Numbers matter in athletics. A single centimetre or a hundredth of a second can mean the difference between a good performance and one that is truly historic.
Bringing the numbers of athletics to life is SPIKES’ forte. As the multi-platform digital voice of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), our task is to introduce a new generation of fans to the sport. Simply reporting results won’t do that. We have to give those figures real-world context – to explain the facts in a way that brings to life the achievements of athletics’ giants in terms that us mere mortals can understand.
Take the high-jump world record of 2.45m that was set by Cuban Javier Sotomayor way back in 1993. It is one of the longest-standing records in the sport and has become fabled among fans. Generation after generation of athletes has tried to break it; we went wild when Mutaz Barshim came within 2cm in 2014. But Javier’s record remained unmatched.
Non-athletics fans don’t know any of that. To them 2.45m is just a number. It’s one thing to picture how high it is, but another thing altogether to comprehend the difficulty jumping it.
So when we joined an elite training session at east London’s Mile End athletics stadium, where 2013 European indoor 400m champion Perri Shakes-Drayton trains, I had to have a go at beating it myself.
Inevitably I came nowhere near – I didn’t even reach the bar. But not trying wasn’t an option. Getting involved isn’t just good fun, it’s what makes SPIKES stand out. It’s what turns a world record from a distant achievement from nearly 25 years ago on the other side of the globe into a tangible demonstration of just what an extraordinary human feat it is.
In the past, we’ve coached a brute in the nuanced technique required to throw a javelin, watched a cow pole vault in a train station, and run 10k to escape from a labyrinth. All in the name of showing the sport from a fresh and imaginative perspective.
When it came to telling the story of Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45m high-jump world record, it took just a single image. And the fact that I failed to match his numbers is what made it such a success.