Some things never change….some things

By Myles Edwards

http://mylesedwards.wordpress.com

Cast your mind back to 1967.  Labour were in power in the United Kingdom.  War in the Middle East was causing conflict in the western world.  Casino Royale was a box office hit.  Mini skirts were the craze.  Ken Barlow was strutting his stuff in one of the nation’s favourite soap operas.  Some things never change……some things.
Mel Edwards is a former British marathon international runner with a personal best time of 2hours 18minutes 24seconds (set in 1967), and is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring, modest and popular coaches in the running fraternity.
Born in December 1942, he graduated in Civil Engineering from Cambridge University in 1966 and has since enjoyed a great deal of success in the world of distance running.  In a career which has spanned over 40 years, Mel has endured a roller coaster of ‘injuries’ and success at every level from club competitions to international level.  Detailed and accurate training diaries have been kept, which show he has racked up a total of over 100,000 miles of running!

Mel Edwards at Font Romeu high altitude training camp. Following receiving his second Cambridge ‘blue’ for his exploits on the track he went on to bigger and better things in 1967.  It was quite literally a record breaking year for Mel.  He impressively broke the Scottish 6 mile record – whist finishing 2nd to Lachie Stewart, but went one step higher on the podium in the English universities 3 mile race by cracking the previous record.  1967 saw him really flourish as an athlete, most notably in the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  In his first attempt at the event, Mel ran away from his rivals early on to win the Harlow marathon and climb to 4th in the British rankings.  To cap it all off, he narrowly missed out on the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, by 2 places.
What contributed to this large amount of success in a sport, which, at the time was highly competitive in the UK?  In an answer that was oozing with Mel’s typical, determined attitude, he said: “It was down to single minded focus on getting the best out of myself, by doing the work and when injured leaving no stone unturned to find the solution.”

Renowned for his training regimes of around 100miles per week, what makes Mel stand out is his positive attitude and dogged determination to get the best possible outcome from everything he does.

In November 2006, aged almost 64, Mel underwent a MRI scan for lower back pain.  45 minutes later he was diagnosed with Myeloma, an incurable but very treatable form of bone marrow cancer.  After numerous treatments and minor disruptions to work, 8 months later he was back to full-time work as a chartered road safety engineer and running over 20 miles per week.  His reaction following the diagnosis typified his personality traits.

“Those are malignancies, cancer”, said Dr. Frank Smith.  Much to the doctor’s amazement, Mel’s immediate reaction was not to be shocked but “I’ve got a big cross country race coming up soon.”

When asked if he felt his attitude and fitness achieved from competitive sport had helped him face cancer head on, Mel’s response was definitive:

“There is no question these elements made fighting myeloma much easier. I would hate to have had to deal with it if I had never had to show determination in my life due to things coming too easily. Certainly fitness means that you have a built-in reserve which can be used to deal with additional stresses.”

It is this attitude which has served Mel so well throughout his life and during the treatment.  An inspiration to many, but what makes this inspirational character tick?

“I am inspired by the opportunities available to do constructive things, such as helping people with their athletics aims and trying to make roads safer in my working capacity. These aims, when carried through, give people a feel-good factor.”

British marathon running was booming in the late 1960s and continued to do so for the best part of the following two decades.  In 1968 there were only 2 countries to have more than 3 runners faster than Mel – Japan and UK, which, looking at today’s standards makes him look rather unlucky at missing out on competing at an Olympic Games.  But it is evident that excuses, simply, aren’t in his nature.

In 1968, 46 UK men broke the 2hours 30 minutes barrier.  In 2007, only 31 men managed to achieve this feat.  With all the advances in footwear, nutrition and training tools, as well as even faster role models, albeit from other countries – why is there such a decline in British marathon running standards?

Mel’s opinion on the decline is, again, filled with absolute clarity:

“It is down to distance runners not putting in the work they did 40 years ago.  You have to be totally dedicated to getting the mileage in and choosing the right races.  Between 1966 and 1984, in Aberdeen alone, there were ten guys faster than 2 hours 20 minutes for the marathon.”

For many people, it is intriguing to find out what gets an athlete through long runs without boredom setting in.  For Mel, it is simple:

“I really enjoy the challenge of distance and time.  The fact that others with an aim to be in the top echelons of marathon or cross country running in the UK, were doing similar training also gave me a desire to be the best.”A common site in elite marathons. (World record holder Haile Gebrselassie 3rd from right)

The lack of top marathon runners in the UK today is in stark contrast to the likes of Kenya, Ethiopia and America.  For Mel, in the late 60s and 70s you only had to turn up for a local race to compete with or witness elite athletes in action.  Therefore can the lack of male distance running role models in the UK be a factor in the decline of standards?  Perhaps so, but with Mel’s philosophy, it is very likely thatall smaller factors would subsequently fall into place.

“More role models would emerge as a result of increased hard work from individual athletes.  To be the best, you must learn from, and work harder than those faster than you.”

His fair, no nonsense attitude spans far wider than himself or anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him.  For those who are not familiar with the name, Oscar Pistorious, he is a South African Paralympic runner, known as the “Blade Runner”.  He is the double amputee world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 metres and runs with the aid of carbon-fibre limbs, attached from the knee down.  In 2007 Pistorious took part in his first international able-bodied competitions.  However, the International Association of Athletics Federations (with their typical Rubix Cube-like mindset) ruled that his lower leg, artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes and subsequently banned him from competing under their rules.  That decision has since been reversed and Pistorius is eligible to compete in able-bodied Olympic competition.

Mel’s opinion on Oscar Pistorious’ situation not only demonstrates his love of a challenge but also seems to apply common sense to some harsh obstacles which had previously been placed in the path of the young South African’s destiny.

“I believe he should be allowed to compete at the highest level possible.  He is not far off the top able bodied 400m runners and relishes the challenge of competing against them.  It would have been crazy to deny him the chance.  He deserves the opportunity to enjoy himself as he wishes and I see this taking precedence over views of others on his actions.”

The British male marathon running scene offers little sign of competing at the front of world class racing.  At 67, Mel Edwards shows less chance of slowing down than Formula 1 cars and even less likelihood of quitting than Ken Barlow:  “I have no reason to stop.  I feel good and it is exciting.”

Some things never change.

Sport media pulling off the saves

Sports journalism - the saviour (Photo courtesy of http://www.getreligion.org)

By Myles Edwards and Suhayl Afzal

 

Newspapers are relying heavily on sports journalism to survive, according to leading journalists and academics.

The latest circulation figures from ABC (an independent auditor on media performance) show that sales of each quality daily and Sunday newspaper have fallen again in the year leading up to October. 

Newspapers such as the The Guardian and The Observer have already ceased distribution of bulks (copies that readers can pick up free of charge from hotels and airlines), with the Times and the Sunday Times set to follow suit in January 2010.

The Sunday Times recorded a relatively low fall in circulation compared to that of other national newspapers, with a 3.37 percent drop in the past 12 months.  This is partly down to the popularity of its comprehensive sports section.

Jonathan Northcroft, Football Correspondent with the Sunday Times, believes that sport is integral to the future of newspapers.

He said: “There has never been a greater interest in top end sport than there is right now.  The Premier League is the most popular in the world, Test Cricket grosses more money than ever before and it’s the same for all the blue riband events such as the Olympics and Wimbledon.”

English Premier League - Global Audience

Mr Northcroft emphasised the importance of newspapers maintaining their high quality so that readership does not drop any further.

He added: “Sports journalism is delivering in a sector where people really want to consume content and will pay for exclusive news or to read a brilliantly written opinion piece.”

It could be argued that newspapers should not be overly dependant on sport in this difficult time for the media due to advertising downturns.  The high profile demise of Setanta in the UK is evidence of this view.

However, Mark Ogden, Northern Football Correspondent with the Telegraph said: “Newspapers still have the greatest impact and set the agenda. 

“If you watch Sky Sports News or listen to Five Live in the morning, their sports bulletins are often led by the big stories in that day’s newspapers.”

Academics also recognise the importance of the sport to the success of print media.

Michael Oriard, Professor of Literature and Culture at Oregon State University said sport both benefits from and contributes to success of newspapers.

He added: “Sport coverage attracts the reader, who in turn looks to daily newspapers to satisfy their growing desire for more and more sport.”

TV sports report sparks backlash

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The Olympics are among numerous other events which are free-to-air (http://pictures.thaindian.com)

By Suhayl Afzal and Myles Edwards

Proposed changes to the list of free-to-air sporting events have triggered widespread criticism.

Sporting associations, journalists and the public have reacted angrily to the recommendations put to the department of culture, media and sport by an independent panel. [Read more...]

Council plans don’t play with local residents

By Calum Liddle, Myles Edwards and Constantine Innemee

Edinburgh City Council has defended its proposal to build a play park and community works costing over £275,000 despite local resistance.

Residents of Wardieburn Place East are opposed to the plans due to there being another toddler’s play area just a stones throw away, on Granton Crescent.

Local residents have voiced frustration over the vagueness of the proposals.

Illustrative plans for the public square were posted by a landscape company who have been commissionable to design a “toddler park”.

Norma Carlisle, who lives next to the site, said:
“A play park is not the answer to the problems in our area. We need something to keep the teenagers busy after school.

“We are completely in the dark about whether or not there is even going to be a play park, everyone is saying different things.”

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council said: “The £275,000 is not just for the play park, it is for roads and pathway redesign and potentially also for a play park.

“It is only at the proposal stage, it still has to go to consultation where local residents will be able to voice their opinions.”

She added that here have been “no objections since the Community Council and Neighbourhood Partnership endorsed the plans that something will happen in the area”.

Alan Jackson conservative councillor for the area said: “There is obviously confusion as to what stage this is at. My understanding is that these proposals are still be put to the Neighbourhood Partnership.

“Regardless I have other priories and this amount of money seems far too much to develop these intentions.

“The Forth Ward inhabits 25,000 people. We need to spread funds wisely – I can understand why residents are irritated by this plan. It sounds ridiculous.”

The TaxPayers Alliance (TPA), a watchdog on council spending, also expressed concern over the excessive cost of the project.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive at the TPA said:  “It’s ridiculous that the council have duplicated the same facility in the same area, and that they have not managed to produce quality activities for teenagers as they promised. With so many demands on so few resources, many taxpayers will think that yet another playpen is a wasteful allocation of money that could be put to far better use elsewhere.”

Education ‘not green enough’

Primary school classroom

Primary school classroom

By Calum Liddle and Myles Edwards

Children in Scotland are not prepared for the economic shift to the environmental sector, according to industry leaders.

The chief operating officer of Renewable Energy Systems, which owns and operates a growing portfolio of wind farms, claims Scotland’s schools are “not up to the job”.

Gordon MacDougall criticised the current educational approach adopted by the government, and called for “a more joined up approach to education” so that children “can take advantage of career opportunities in our sector”.

He said: “This is a critical issue considering the scale of development needed to meet the 2020 targets and beyond.”

MacDougall, who has worked with RES for 3 years, said: “The expansion of the renewable energy sector offers significant employment opportunities. However, the industry faces a current and worsening skills shortage in Scotland.

In the current Higher and Standard Grade system, environmental studies including climate change, ecology and renewable technologies are divided in the curriculum between geography, modern studies and biology.

Managing Environmental Resources (MER), a stand-alone subject available in Scotland from Access level through to Higher, was studied by just 126 students last year and is not widely available.

Derek Douglas, of the Scottish Qualifications Authority said: “The environment, in the broadest sense, is already a significant area of study in primary and secondary schools throughout Scotland so it’s certainly not being neglected.

“MER draws on aspects of geography, chemistry, physics, biology, modern studies and personal and social education (PSE). It is designed to provide candidates with a broad-based scientific education, develop skills of observation, recording, communication and analysis, foster positive attitudes towards caring for the use of earth resources and develop awareness of the natural environment.”

MER is also one of the science subjects which students can choose to study as part of the new Scottish Baccalaureate in science qualification with first awards due in 2010.

The news comes just days after Scottish & Southern Energy – the UK’s biggest producer of renewable electricity – announced it is to build a £20m European green energy headquarters in Glasgow.

Some 250 high-end jobs, all paid more than £50,000 a year, will be created.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “With our climate change legislation in place – the most ambitious and far reaching in the world – we are focused on making Scotland a global player in renewable and low carbon technology.

“Scotland is already well recognised as having a wide range of skills and expertise in our universities, our research centres and in our energy companies.”

The government maintained Scotland was “by far ahead of the UK” with the formation of a Renewable Energy Skills Group for the burgeoning renewables industry.

Berry continued: “Our Renewables Action Plan, includes a Framework for Action on skills to ensure we maintain a world class skills base in a rapidly changing technological environment.

“The Action Plan will be updated every six months to take account of the latest developments. That is the way we will stimulate a leading renewables industry and play our part in tackling climate change.”

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