Earlier in the summer, a BBC report on Masters Athletics caused quite a stir. Hitherto hidden away entirely from the mainstream, Masters Athletics sees, shall we say, veterans competing in track and field. It is genuinely inspiring to see athletes as old as 90+ getting stuck into sport at a competitive level. As such, we spoke to Maurice Doogan of the British Masters Athletic Federation to find out all about this stirring scene.
KUDOS: Can you tell us a bit about British Masters Athletics – when it was formed, how it works etc?
Maurice Doogan: The British Masters Athletic Federation (formerly Veteran Athletics) was formed at the time the World Association of Veteran Athletes was being proposed at a Veteran Athletics World Championship in Toronto in August 1975. The name of the World and British organisations was changed from Veteran to Masters in 2001/2002, with the World changing to World Masters Athletics.
The Federation is made up of eleven Masters Area Clubs, seven in England and one each in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Isle of Man. The Area Clubs organise local events and Championships in their area for all events of athletics in track and field, road, cross country, multi-terrain and walks, for men and women over thirty five years of age.
The Federation is run by an annually elected Executive, with a Council consisting of representatives from all the Area Clubs. All are unpaid volunteers as are the Committees of the Area Clubs.
All competitions are organised in five year age groups to ensure compatible athletes can compete against each other (ten year age groups in some team competitions).
The Federation is not funded by any public bodies, although England Athletics do support the Inter Area Matches by paying the officials’ expenses. The other nations Area Clubs have some of their championships organised for them by their NGB.
It’s really inspiring to see, shall we say, more mature athletes competing. How are they funded when it comes to travel etc?
Athletes may be over thirty five years old, but Masters are still as dedicated to training hard, mainly after work, to achieve performances – some quite remarkable – at local, national and international level. Some of these athletes train just as hard as our senior (youngsters!) international athletes to become British, European and World Champions in annual national and biennial European and World-Championships. There are hundreds of them, which is why, even on a ‘bad day’ we are still third in world in the medals table, being second in Europe behind Germany, who are the world leaders. The girls also occasionally beat Germany for them to be World no. 1.
Masters athletes attending International Championships are totally self funded – paying all their own entry fees, travel, accommodation and sundry expenses. They also to pay for their own special GB Masters Kit which is required to allow them to compete. And the team management, like all their athletes, also pay all their own expenses.
Inactivity is a problem in this country – do you feel you get enough help from those authorities that matter and are in a position to make a difference?
The westernised world has an obesity crisis, with Britain near the top of the list, but unfortunately British Masters athletes are invisible. We are the ideal role models for promoting a simple way of pursuing an active and healthy lifestyle, that encompasses enjoyment and satisfaction. Local and National Health authorities peddle numerous alternatives when we believe the answer is just “get out and run!” as Masters athletes do – it is that simple and that cheap.
The health authorities do not use us, even though it would cost them nothing, as they are directed by blinkered ad agencies promoting negative options – don’t do this don’t do that, instead of do this – just get out and run!
Is it fair to say some of the athletes compete not just against others, but sort of against themselves – for their own self-esteem and pride?
Yes it is for self esteem and pride which is magnified out of sight, when you put on a GB Masters vest. You are allowed to wear the vest as there are no selection processes, but purely because of your desire to compete. When you enter an international championship you will live the dream. And because of the five year age groups you compete on a more compatible base level, and nowhere is it elitist. There are no entry standards.
Most Masters athletes appear to be of the ‘small fish in a large pond’ mould. In the main, having missed progressing their athletic opportunities in their younger life, due to further education/working environment/relationship reasons, those involved come to athletics when their life is more settled. They need a diversion from the stresses of work and we are all inherently competitive, albeit to varying degrees.
Wherever you finish, you are member of the team, where the social side is just as important as the competitive side. It is also where you share the pride when dozens of British athletes, your team mates, stand on the top step of the podium to hear your national anthem. Masters athletics is a Mission Possible for all.
If 35 is the minimum age requirement, is there a maximum? Can you tell us about some of the older competitors?
Yes the lower level for Masters Athletics is 35 years old and extends to beyond 100. Our oldest recent athlete was a sprinter, 96 year old Charles Eugster, who died earlier this year, after competing in the British Masters and then the World Masters Indoor Championships.
There are hundreds of athletes 70 years old (a fair number of which are road runners who in the main are not affiliated to BMAF) and dozens of 80 years old, together with a couple in their 90s. These athletes are still competing, not just turning up, with many becoming or remaining European and World Champions.
We are spoilt for choice as we currently have a huge amount of European and World Champions both indoor and outdoor.
Among those champions we have sprinter Delbir Deol (91), hurdler Tony Bowman (82) and sprinters Dorothy Fraser (80) and Allan Carter (also 80).
Then in the 70s we have sprinter Glyn Sutton (72), hurdler Barry Ferguson (76), middle/long distance Angela Copson, David Beattie and Peter Young (all 70) and throwers Trish Hill (77) and Barry Hawksworth (70).
We tend to dominate in numerous areas in the 60s – including sprinters Steve Peters (63), Caroline Powell (64) and Helen Godsall (64), hurdlers Ian Broadhurst (63) and Jane Horder (60), middle/long distance Ros Tabor (68), Nancy Hitchmough (68), Caroline Marler (67), Anna Garnier (63) and John Skelton (66), pole vaulter Sue Yeomans (64) and heptathlon Carole Filer (62).
There are then dozens of similar athletes in all of the lower age groups, and be aware all of these athletes train at and compete for a Club near you.
How can people get involved?
Athletics is truly a sport for life – and initially cheaper than any other sport. You put on a pair of trainers and run from your front door – what could be simpler?
The best way is to get involved with organised exercise to begin with, and the easiest way to do that is to do a Park Run. There are hundreds throughout the country, so there will be one near you. These are normally on Saturday mornings but you do have to register first before you turn up, so go to www.parkrun.org.uk to find out more, even if only to find out where your nearest one is, and go and have a look.
A lot of Masters athletes have moved to throwing events, as their joints will not taking the endless pounding of the ground that occurs when you run.
However Masters athletics is thinly spread, with only seven Area Clubs in England with one each in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Isle of Man, and none of them have facilities – the clubs just organise events from their local athletic clubs, which virtually all Masters are members of.
If it is purely running you want to do, then you need to find out about local athletic clubs or joggers groups and join one of them, where a lot of their members will be Masters, as Masters now make up 70% of athletics, and train with them. Even if the club or group you join does not have an organised Masters section, you can look up your nearest Masters Area Club on www.bmaf.org.uk and from their website see what events they organise and where they are held. It would be a good idea to ring the Secretary or Membership Secretary of your nearest Masters Club to get more information.
If it is sprinting, hurdling, jumping or throwing you are interested in, then you will need to join a UKA Athletics Club that has a track, other facilities and coaches, as you will need specialist advice. For this side of athletics, in the winter months competitions in sprinting, hurdling and jumping are catered for but in the throwing events only the shot putt is fully catered for. However in the summer things improve a lot, as most areas have Masters Evening Leagues for different age ranges and Inter Area matches. Some counties also have Masters Championships.
It will be then up to you to decide how far you want to progress from there, but you will never know how good it can be for you until you put your toe in the water. What have you got to lose, because like running it is just one step at a time.
Thanks so much to Maurice for his time. We have been inspired by the Masters Athletics scene, which goes to show that it is never too late to get involved in sporting activity. Why not give it a go?
KUDOS IS PASSIONATE ABOUT SUPPORTING GRASSROOTS SPORT
KUDOS encourages and supports people from all walks of life, and of any age, to take part in sporting activity at any level.
KUDOS SPORTS – A LEADING SUPPLIER OF CUSTOM SPORTS KIT
KUDOS supplies kit to a range of sports clubs across the country – custom teamwear that is built for performance and worn with pride.