‘The 2018, South Korean Winter Olympics has once again shown us all,’ Sir Hugh told the BBC, ‘that any number of visually interesting competitions can be devised from the simple process of sliding about on snow and ice.
‘Fifty years ago, it was only possible to buy plain crisps, and, in those days, it was even necessary to add your own salt. Similarly, fifty years ago, winter sports mostly consisted of slipping downhill on smoothish slopes, aided by two skis. Today, however, there are ubiquitous crisp flavours, and skiing has followed suit with brilliant displays in numerous new and innovative competitive disciplines such as: moguls; luge; skeleton; slalom skiing; slopestyle; aerials; ski jumping; ski cross; snowboard cross; halfpipe; bobsled and many more.’
‘It is indisputable,’ concurred Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, ‘that running, as a spectator sport, has failed to keep up with skiing in these changing times. There have been some limited attempts to liven it up a bit with events such as hurdling and the steeplechase, but the vast majority of track, road and cross-country is still devoted to the same old locomotion.
‘To extend Sir Hugh’s enlightening crisp analogy,’ Mr Bach continued, ‘winter sports have reached the refinement of lobster, chilli and lemon crisps (with a hint of tarragon and black pepper), whereas running events still compel spectators to add salt to plain, fried potatoes that have gone a bit soggy in the bag.’
‘We now understand that our approach to the development of running, as a spectator sport, has been fundamentally flawed,’ conceded one senior international coach, who did not wish to be named. ‘We have consistently convinced ourselves that the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10000m, and longer, off-track, competitions, are different events. In reality, they’re the same event undertaken at different speeds over varying distances. Frankly, once you’ve seen a few people running along, you’ve seen them all,’ he concluded. ‘Some athletes are in denial about this and have progressed to multiple marathons or even extreme running – sometimes over hundreds of miles. On closer examination, however, all such events utilise the same basic principle of repeatedly putting one foot in front of another – very much like walking, but a bit quicker.’
‘Many people who have previously enjoyed spectating at running events,’ Sir Hugh revealed in the above BBC interview, ‘have taken selfie videos of themselves on their mobile phones while hurrying for buses or trains. Often they have been amazed to find that viewing such footage is an experience little different from watching international track athletics, road racing or cross-country.
‘For the 21st Century,’ concluded Sir Hugh, ‘running requires modernisation. We need the sort of innovation that we now see on snow and ice – perhaps a few more obstacles could be added, or a bit of gymnastics. Even a couple of hops in the middle of the Olympic 100m would be better than nothing – anything but that repetitive, tedious progression to a finishing line.’