British Athletics Came of Age at the European Athletics Championships

Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Posted: August 26, 2014

At the European Athletics Championships which took place two years ago in Helsinki, Great Britain won only seven medals in total – the team’s lowest achievement in three decades. Indeed the last time Britain sent a full team to a European Championships was at the Estadi Olimpic Stadium in Barcelona in 2010 when British athletes won 19 medals, including six gold medals (see Table 1).

From the veterans of that time, only Mo Farah competed at the recently concluded meeting in Zurich 12-17 August 2014. The presence of the likes of Mo Farah, Jo Pavey, Adam Gemili and Jodie Williams competing, and winning gold medals for Team GB at the European Championships in Zurich, Switzerland (Fordyce, 2014) is an indication of the power of combining both emerging talent with the established.  As the team GB performance director Neil Black, pointed out at the time:

“I’m never going to set a specific target […] But I’m absolutely certain we’re going to do better than we did in Helsinki but not as well as we did in Barcelona […] I’ll never be specific because it distracts people from the actual performances, and the background to those performances. It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. Every year is unique. This one is skewed by the Commonwealth Games, and the World Juniors, and the World Relays.”

How good is Team GB? The home nations have been starved in recent years of a sprint king to take on the world, or even just the continent. But that has now changed as British sprinting’s coming of age with a record 12 gold medals – the best ever performance by a British team at a European Championships (see table 1). At the end of the recent meet, a number of firsts have been recorded – and history made by the home nations from 100metres right through to the 10,000 metres.

Table 1. Britain’s performance at the last six events prior to 2014

Year and location Gold Silver Bronze Total
2014 – Zurich, Switzerland 12 5 6 23
2012 – Helsinki, Finland 4 2 1 7
2010 – Barcelona, Spain 6 7 6 19
2006 – Gothenburg, Sweden 1 5 5 11
2002 – Munich, Germany 5 2 5 12
1998 – Budapest, Hungary 9 4 3 16
1994 – Helsinki, Finland 6 5 2 13


It is worth breaking down the records through the distances – a record for both the men and women athletes flying the Union Jack:

1. Ashleigh Nelson became the first British female to win a European 100m medal for 40 years, matching Andrea Lynch’s bronze in Rome in 1974.

2. James Dasaolu (with a winning time of 10.07sec) became the first British sprinter since Darren Campbell in 1998 to win 100m European Championship gold in a comfortable victory, with fellow countryman Harry Aikines-Aryeetey narrowly avoiding disqualification for a faulty start to take bronze (Majendie, 2014).

3. Tiffany Porter triumphed in the 100m hurdles.

4. Adam Gemili, fresh from his Commonwealth 100m silver medal in Glasgow, swapped places with reigning champion Christophe Lemaitre to win gold in the 200m in Zurich.

5. 400m sensations Martyn Rooney (gold) and 19-year old Matthew Hudson-Smith (silver) lifted the spirits of the home nations.

6. Eilidh Child won gold in the women’s 400m hurdles

7. In the relay Team GB also won the Men’s 4 x 400m relay; the Men’s 4 x 100m relay as well as the Women’s 4 x 100m relay

8. Mo Farah did the home nations proud by clinching gold at the 5000m.

9. 10,000m were both won by Team GB with Mo Farah and Jo Pavey, doing the honours in the men and women categories respectively.

Indeed Britain’s Jo Pavey at 40years old, became the oldest ever female athlete to win a European title after seeing off Clemence Calvin and her compatriot Laila Traby. Pavey led at the bell of the 25-lap race and kicked away on the last bend to win in a time of 32 minutes 22.39 seconds (see BBC Sport, 12 August 2014).

Team GB’s performance has undoubtedly added some flavor to the historical role of the Letzigrund Stadium in Athletics – the host venuehas hosted some memorable athletics eventsmany  of the great world records have been set at the Letzigrund Stadium, from Seb Coe’s 1500m mark in 1979 and mile record two years later to Haile Gebrelselassie’s 5000m in 1995, Wilson Kipketer’s 1:41.24 800m in 1997 and Yelena Isinbayeva’s 5.06m pole vault five years ago. Such deeds have fostered a crowd that understands athletics like few others.

But it’s not just about the track but more about the officiating for Team GB – false starts, warnings, yellow versus red cards, have all had a role to play. As Cunningham et al. (2014) pointed out in an academic paper, communication and player management are integral to effective sport officiating, which also translates to how sports men and women perform. Four salient themes emerged in conceptualizations of effective officiating communication and player management: personal qualities of the official, 1-way-communication direction giving and impression management, situation monitoring (interpreting player and context), and skilled interaction (adapting communication appropriately for context).

I would argue that a combination of these elements seem to have played out in Zurich– and this became even more of an historical year with the home nations making a series of historical record-breaking feats in athletics.

IBBC Sport (16 August 2014) European Championships 2014: Medal table and British medallists. Retrieved from: [Link]

IIBBC Sport (14 August 2014) Adam Gemili makes European Championships 200m semi-finals. Retrieved from: [Link]

IIIBBC Sport (12 August 2014) European Championships: Jo Pavey wins 10,000m title at 40. Retrieved from: [Link]

IVCunningham, I., Simmons, P., Mascarenhas, D., and Redhead, S. (2014) Skilled Interaction: Concepts of Communication and Player Management in the Development of Sport Officials. International Journal of Sport Communication 7(2) 166-187.

VFordyce, T. (BBC Sport, 12 August 2014) European Championships: Farah, Gemili and Sharp seeking gold. Retrieved from: [Link] />

VIMajendie, M. (The Independent, 12 August 2014) European Athletics Championships 2014: James Dasaolu and Tiffany Porter deliver on night of glory for Britain’s sprinters. Retrieved from: [Link] />

About Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Nnamdi O. Madichie, is Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business at Graduate Studies Division, School of Business Administration, Canadian University of Dubai. He has published extensively in the area of sports marketing and management covering topics from the English Premier League, to Middle East Investments in Sports, and Leadership lessons from Sports, especially football. His paper “Management Implications of foreign players in the English Premiership League football” has received 18 citations on GoogleScholar since it was published in 2009. He can be contacted at: