Monday, 18 December 2017

#metoo shakes Swedish Athletics

The #metoo movement of women disclosing and challenging sexual harassment and abuse is currently shaking the world of Swedish athletics.

Moa Hjelmer - who won 400m gold at the 2012 European Championships - revealed last month that in 2011 she was raped by an older athlete at the Finnkampfen - the annual athletics competition between Sweden and Finland.



Moa Hjelmer's announcement on instagram


Since then several other women have come forward and made similar disclosures, and there is a growing tide of support from women across Swedish sports.  Among those expressing their solidarity with Hjelmer has been sprint hurdler Susanna Kallur (world indoor record holder for 60m hurdles) who posted this picture on Instagram with the message 'the patriarchy falls within your lifetime'.



Susanna Kallur's message on instagram


(first heard about this via B9ace on twitter)



Sunday, 10 December 2017

Crystal Palace sports facilties still under threat

The future of sports facilities in  Crystal Palace park remain uncertain, with the Mayor of London/Greater London Authority still considering plans that would demolish the current athletics stadium and indoor running track and reduce other indoor and outdoor sporting facilities at the National Sports Centre, which also include a 50m pool, diving and training pools.


The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership (CPSP) is co-ordinating the campaign to keep facilities at a similar level. Nearly 6000 people have already signed their petition to 'Save athletics - and  sports - at Crystal Palace'. Everyone accepts that there will be change of some kind, but the CPSP is arguing 'for a mixed-use sports and leisure centre at Crystal Palace - a sustainable facility that is shared by the local community, schools, clubs and aspiring athletes at all levels. It should be a resource that caters for the needs of recreational users as much as it provides for and supports the development of the next generation of Olympic athletes'.


The latest development is that the GLA has appointed Neil Allen Associates consultants to evaluate the demands and needs for sports facilities at Crystal Palace NSC. They are due to report back before the end of February 2018.

Start of senior women's race in South of England Road Relays at Crystal Palace, September 2017



I had the pleasure of running at Crystal Palace in the Southern 6/4/3 Stage Road Relays back in September. The course started in the stadium before heading round the park and back into the stadium for a final stretch on the track to the handover. While there were some issues with the organisation of the event, and some facilities definitely need investment (starting with the toilets), it's a great venue for athletics and of course as a runner it was a privilege to be able to run on the iconic track graced by everyone from Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Paula Radcliffe to Usain Bolt and Mo Farah.


See previously


Save Crystal Palace for Athletics... and Popular Culture
Save Athletics at Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace Dinosaur Dash
Gentlemen vs Amateurs at Crystal Palace, 1872



Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Phyllis Green: 1920s Peckham athlete (plus some Peckham Rye running history)



I did Peckham Rye parkrun again at the weekend, with about  around 250 people doing a 5k in an area that  can claim to be one of the birth places of modern English athletics. Some of the runners were from established local running clubs like Kent AC or Dulwich Runners, some from informal local groups like Runhead AC (who run every Tuesday from the Beer Shop in Nunhead), many just enjoying being part of the parkrun crew. But it is two of the oldest established London clubs, no longer based in the area,  who trace their origins back to Peckham Rye:

'South London Harriers was formed on 27th December, 1871 at a meeting in the Vivian Hotel, at 34 Philip Road (now known as Philip Walk), Peckham Rye, SE15. There was a similar Club close by in Peckham Rye, which was founded at "The King's Arms", as Peckham Hare & Hounds in October 1869, before soon changing its name to Peckham Amateur Athletic Club (PAAC). It later moved to "The Rye House", and in July 1878 moved from the Peckham Rye area to become the Blackheath Harriers' (SLH: A Brief History)
Both clubs moved away from Peckham as it became more urbanised, but are still going strong elsewhere. SLH  has its  clubhouse in Coulsdon, while Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC is  based at the Norman Road track in Bromley (and with a clubhouse in Hayes).

A notable Peckham athlete was a pioneer women's jumper and the first to clear five feet in the high jump. Phyllis Green (1908-99) was born at 12 Rye Lane where her father Henry Green managed the undertakers. He was a member of Peckham Harriers so no doubt encouraged his daughter who as a 17 year old at Peckham High School for Girls 'set her first world best of 1.51 metres at London's Stamford Bridge in June 1925, and equalled that mark in Brussels a month later. She raised it by half an inch when winning the WAAA title at Stamford Bridge on 11 July 1925, becoming the first woman to clear 5 feet (1.52 metres).  At another London venue, Chiswick, she improved her world best to 1.55 metres (5 ft 1 in) in 1926 and her highest ever jump was 1.58 metres (5 ft 2¼ in) at the 1927 WAAA championships off a grass take-off at Reading’ – the end of a short but successful competitive career . She also held the British long jump record for a while and her personal best of 5.52 metres in 1927 was only 5 cm short of the then world record.  She told a reporter in 1925 that ‘I have always jumped from the time I learned to walk…'I never went round an obstacle—I always jumped over it.' (source:  Mel Watman, Women athletes between the world wars, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2012)
These were the early days of women’s athletics - the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association was only founded in 1922, and Phyllis Green belonged to the London Olympiades Athletics Club, the first women’s club, set up in 1921 in a period when many running clubs only admitted male members.
The only picture I have found of Phyllis Green is an etching by Percy Smith (1882-1948), held in the collection of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

(see Running Past for details of the first WAAA championships, held at Downham in 1923)




Monday, 30 October 2017

The Running Sky - of birds, books & runners in rotation

In Nottingham's Wollaton Park after this year's English National Cross Country Championships, there was a moment as the sun was going down when a large number of crows (yes I know the collective noun is 'A Murder') began circling above the hill where shortly before thousands of runners had circled on the last lap of their races. It felt like they were echoing the cross country race itself, though presumably they do it all year round, the park being home to 'a large corvid roost made up of rook, jackdaw, and carrion crow' (wikipedia)

It reminded me of a passage I'd read earlier that  day in Tim Dee's The Running Sky: A Birdwatching Life, describing not crows but a similar flight of seabirds:

'To see vast numbers of birds in silent movement is beautifully strange. In this crowd of so many moving things, the eye leaps constantly from individuals to the whole event. These are not flocks but countless single birds caught in a storm of life. Individuals fly fast but the ensemble seems to be moving at dream speed. The rush of the single bird somehow slows in the crowd. I cannot focus for long on a puffin with its hurrying wings in the wheeling cloud; instead I see a tumbleweed of birds rolling out from their grassed lawns and terraces over a gulf of air, a slow motion collective rotation'.

I’d been reading this book on the journey up to Nottingham – with a title like the Running Sky it got some curious looks on a train full of runners. But of course it is not a running book but a reflection on the author's lifetime fascination with birds.



While I have never been a fully fledged adult birdwatcher, I was and am interested in them as I have mentioned before. At primary school an enthusiastic teacher enrolled me in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' Young Ornithologists Club, something I recalled recently when I went to a bird themed art exhibition at the old library building on Walworth Road, near the Elephant and Castle (the building, which housed the Newington library and Cuming Museum has been closed following a fire, hopefully it will fully reopen permanently in the not too distant future).

From 'Natural Selection', Andy Holden and Peter Holden

Natural Selection combines the scientific perspective of Peter Holden, sometime national organiser of the Young Ornithologists Club, and the work of his artist son Andy Holden who is as interested in the aesthetic properties of birds, their nests and indeed the illicitly curated hordes assembled by illegal egg collectors.  Without undue anthropomorphism he wonders whether in some circumstances individual birds make choices about their use and display of materials in a way that can be regarded as akin to artistic activity. 



The display includes a case of birds nests arranged on piles of books - the importance of which cannot be overestimated. A recent thread on Twitter started by nature writer Robert Macfarlane asked people to share which bird, animal and plant books they had learnt from as children. It reminded me of how much those of us with childhoods before the Internet or even widespread colour TV relied upon books like the Observer's Book of Birds and the various Ladybird bird books among others. In fact it was in some ways the colourful plenitude of these lavishly illustrated volumes that made bird life seem so appealing, even if most of us would only get to see a handful of the species in the feather and flesh. I was particularly taken by a series of early 1970s 'Hamlyn All Colour Paperbacks' illustrated by Ken Lilly, I still have my copies of Seabirds and Birds of Prey, though along the way have lost my Tropical Birds.



In the wild, birds are rarely to be viewed in fine detail up close and still, but as we catch glimpses we fill in the gaps in our visual perception with the mental images we have stored from drawings and photographs. But no bird book can really capture the social phenomenon of flocks of birds in 'slow motion collective rotation', like runners racing around a field. And what does the birds eye make of the crowd of humans down below as they jostle for position, each dwelling in their individual exertions and largely oblivious to the pattern they create as they weave in and out of each other, moving together and separately at the same time. 

(The Running Sky takes its title from a Philip Larkin poem, which rather gloomily asserts the pointlessness of dreaming of flying or running as loss and loneliness are all that await...

'If hands could free you, heart,
Where would you fly?
Far, beyond every part
Of earth this running sky
Makes desolate? Would you cross
City and hill and sea,
If hands could set you free?

I would not lift the latch;
For I could run
Through fields, pit-valleys, catch
All beauty under the sun—
Still end in loss:
I should find no bent arm, no bed
To rest my head'.

Natural Selection continues until 26 November 2017, I strongly recommend going to see it (visitor details here) 

On a similar theme to ‘Natural Selection’ here's the wonderful Band of Holy Joy with the Observer's Book of Birds Eggs:
'it was the first book I ever owned, the Observer's book of birds eggs, fully illustrated and described in natural colours, and yay it was mine. I devoured every page from the hooded crow to the ptarmigan' (incidentally lead singer Johny Brown ran the Royal Parks Half last month after doing the Great North Run last year).




Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Nature is your guide - pathfinding without GPS


'Nature is your guide: how to find your way on land and sea by observing nature' by Harold Gatty (1903-1957) was first published in 1958, and was later republished as 'Finding your way without map or compass'.  

Tasmania-born Gatty was an experienced navigator himself, flying around the world with Wiley Post in a record-breaking eight days in 1931 and in the Second World War writing the US military's 'Raft Book' with survival tips for those adrift at sea in life rafts.



 'Nature is your guide' expanded on the Raft Book to provide a fascinating compendium of ways in which people can find their way not just by observation of the sun, moon and stars but by paying attention to other natural phenomena such as birds, weather, trees and the patterns of snow fields and sand dunes. Among the many other 'Methods of pathfinding' he mentions include 'the study of reflections in the sky,… The direction of the prevailing wind, the observation of wind polished rocks and of the movements of high clouds, the directions of sun and shadows'.

Did you know that termite mounds in the desert areas of Australia are almost always oriented north-south? Probably more useful in the UK, many trees 'develop more foliage on the side which receives most sunlight', so in the northern hemisphere 'oak and beech trees in exposed positions are more heavily branched and have greater foliage on the south side'.

Sailors, nomads and other travellers have used these methods for thousands of years, but these skills have largely died out because with modern navigational aids they have become obsolete. I have a compass now on my phone, not to mention GPS mapping - but what would we do if  left to our own devices? (or rather left without our devices).

There is some archaic language in this book about 'primitive' people, but the author's point is that their skills in pathfinding were not due to biological differences such as possession of a mysterious 'sixth sense' of direction but to their acute observations of the natural world and their development of 'mental maps'.

For runners much of this pathfinding lore would probably only be useful on long unmarked trails in remote areas, though being able to know what direction you are heading in without GPS or compass could be a lifesaver in some situations.

In non-threatening circumstances I was pleased recenlty to be able to find my way lost in the woods by observing the direction of a stream, other than that the only use I have made of this knowledge is to run the shortest distance between two points.

As Gatty notes, moving in a straight line is not as easy as it seems and people who are lost often end up walking in circles - 'in walking almost every person tends to veer in one direction or another in a consistent way... this error is due in most cases to the difference in length of any individual's two legs'. In trail blazing,  'The traveller must pick out distant landmarks and work to them or by them. It is elementary practice to find two landmarks ahead and line them up, and to do the same thing looking back. Back marks are just as important as, if not more important than, fore marks' for finding your way home.

I have got into the mental habit now when I am racing of looking ahead to the most distant point on the course in a straight line ahead and then finding another nearer point which lines up with it - such as a divot or a bush  - and then heading towards that. Of course I only use points that are actually on the course - no sneaky short cuts for me!




Friday, 13 October 2017

Get set for Cross Country - with Future Islands and Sampha

Seems like only yesterday we were sweating around the track on summer evenings, and now the cross country season is upon us again. Not feeling particularly fit myself, but looking forward to the start of the Surrey League at Reigate Priory tomorrow. Here's some musical inspiration for all the cross country crew, wherever you are.

'Ran' by  Future Islands came out earlier this year, the video featuring the permanently agitated singer Samuel T. Herring running across fields and through the woods around their native Baltimore- though can't help feeling if he'd been wearing a vest and shorts he could have kept running a bit longer, as he seems to have run out of steam by the end.





'On these roads
Out of love, so it goes
How it feels when we fall, when we fold
How we lose control, on these roads
How it sings as it goes
Flight of field, driving snow
Knows the cold
Ran round the wailing world'
(Future Islands, Ran, 2017)






Sampha

Meanwhile Blood on Me by 2017 Mercury Prize winner Sampha has the soulful South Londoner (he's from Merton) running on both a greyhound track and through a barley field before he collapses.




A bit more suitably attired for athletics than Sam Herring, he nevertheless also has too many layers on for sustained endurance!




'I got lost astray
In this forest runnin' away'
(Sampha, Blood on Me, 2016)






See previously:

Musicians in Motion -



Monday, 9 October 2017

The Art of Athletics (10): Hank Willis Thomas and Julian Opie at Frieze

The Frieze Art fair, held in a temporary marquee in London’s Regents Park every October, is like a contemporary art version of a Marathon expo. You start off like a kid in a toy shop– so many stalls, so much to see, all this stuff you really like under one roof. Then, after about an hour of wandering around, you feel hot, dehydrated, overstimulated and in desperate need of some fresh air. In between you can have a good time! There are some differences– for instance, at the Marathon expo there is no Deutsche bank wealth management lounge. Running is relatively cheap unless you get on the World Majors Marathon circuit, and it's not quite up there with the art market as an opportunity to recycle dubiously acquired cash.

Hank Willis Thomas

 Anyway there was plenty, in fact more than plenty of work of interest at this years Frieze. On the sporting front there was Hank Willis Thomas's Faith - a basketball balanced on praying hands.



The American artist has previously made some challenging work drawing comparisons between the treatment of black athletes and slavery, including 'Strange Fruit' which shows a basketball player hanging as if lynched, and the self-explanatory 'basketball and chain' (2003).


There's also his marvellously titled 'An Unidentified Jamaican Boy Used the Puma H Street Running Shoe to Run for his Freedom'


Julian Opie

Julian Opie is probably best known outside of the art world for his images of Blur for the sleeve of the ''Best of' compilation album (2000). On display/sale at Frieze 2017 was his 'Soldier', a continuous digital animation of a woman running.



This is only one of a series of athletics-inspired work he has made. In fact this image featured in a whole running themed exhibition in Oslo in 2015. The titles 'Soldier', 'Doctor', 'Taxi Driver' presumably refer to the day jobs of the runners. All of which makes me think Opie may be a runner himself, though he's not on Power of 10!

Julian Opie, Joggers.1. (2015)




Cory Arcangel's Three Stripes made a good photo background for anyone sporting Adidas, which as usual included me.  A critical reflection on brands or just more branded content? You decide!