with some great deals and it is possible to get a ‘Superheroes’ package for all nine days at the championships for $174 which is significantly less than a good single ticket will cost for the following year’s Olympics athletics programme.
While the previous Europeans took place in a big stadium – the Nepstadium – that has now been replaced by a football stadium – the Puskas Arena.
The venue for this August is therefore a brand new stadium beside the Danube in a previous wasteland area.
It looks a tremendous stadium of a perfect size and not too far out of the city with most arriving by tram though the VIPs will be arriving by boat along the river.
It will certainly be a better atmosphere and numbers than at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene.
The CEO of the organisers, Budapest 2023 Zrt, Nemeth Balazs, is a former well-known television presenter but also a 1:54 800m runner who has also run marathons. He is not only keen for it to be better than recent events, but also the best World Championships in history.
He hopes this will be created by a fast Mondo track (the same as used in Tokyo 2021) together with enthusiastic capacity crowds and the post championships legacy.
The Hungarian event will be the first World Athletics Championship to embrace the World Athletics Sustainability Strategy and its LOC are driven by two main legacy goals:
To create a health and well-being legacy by motivating Hungarians to be more active through the incentive programmes and to create a tangible urban regeneration legacy with the development of the new National Athletics Centre which will serve as a competition and training facility in the future as well as a new green park and recreational area for the local community to enjoy. The stadium has geothermal heating and cooling system and energy efficient lighting.
While the stadium will hold 30,000 for the championships, post-games the top tier of seating will be removed and converted to a 15,000 capacity stadium with a running track for the general public and trees replacing where the top level of seating is.
As throws are particularly important to Hungarian athletes there are six different hammer and discus circles on the warm-up track, at various angles so they can always have a favourable wind whatever the direction.
The organisers environmentally friendly attitude is illustrated by the constructors having an environmental officer to ensure that the local habitat such as owls, swans and beavers were not impacted too much by the building.
The marathon course is fundamentally four laps of 10km starting and finishing in the magnificent Heroes Square with a mostly very wide and straight avenue down to the Danube, across the famous Swing Bridge and through a tunnel then a small loop of Buda beside the castle. It is a reasonably flat route – avoiding Buda’s very tough inclines with inclines (such as across the bridge or in the tunnel under the castle) rather than any hills.
I have been fortunate enough to previously attend in Budapest a World Cross-Country Championships in 1994, a European Championships in 1998 (where GB topped the medal table) and a World Masters Championships in 2014 and it’s definitely a fantastic city to visit at any time but a global championships will be particularly special magnified with a strong British team and a huge number of UK supporters.
Track and Field Tours, the leading British athletics travel company, still have packages including details of hotels, tickets and travel and add-on trips. Details here.
This year the event organisers invited me along with four other international journalists (one each from Austria, Croatia, Netherlands and Spain) to see the stadium.
The Austrian Olaf Brockner is the most experienced journalist of those invited and he has been at every World Championships and he once featured in a famous photograph at the inaugural World Cup of Athletics in Düsseldorf (which incidentally was the first international event I attended) in 1977.
In the 400m, double Olympic champion Alberto Juantorena failed to hear the starting gun and, setting off metres behind, he made up his way up to third and was angry at the finish and picked on the young journalist on the infield who was there collecting flash quotes but who the Cuban mistook as an official (pictured below).
Because Juantorena complained and said there was a plane overhead, which was confirmed by traffic control, the race was run again the following day and the Cuban won.
This should not be repeated in Budapest as the organisers have liaised with the airport who will hopefully change the flight path while events are on in the stadium.
While the athletics is worth a visit to Budapest, anyone interested in athletics history, should also attend the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA). It is situated in a nearby major shopping mall (Etele Plaza) within easy reach of the stadium.
The start of the exhibition starts on a track with the various long and triple jump world records mark and brilliantly apt 8.95m from the start are artefacts and a video relating to Mike Powell’s record jump from 1991.
The high jump and pole vault records are also well illustrated and give a scale of the huge heights achieved.
There are some major historical items on display including items from Jesse Owens, Emil Zatopek and Fanny Blankers-Koen to more modern stars such as Mo Farah, Jake Wightman and Eliud Kipchoge’s shoes as well as Usain Bolt’s vest plus Jan Zelezny’s record-breaking javelin – though that is rather battered as he used it as a training javelin for his training group!
There is a brilliant display of national vests with the hosts of the World Championships – Finland in 1983 to Hungary in 2023 given a central position.
You can view a 3D fully virtual museum of athletics through an interactive journey through the history of athletics and the sport’s legends.
It includes stat-of-the-art 360 degrees photographic reproduction of items donated by athletes. For more, see here.
Chris Turner, the Director of World Athletics Heritage, said: “The MOWA Heritage Exhibition Budapest 2023 celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 1983. On display is the world’s greatest collection of track & field competition memorabilia – clothing, shoes, equipment and trophies – ever assembled. The exhibition is enriched by historic Hungarian athletics artefacts that have never been publicly displayed before.”
The exhibition is open everyday from 10am to 6pm, until the end of the World Championships on Sunday August 27.
Nemeth said: “We are very glad that the MOWA exhibition is the first official venue of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 to have opened. We believe it is important that the national and international visitors get to know the history of the previous extraordinary athletes and their performances from the last decades through this remarkable collection.”
In terms of the championships, Nemeth is confident that the Hungarians will host an incredible event. “More than 10,000 people will be working between 19 and 27 August to impress the more than 2000 competitors from more than 200 countries participating in the World Championships, as well as the hundreds of thousands of spectators and the one billion TV viewers around the world.”
He added: “The Local Organising Committee has reached the home straight, meaning that all the plans are in place to show that Hungary is capable of hosting the world’s third biggest sporting event to an outstanding standard.”
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