Team GB assessment

So after all the friendly (and not so friendly) words exchanged about the size of the GB team, the number of World Athletics invitations accepted and refused, the divine right of athletes who did not meet the GB selection criteria to compete at the World Championships, the team of 55 athletes have made a good start in Budapest. While there is no official medal target, the team achieved 7 in Oregon 2022 (one gold, 1 silver, and five bronze), which left the team in 5th place in terms of the number of medals won. Athletics Weekly publication predicted 6 medals (5 bronze and a silver).

At the end of the 5th day (of nine), the team already has 2 gold medals and four medals in total. 

The first medal achieved was a silver in the 4 by 400 mixed really when the team of

Lewis Davey, Laviai Nielsen, Rio Mitcham, and Yemi Mary John took second place behind the world record-breaking Americans. Of course, the mixed relay is a rarely run event with no clear form book to work from but it was a magnificent achievement by the British quartet, the more so when they had to replace Joseph Brier through injury from the original selection.  Laviai Nielsen, at 27 is an experienced athlete. The other three at 20, 22, and 23, are early in their careers. A lot of the credit must go to their coach Martyn Rooney, himself a serial relay medal collector.

Katerina Johnson-Thompson, Heptathlon Champion, photo by Getty Images for British Athletics

No one has ever doubted the talent of Katarina Johnson-Thompson but injury (which goes with the territory in heptathlon) and, on occasion, a failure to deliver when it mattered have left her with fewer medals than she might have had. Her gold medal victory in the Budapest heptathlon was a magnificent achievement. The way that she achieved PRs in both the last two disciplines to see off Anna Hall just confirms what a competitor she is.  Her assessment was: “I just knew I could prove to myself and all the people that I could still do it. This is the culmination of so much hard work. I’m so happy I’m crying. I can’t help it. Today I knew I could do it if I believed in myself, and I had two great performances. But it wasn’t easy. In the 800m, I wasn’t thinking anything at all; I was just staring at the back of Anna’s legs, thinking, ‘Don’t let her get away’. I was completely calm at the start line. I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew if I believed I could do it, I would. I haven’t run those sorts of times for four years, but the last lap was amazing. I can’t take it in; it’s making me emotional. It’s been so hard in the last few years, but now it seems like it was all worth it. I’ve won medals before, but this means so much”.

Katerina Johnson Thompson, photo by Kevin Morris

Zharnel Hughes is having the season of his life, having broken British records in the 100 and 200 meters, which have stood for 30 years. No one could question his talent, but could he deliver on the biggest stage? Remember the false start in the Tokyo Olympics? This time he delivered.  His comment was: “All these years, all these years of lessons, tribulations, of patience, I stuck to it. I had self-belief and trust in my speed and my coach, and it all came together at last in the 100m at a world championships. I am a bronze medallist. Getting on the podium was my target, so I’m happy to do that, but I’m also looking forward to doing more work”.  

Noah Lyles takes 100m Men’s final, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Last year Jakob Ingebrigtsen was a strong favorite for the 1500m, but Jake Wightman overtook him on the back straight and held on for the win.  Lightning struck twice as Josh Kerr, another Scottish Brit, took his opportunity to leave Jakob with a second successive world championship silver.  An excited Kerr explained: “I just threw my whole 16 years of this sport at that last 200m and didn’t give up until the end. It was very reminiscent of Wightman  [over the last 200m]. I was battling with Jakob pretty hard – you could see by my face that I was throwing everything I could at this guy. We were both hurting – I was just like, ‘I have wanted this for my whole life, and I am not letting anyone get in the way of that’”.

Josh Kerr takes the WC 1,500m title! photo by Kevin Morris

But it is not just about medals. Britain had three athletes in the final of Women’s 1500, two in men’s.  Laura Muir did very little wrong but finished sixth. Molly Chaudery was “only” fifth in the pole vault. Only? She produced a PR of  4.75m and was so excited that she was hardly coherent: “A PB, Olympic qualifier, fifth in the world – my emotions are all over the place. What a night. I don’t have words for it. 

Medals, Budapest 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Of course, there have been disappointments, like European Indoor champion, Jazmin Sawyers, not even making the final – in her own words, she just couldn’t make it happen.  Dina-Asher Smith took 100m silver in 2019 with 10.83, but the medals decided in 10.6 and 10.7s here, so a large PR would have been required. One can think of other athletes who are very competitive at the European level but were found wanting at the global level.  

That said, Team GB looks in a great place with a chance to equal or improve last year’s medal tally.