For those Fast Trackers who work on the major UKA events, any hopes of a nice and relaxed start to the year are banished as we throw ourselves into a busy schedule of indoor athletics events, culminating with the Aviva Grand Prix at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena.
The days in the week leading up to events is always manic and having spent the previous two weekends at events in Glasgow and Sheffield, we crammed two busy days in the office before the road show continued to Birmingham. The usual travel dramas ensued, with laptops and diaries being left behind, but as soon as we arrived at what feels like our second home, the Crowne Plaza hotel, the excitement kicked in.
It is a real thrill to be in an environment with world class athletes. Look left and you see Asafa Powell chilling out at the bar; look right and there is Mo Farah playing on his iPad.
However, despite hanging out with the world’s best athletes, there is a lot of hard graft put in at the venue during event week that is far from glamourous! From setting up photographer’s rooms, laying out table cloths in the media centre and putting up (and taking down, before putting up again) the infamous sponsor backdrop, there are many thankless yet crucial tasks to be fulfilled before us members of the media team get to have our fun at press conferences and photocalls.
Thursday morning arrived and the Fast Track media team took a group of American and Jamaican athletes to a restaurant that overlooked the NIA for a media event, playing on the fact that both nations will be holding their pre-Olympics holding camps in the city. With British star Hannah England in the mix too, a good turnout of local media were on hand for what was a successful piece of activity promoting the big show on Saturday.
The day ended with a team curry at Birmingham’s illustrious Indian restaurant Shimla Pinks. A true gastronomical delight, we have always been extremely well looked after there and were in company of greatness as Fast Track’s favourite athlete, Kim Collins, came along. It’s become quite a tradition to go for a curry with Kim at Aviva Series events and he is always very outspoken and great fun.
An early start and a hearty breakfast on Friday were essential for a big day of media activity and final preparations for the event itself. Our media work started at 10.30am with a photo-shoot on the rooftop of a Birmingham skyscraper. Asafa Powell, Mo Farah, Liu Xiang, Holly Bleasdale and Dayron Robles were the stars on show. Some line-up I’m sure you’ll agree and somewhat fitting for our final press conference.
After a quick photo-shoot, we escorted the athletes back to the hotel where a huge number of local and national media were gathered for a press conference. With two translators on hand for Robles and Xiang, there was a real international feel to the event and if there was any doubt of the world class nature of the Grand Prix, it was instantly banished.
Following a few top-table questions, each member of the Fast Track team took one of the athletes through a rotation of different media. I had the pleasure of working with Britain’s pole vaulting sensation Holly Bleasdale. First up was an interview with the BBC, then some filming for a UKA promotion before TV and radio interviews with two phone interviews in-between. Two hours soon flew by and when the athletes and media disappeared, we called an impromptu Fast Track press conference…!
With the media activity complete, it was a case of suits off, overalls on as we descended on the venue to finish off our set-up. For me, this included taking delivery of 5,000 programmes. Having edited the programme, I was anxious to check it out and thankfully there were no obvious spelling mistakes! Some finishing touches were added to the media centre before heading to the hotel for an early night.
I woke on Saturday like a kid on Christmas Day and headed down to the venue for around 9am to meet the programme sales manager to brief him for the day. I then prepared for my role in ‘flash quotes’ which entails interviewing athletes after their events. We take a few quotes of them, generally about their performance on the day before typing them up and sending them to a long list of media contacts. The quotes are also displayed on screens in the press benches so the journalists have immediate access to them. It’s a fun role. You are in a privileged position whereby you speak to the winners just as the exit they track and as we only quote the winners, they are always in a good mood!
My fellow members of the media team fulfil roles ranging from managing the mixed zone (the area where press interview athletes post-event), roaming the press benches, supervising photographers and ensuring the media centre is under control. We are all in contact via radios and need to be flexible to deal with demands and pressures as they arise.
Events on the track started with a bang with Jessica Ennis producing a personal best and a world leading time in the 60m hurdles. Her triumph was just one of many British successes but perhaps the most eagerly anticipated event was Mo Farah’s race in the 2 miles. Mo has become a superstar in the past 12 months. When he raced at the Aviva London Grand Prix last summer, every one of the 15,000 crowd were on their feet and it was the same in Birmingham. Despite finishing second, he set a British record and the crowd went away happy and entertained.
It was a great way to end the event and a fitting finale for Fast Track’s final UKA event. We celebrated with a few group photos and a hotly contested 60m race won by Matt Bates, before attending a drinks reception kindly hosted by UKA. It gave us a chance to share a drink and reminisce about the many years the two had worked together. After a few speeches and toasts we headed out into Birmingham to celebrate even more. Needless to say there were a few sore heads on Sunday morning!
For me personally, I have made many friends through working in athletics and will cherish memories of working with great people and a fantastic sport. For Fast Track, the agency can be proud of producing outstanding world class events year-on-year for so long and for playing such a significant role in transforming the sport into what it is today. An end of an era it may be, but onwards and upwards we go!