The IAAF Ambassadors Press Conference, marking 30 years of the IAAF World Championships, featured two IAAF Ambassadors, Great Britain’s 1983 1500m champion Steve Cram and Russia’s 1996 Olympic Games 800m and 1500m champion Svetlana Masterkova. US hurdler Ryan Wilson, who won the 110m Hurdles silver medal on Monday, was also there as a guest on Friday (15).
The occasion also specifically celebrated the IAAF World Championship Seville 1999, where Masterkova won the 1500m gold medal.
“(Seville) was my second best memory after the (1996) Olympic Games. I wanted to become a two-fold World champion, I wanted to become a two-fold World record holder, but I was third in the 800. My competitor Ludmila Formanova won the 800m, so I shared the titles with her.
“I overcame difficulties. My injury was not healed at this time and I was running with some pain. Still, it was a very important time for me,” reflected Masterkova.
Did she ever want to coach? “I never wanted to be a coach. You have to be too serious. I was too nervous, I wouldn’t tolerate lazy athletes. When I was an athlete I always wanted to know why we did some things. It was difficult to convince me,” she said.
“I am happy as the chair of the Moscow Athletics Federation. I want the children in the Russian Federation to have places to train, so we can raise the young generation in the sport.
“In Moscow, there are wealthy people who are willing to support athletes. A career as an athlete is short so every bit of support is welcome.”
Steve Cram was asked what he remembers from the first IAAF World Championships, Helsinki, 1983:
“When I think back to that time – it’s hard to remember that long ago! – obviously, it was the first World Championships. I was here for the 1980 Olympic Games and there was a boycott. There would be a boycott in 1984. There had been a boycott in 1976. So it was an important time, the first time for over 10 years that all the athletes had come to a global championship.
“There were new stars in the sport: Carl Lewis. In the UK, it was the era of (Sebastian) Coe and (Steve) Ovett. It was a great championship; to win the gold medal was brilliant.
“I was on the way up, trying to make my way in the sport. Helsinki was also the first time we saw Said Aouita. The 1500m final was a tactical race and I did everything I was supposed to do. It was one of those rare occasions you do everything right in a race. To do it in a World Championships was brilliant, so Helsinki was a special place for me.”
Cram was then asked for his views on the 5000m and 1500m in Moscow.
“Mo Farah is a massive hero for the sport. He is becoming a big star. He won the Olympic double last year, but let’s not forget that it started in Daegu when he won the 5000m after just being beaten in the 10,000m.
“I think he is better than he was last year, but (Friday night) is going to be tough. I thought in the 10,000m that unless he did something wrong, the race was his to win.
“In the 5000m, Edwin Soi has beaten him once this year and there are a lot of other good athletes: the other Kenyans, Thomas Longosiwa, Isiah Koech, can medal, Yenew Alamirew, Bernard Lagat – I think it will be a cracking race. I’ll be intrigued to see if anyone tries anything different to beat him.
“In the 1500m, I’m a big fan of Asbel Kiprop. The biggest rivals may be his teammates. Asbel has always been a great runner, but I think he’s getting better, 3:27 in Monaco; I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win here.”
Almost inevitably there were questions about Mo Farah and whether he can be regarded as ‘the greatest ever’” without breaking any world records
“I’m aware of the debate over Mo and world records. If you win double gold medals, then you’re right up there with anyone; but how do you compare that with Daley Thompson winning gold medals with world records.
“Mo is stacking up the medals and he’s not finished yet. It is a little easier to win multiple medals now as there are more championships.
“Mo will win more medals, and he will try the marathon, too; but you can only judge someone at the end of their career. Right now, you think of Zatopek, Kuts, Viren, Yifter. Mo can be mentioned with these people. When he’s finished, let’s go down the pub, have a beer and argue about who’s the best, because that’s what lists are for.”
Cram also had some erudite and forthright opinions on support for the sport, especially with regard to financing.
‘If I was in any other nation right now I would be looking at what the UK has done over the past 15 years with lottery funding. It’s not funding to the athletes, it’s a whole support system: medical, physical and sports science, that’s made the difference for us.”
Wilson is also coaching US 100m hurdler Nia Ali so he was posed the question, “Which is harder, coaching or competing at an elite level?”
“It’s pretty exiting. This is my first year coaching, and it’s going well so far. I haven’t had the frustrations which inevitably come along yet.
“Combining coaching with my own career is a difficult balance, but Nia has been wonderful in allowing me to remain intense and focused on my career as well.
“Coaching is definitely more stressful. As an athlete, you know what you can do, what you can’t do. I didn’t know just how stressful it is watching an athlete run. You know the Hurdles, you know any little thing can go wrong at any time.”
Wilson’s compatriot Brianna Rollins is the favourite for the women’s 100m Hurdles in Moscow.
“She’s a great technician, and that has propelled her all season. She combines a lot of the strengths the other hurdlers are looking for. She’s got great speed, great technique, it’s difficult to pick out a weakness. To beat her, you just have to be better than her on the day.
“She’s very consistent, and consistency wins the day usually.”
Len Johnson for the IAAF