The London Athletics Meet gave the sport a much-needed day in the sun – and it shone
The first hint arrived on the Jubilee Line with the sight of a well-used London 2012 backpack. As the tube train progressed towards the end of the line in Stratford, so increased the number of passengers wearing running shoes, leisure wear, commemorative clothing of past major championships, flashes of union jack… the hallmarks of an athletics crowd. It was clear that something was brewing in this corner of East London.
The walk from the station to what is now called the London Stadium but will forever be nothing but Olympic to so many takes you through Westfield Shopping Centre and its vast array of eateries and places for people to get their pre-meeting fuelling done.
Hours before the starter’s gun was due to be fired on what became arguably the best single-day athletics meeting ever held on British shores, restaurants bulged and coffee shop queues stretched out of the door with customers who were ultimately bound for the return of the Diamond League.
Top-classic athletics was back at this storied venue for the first time since the Anniversary Games meeting of 2019 and, happily, thousands of people wanted a piece of it. Around 50,000 in fact.
Thanks to what happened at those London Games of 11 years ago, then the World Athletics Championships of 2017, the public are still drawn to this venue. It might bear the name and livery of West Ham United but there were echoes and memories of athletic endeavour in the air, rather than any football fever. There was a distinct feeling of those moments of the past being evoked.
There was a joy to being back, too, and it translated down on the to track and the field. This will have been the biggest crowd that many of these athletes will have performed in front of. The wave of noise as they ran, jumped a threw was unmistakeable – and how the world’s best responded, with personal bests racking up and records tumbling.
Zharnel Hughes’ British 200m record-breaking exploits might have made the biggest splash but it was Jemma Reekie who brought the house down as she produced a memorable 800m victory to round off the programme.
It had been a race designed to showcase the talents of Keely Hodgkinson, who had never competed at the London Stadium before and would undoubtedly have brought the masses to their feet. However, ill health meant the Olympic and world silver medallist was unable to line up and, instead, the stage was set for the latest chapter in Reekie’s comeback story.
Since coming within metres of an Olympic gold in the Tokyo, the 25-year-old has struggled with illness – in particular glandular fever – and seen the powers which at one stage produced three British indoor records within the space of a week back in 2020 wane.
Jemma Reekie all smiles after winning the final track event – the women’s 800m – at the London Diamond League in 1:57.30.
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A challenging split from long-term coach Andy Young has had to be navigated this year, too, but at the recent UK Championships there were some very encouraging signs that her form was returning as she pushed hard to take the silver medal behind Hodgkinson.
Now coached by Jon Bigg, Reekie is clearly taking to the new set-up, even if it does mean she no longer always trains alongside her close friend and multiple global medallist Laura Muir.
When opportunity arose in London, Reekie well and truly seized it, surging across the line in a meeting record of 1:57.30 to boost her confidence levels ahead of the World Championships in Budapest and send the supporters heading back towards the train station with smiles on their faces and a spring in their collective step.
“It was amazing to run in front of a home crowd and put a stamp down that I’m back,” said Reekie. “I wanted a Brit to win today so I had to step up and do it myself.
“I think I’m in the best place I could be, happiness and training wise so I think there’s nothing to lose in Budapest now, I’ll be going there to chase a medal. I’m back to where I should be. I know I can go in and shake things up a bit.”
READ MORE: Full coverage from the London Athletics Meet
The London Athletics Meet, to give it its official “does what it says on the tin” name has done likewise. Athletics in Britain has been very much in need of a good news story or two and this delivered a feelgood factor in spades during a spectacle at which the BBC was also out in force.
The meeting will return, on July 20 next year, but how often we will see athletics in the London Stadium in the future remains to be seen. Occasions like these, therefore, are to be cherished.
No-one is about to start pretending that all in the garden is rosey – the sport is still facing huge challenges from a number of angles – but this showpiece will certainly have helped.
For what felt like the first time in a long time in Britain, athletics had its day in the sun. And it shone.
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