Toni is contemplating ironing his jeans. He’s about to head to the Kombank Arena in Belgrade to continue his punditry role for the BBC at the European Athletics Indoor Championships. I ask if he’s planning on incorporating a nice sharp crease down the front of his denim. He chuckles,
“No, but I saw my piece to camera from track centre the other day and thought I looked a bit scruffy. It was the vest I was wearing.” He pauses, “Mind you, that’s a magic vest, it gets you everywhere”.
“What’s it like being a pundit? I thought you nailed the ‘to camera’ bit pretty well”.
Toni and his magic vest
“It’s good. I’m the new kid on the block so I don’t feel that I’m doing that much. Like that bit you just mentioned. They’d said that they wanted me to do a coaching piece, you know provide a coaching point, whilst looking sideways on. I waited for a couple of hours then got the word in my ear-piece. I just decided to throw it straight down the camera”.
“Well you did good so I guess the BBC team are still talking to you?”
Toni and the BBC Crew
“Yeah. Ali and the Phil, the producers, make it good fun. I’m enjoying it”.
“Not the same as coaching though?”
“It’s not but it’s quite good. Now I’m actually watching athletics instead of focusing on my athletes. It’s turned out to be a learning opportunity. Seeing the elite athletes up close”.
“The high jump. When the specialists lean in they’re almost horizontal. I thought my athletes leant in but these guys do it at a more acute angle than I’d imagined.
My education continues…”.
“Something to take back to the team in Sheffield. Talking of which, a pretty incredible performance by Alicia last week”.
“With Alicia I knew she was capable of breaking the British junior record but to do it twice and so emphatically, well, that was special”.
Alicia after her win with twin sister Ella
“More coaching success too”.
“I think that’s my 11th and 12th British record across three athletes”. (Jess and John being the others).
“And the rest of the group?”
“There are some real positives across the team as we come out of the winter.
They’re coming on well. Some PB’s and everyone’s making progress. Tatum has had a few issues but we’re working on that“.
Tatum is the sole Californian in the group and joined Toni last Autumn to develop herself as a Heptathlete.
“When you say issues, you mean injuries?”
“It sometimes happens with ‘second hand’ athletes. With an athlete everything is supposed to work in sequence. It’s like cogs in a machine. Every cog has its place and one turns another. If that doesn’t happen, if you miss a cog out, it creates an imbalance which, in turn, creates pressure. You need to balance things up or you become vulnerable to injury and it inhibits your ability to perform to the maximum. That balancing wasn’t done with Tatum in the States. I guess the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) take a position that if an athlete isn’t hurt then it’s not a problem. I see it as a problem. She’s done some physio and we’re working on it”.
Before returning home to Sheffield and back to his true calling Toni has to complete another day as a pundit. I ask him what the overall event is like.
It looks better on the inside
“It’s good, a nice typical stadium, although there have been some issues with the starting mechanisms. Also, it’s an interesting track. It’s flatter on the 200 metre bend than many are used to and it’s very bouncy. That’s caused some challenges. Other than that it’s business as usual”.
“Like with the VVIPs?” (Earlier Toni had sent me the below picture).
Even the magic vest won’t get Toni in
“Yeah, what’s all that about? I find it hilarious they can’t just be VIPs. Maybe it’s for board members or the president. I just think it’s funny”.
Toni glances at his watch.
“I need to get going. I want to catch the Heptathlon”.
“Don’t forget to iron your jeans”.
He’s gone. Belgrade over and out.
After an absence of several months and a lot of head scratching we’re finally within reach of publishing our new, all singing and dancing, insight into the world of performance; all through the eyes of the coaches, athletes and artists as their stories unfold. For now, it’ll stay as Coach to Rio. Soon it will change to ‘Performance Life’.
Thanks for your patience and thanks for reading.