June 2013 saw Gateshead International Stadium play host to the annual European Athletics Team Championships. Renowned as one of the biggest athletics events in the world, this competition is the first major sporting occasion in the United Kingdom since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Twelve teams took to the floor in a host of track and field events, each hoping to jump, throw and sprint their way to victory in a competition that put Gateshead on the map as the crème de la crème of sporting prowess. Along with hundreds of other volunteers, I was given the opportunity to assist for the event. Assigned the role of spectator services, I undertook a variety of responsibilities over the weekend, and was granted a backstage pass into one of the most exciting sports events ever to take place in the North East.
Saturday dawns bright and – as I can confirm from my position high up in the stadium’s largest uncovered stand, the South Terrace – VERY breezy. The cobwebs are well and truly blown away as I show spectators to their seats, a feat rendered slightly difficult by the stadium’s confusing seat numbers: J12 is behind I30, I30 is behind H24. You get the idea.
Once the majority of the audience is settled, the South stand makes for a fantastic vantage point to watch the competition unfold below; men launch themselves skywards in brilliantly executed high-jumps, whilst men and women propel around the track, leaping with the grace of gazelles in the 400m hurdles.
The highlight of the day though – in fact, the highlight of the weekend – comes just after 5pm, when the nation’s favourite, Mo Farah, takes to the track to compete in the men’s 5000m. The race begins like any other; Farah keeps pace at the head of the cluster of competitors. As the laps tick by to the sound of continual cheers throughout the stadium, the atmosphere is electric, throbbing like an excited heartbeat. The final lap is here – just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. The stadium explodes as Farah takes off like he has swallowed rocket fuel, sprinting miles ahead of his competitors: he wins, completing the final lap – finished off with a compulsory ‘Mobot’ – in an astonishing fifty seconds. As I stand just metres from the finish line, cheering with the rest of the audience, I doubt I’ve ever felt so proud to be British.
After the highs of Saturday, Sunday certainly has a lot to live up to. Whilst the excitement is not as charged as the first day of the competition, the second day is equally as enjoyable. Credit to the audience, even the weather – lashings of rain, rain and more rain – does not dampen their spirit. On my break, I enjoy watching from the opposite side of the stadium (the North stand) and learn much more about the nature of athletics. Firstly, how strict the competition is. In the men’s 200m sprint, a Polish competitor is withdrawn after a false start. Secondly, the loyalty of the British audience to their athletes no matter what plays out on the track: in the men’s 3000m steeple chase, Rob Mullett starts off well but becomes injured; he continues despite being in obvious pain, finishing second to last, but the audience cheers him all the way. In a world of cutthroat competition this is certainly a refreshing sight.
At the end of a thrilling yet tiring weekend, Britain finishes third out of a possible twelve with Germany and Russia taking silver and gold respectively. Credit is due to all those involved – athletes, organisers, volunteers and their team leaders – for doing a generally stellar job. Actions are executed with military precision, with no hiccups to speak of. My weekend ends with stewarding thousands of fans out of the stadium, back to the various car parks, metro and bus stations.
It’s been sunny, it’s been rainy. It’s been energetic and it’s been exhausting. Saying that, I would do it all over again.