Track success – Q&A with Ed hunt, England Athletics

This year’s Tokyo Olympics saw a number of new world records being set in the track events. The final of the men’s 400m hurdles, for example, went down as one of the greatest ever, with both Karsten Warholm of Norway and Rai Benjamin of the United States breaking records. It wasn’t just the runners either – in the triple jump, Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela smashed a world record that had gone uncontested for more than 26 years.

As the Olympic Games – and the achievements of athletes – have put track events back in the public consciousness, we sat down with Ed Hunt, Facilities and Planning Manager at England Athletics. We asked Ed not just for his view on the Games, but more importantly, put some questions to him about grassroots athletics tracks and advice for those looking to develop them.

First of all, as someone who works for the governing body for athletics, what was your highlight of the Tokyo Games – from either a Team GB perspective or athletics in general?

It was a really fabulous Olympics for Team GB and a welcome distraction from the challenges we have all faced over the past 18months. It was a great fillip for the UK and really showcased the power of sport.

From an athletics point of view there were highs and lows, but stand-out moments for me were Holly Bradshaw finally getting her well-deserved medal in the pole vault and the emergence of new talent, particularly in middle distance events and encouragingly the increase in number of athletes making finals and putting themselves in the frame for medals.That was a really great sign for Paris in three years time and, of course, the home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year.

There was a lot of talk about the track at Tokyo 2020, but how do community tracks and their requirements differ from those at elite venues?

Elite venues (Commonwealth Games, World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games) all require that the track at the host venue is World Athletics certified. In the UK this only really applies to the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, the London Stadium and Gateshead Stadium. For venues hosting competitions below this level, TrackMark is the “go-to” accreditation scheme.  For more information on TrackMark, click HERE.

And what is the certification process for surfaces used at a major championship?

All track surfaces undergo rigorous laboratory testing by accredited testing companies before they are certified by World Athletics, and for major events the track surface is inspected “in-situ” by World Athletics to ensure that the track surface has been laid correctly and meets the specification required for elite competition.

Would those same standards apply for a community track in the UK or anywhere else in the world?

In the UK we introduced a scaled down version of the World Athletics track surface inspection (TrackMark Unit 1). The Unit 1 inspection ensures that track surfaces meet minimum safety standards and, while these are not as demanding as the World Athletics standards, they provide us as the governing body (and the venue operator and users), with the comfort that a track surface meets the principal recognised standard for an outdoor synthetic surface (which is EN 14877).

What are the different types of athletics track surfaces currently in use in the UK?

There are two types of track surface – porous and non-porous – and within these categories there are a number of recognised systems. These include: Porous – spray coat Non porous – solid system, hybrid/sandwich system and prefabricated.

What should a facility operator/owner who is planning to install a track consider?

Not all tracks are equal! Among the critical considerations is to establish where the track will be located, the local conditions, who will use the track, how often they will use it and – perhaps most importantly – is there a sustainable business case that will support the lifecycle of the facility. The business case should also take into consideration periodic resurfacing.

What role can SAPCA members play in the ongoing development of tracks in the UK?

A massive role. We are fortunate that, within the SAPCA Track & Field division, we have an outstanding network of companies that continue to deliver and maintain track and field facilities to a really high standard. They are also not afraid to explore new and innovative solutions to meet the needs of a new generation of athletes.

For more information on the SAPCA athletics tracks division, click HERE.

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