sports gazette

Craig Winrow on the upcoming World Championships

Published: 3 Jun 2017

With the IAAF World Championships set to take place in London this summer, the Sports Gazette had a chat with Craig Winrow, a former athlete and current coach, about his experiences competing in high-profile events.

Athletics is returning to the Olympic Stadium this summer, as London prepares to host its biggest track and field event since 2012.

Usain Bolt is set to cap off one of the most extraordinary sprinting careers in athletics history by competing in the 100m, a title he has retained since he was controversially disqualified at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.

Meanwhile, home-crowd favourite Mo Farah will also take his competitive bow, seeking an unprecedented fifth double in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre events. 

With a couple of months to go for buzz to build around the event, we decided to talk to Craig Winrow, a former middle-distance runner who competed for Great Britain in the 800m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Now, he is a coach at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, and has trained some of Britain's finest athletes including Andrew Osagie and Adelle Tracey.

His biggest piece of advice for athletes competing in London this summer? Enjoy it.

"If you’re not enjoying it then why are you doing it?" he said.

"Obviously they are pressured situations because that’s the nature of the sport. It’s all about finding your own way of dealing with that really and trying to enjoy it - even though you’re going to be bricking it!"

The impact of pressure situations on athletes can be seen all the time in professional sport, but perhaps in no discipline is it as critical as athletics, where tenths-of-seconds can make all the difference.

On dealing with that pressure, Winrow concedes there is no fix-all solution.

He said: "You get different types of athletes. Some are more intense than others - it doesn’t necessarily mean that one way is better than the other - it’s about finding your own personal way of dealing with those situations.

"I usually just chose to make the most of it really, and enjoy the experiences - it’s not everyday you get to go to the Olympics is it!"

It’s not everyday you get to go to the Olympics.

In Bolt and Farah, this summer's Championships will be saying goodbye to two of the greatest Olympians of a generation. 

At the same time, there is a new wave of British athletes that are looking to use the Championships as a launching pad for their careers, including heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and long-distance runner Laura Muir.

But whilst many athletes will leave the Championships with medals and personal bests, others will be left with disappointment, a feeling that can become all too familiar at the cut-throat level of professional sport.

For Winrow, such disappointment is inevitable, but it is vital that athletes pick themselves up again once the event is over.

He said: "Everyone has the dream of ‘could be me, could be me’ but the reality is it can only be one person.

"You just have to learn as an athlete that once one is done, it’s on to the next. You’re always trying to improve and do better in the next one."

The athlete-turned-coach knows as well as anyone that feeling of disappointment after injury derailed his career following a stand-out performance in Atlanta.

He said: "It was unfortunate for me that after that Olympics - obviously you’re looking next year, the year after, four years, I can’t wait for Sydney.

"It was just unfortunate for me that two years after that I ended up having to retire because of injury. It was just a little bit frustrating."

Ultimately, however, those memories on the track in Atlanta will stay with him in a positive light.

He said: ""I remember in my heat in 1996, walking out into the stadium full of 80,000 people and just thinking ‘wow, this is brilliant’."

That rush of adrenaline is bound to be addicting for athletes like Bolt and Farah, and whilst a triumphant finale in London would be the perfect icing on the cake for two memorable careers, one can't help but think there must be a bittersweet feeling as they set foot on the track for the final time.

And if Bolt and Farah will miss athletics, it's hard to imagine how much athletics will miss them, as the two have proven indispensable icons and role-models for the sport, both in the UK and beyond.

Is Winrow at all concerned? Hardly. He said: "Athletics is a global sport, and it will go on regardless of whether we have a Usain Bolt as an icon.

"Somebody else will step up and become a star."

With any luck, we may get the chance to see that star being born at the Olympic Stadium in August.

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