WORDS BY LIKE THE WIND – PHOTOGRAPHY BY TANYA RAAB
Racing on a track is an idea almost as old as civilisation itself. The ancient Greeks were certainly big fans. After all, they gave us the word “stadium”, named after the arenas where 40,000 spectators would crowd on to sloped banks to watch athletes compete. The fact that track athletics survives to this day is testament to its enduring appeal. But, after 3,000 years, is it time for a refresh? A new breed of track races has emerged in recent years. And On is at the forefront of helping to create an electric atmosphere for fans and athletes alike.
The traditional design of a stadium has barely changed as the centuries have passed. We still like to surround running tracks with rows of seats or a sloping embankment. Why is this?
One answer has to be the proximity between the fans and the athletes that this design facilitates. Whether you’re at your local track or in the world’s most famous stadia, it can feel as though spectators could reach out and touch the athletes. And for the athletes, no matter how focused they are, the noise pouring down on to the track is electrifying.
You could say that Chris Thompson, On athlete and ambassador, is a connoisseur of track races. Thompson has experienced almost everything that distance racing on the track has to offer, including the 10,000m final at the 2012 Olympic Games.
“At the London Olympics, stepping out on to the track was an electrifying experience,” he remembers. “Jessica Ennis was running a lap of honour as we entered the stadium and Greg Rutherford was in the middle of the long jump competition, where he would ultimately win gold. So the atmosphere was amazing.”
Chris says that the noise from 80,000 spectators caused his senses to be heightened like never before. It was, perhaps, a unique experience. Although arguably there have been a few other occasions where the atmosphere at an athletics meet has come close. The Night of the 10,000m PB’s at London’s Parliament Hill Fields five years ago was one such event.
“The 2018 edition of the Night of the 10,000m PB’s was an occasion when I truly felt most alive,” says Chris. “The fact that the crowd is so close, and the energy they generated, meant all the athletes’ adrenalin was really high before the race. That night was a standout experience in my athletics career.”
Thompson, now in his forties, says that an event like the Night of the 10,000m PB’s is important not least because of the experience it gives to younger, less seasoned athletes. “The atmosphere… can help an athlete get much more out of themselves than they expect,” explains Thompson. “But they have to learn how to harness it. If an athlete can control their emotions, an event like this can be magical.” Thompson goes on to say that the Night of the 10,000m PB’s is special not only because the atmosphere is unlike almost anything currently happening in grass-roots athletics, but also because there is always something bigger at stake – for example, the 2022 event gave competitors the chance to qualify for the Olympics.
It seems as if watching sport is becoming ever more popular: from football to tennis (and even darts), fixtures sell out. But frustratingly, in recent years track and field (save for a few really high-profile events, such as the Olympic Games) has sometimes felt as if it has lost its appeal – and its audience.
How can the magic of events such as the Night of the 10,000m PB’s in London spread around the world and reinvigorate track and field? On believes the creation of a new global race series, the On Track Nights, may spark a revival.
The idea is simple: take five great track meets, with race distances ranging from 800m all the way up to 10,000m, and give athletes and fans the chance to experience racing at the highest level while keeping the energy dialled up to maximum.
The 2023 line-up for On Track Nights looks like this:
- Track Fest, Los Angeles, USA (early May)
- The Night of the 10,000m PB’s, Highgate, UK (20 May)
- FAST5000, Montesson, France (10 June)
- Track Night Vienna, Vienna, Austria (17 June)
- A soon-to-be-announced event in Melbourne, Australia (autumn).
While the On Track Nights series is a new idea, four of the events that will make up the first season are not – they have been bringing athletes and fans together for years. And while each event has its own distinct vibe, there are common aspects among them, notably that they give supporters a chance to get close to the action, thus inspiring the runners to race harder. “We know that race atmosphere is pivotal to performance, so we want to bring the fans and running community closer to the track and have them be part of the athlete’s journey to major championships,” says On founder Olivier Bernhard.
On has long been focused on supporting the development of athletes around the world – the successes of the On Athletics Club are evidence of that. On’s team of athletes, under the guidance of coach Dathan Ritzenhein, recently competed at the Millrose Games in New York, scoring two impressive wins: one in the Wannamaker Mile, thanks to Yared Nuguse, and another in the women’s 3,000m, as a result of Alicia Monson’s superb effort. Between them, the On athletes set seven national records at the event. So backing events that showcase these rising stars is a logical next move. “We are a running brand at heart and with our Lightning programme, we have taken major strides in developing the fastest products for the very best runners of the world,” explains Olivier. “The next big step is to provide new opportunities and a different kind of professional athletics event for athletes to race in.”
Throughout history, track races have been at the heart of the sport of running. They have been a way for athletes to test themselves and for fans to get up close to the runners that inspire them. Now with the On Track Nights, this concept has been brought right up to date. And we can’t wait to see track fans and athletes coming together around the world.
CREATED BY LIKE THE WIND IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ON
Find out more at www.on-running.com