The Importance of Fitness for Racing

“The pressure of international athletics now tends to mean that every season and every race is important”, Moorcroft says. As the world record holder in Olympic year Moorcroft felt he had to take part in Los Angeles and, rather than rest, he persuaded his medical helpers to “patch me up and keep me going”. A full 12 months later he has yet to make his reappearance on the international stage.

As Moorcroft’s example suggests, the improved sponsorship, marketing, earning power and training of Britain’s international athletes as they have moved into the professional era has been of small value in establishing a sound structure for the treatment of injuries. Moorcroft has only recently been able to start running again because of an operation performed in West Germany while the medical provision offered by the International Athletes’ Club is, on the admission of their chairman, Dave Bedford, inadequate.

Bedford, a former world-record holder at 10,000 meters, empathizes with athletes who cannot find cures for their ills. He claims to have sought medical advice from 28 people between the onset of a leg injury and finally being referred to someone prepared to operate on it. He says: “Now we have medical insurance with BUPA for the top 100-plus athletes in the country but this tends to look after general health disorders rather than the special problems which affect them. What we need is something more specialist. You would never take a racing car to your local dealer – athletes are finely tuned and have to be looked after accordingly. The expertise is there. It is just that it is uncoordinated.”

Dr Ken Kingsbury, medical adviser to the Sports Council, believes the only route to more thorough treatment is through a multi-disciplinary assessment clinic: “It would be an enormous step to alleviate the problem. Too often problems only get solved half-way. A hospital, or a physio, or an osteopath might only have part of the answer whereas a combined approach would solve it completely.”

Until a satisfactory base in established – and the British Amateur Athletic Board have taken the first step by appointing a part-time medical coordinator – teams will continue to be unnecessarily weakened by injury and illness. Too much reliance is placed on the will of the athlete to return from a set-back and, in the cases of Cram and Coe, achieve improbable victories.

In 1983 Cram won the world championship 1,500 meters on limited training after twisting an ankle and, one year later, Coe retained his Olympic title at the distance despite a blood disorder which had caused many people to write him off. According to Moorcroft, it was Coe’s determination to prove his critics wrong that had the most influence on his comeback and Moorcroft himself will depend on similar motivation to reach world-class again.

“Last year Seb had a hell of a lot to prove,” Moorcroft says. “It was not just his desire to prove he could do it. That’s what I am banking on. There are a number of advantages in having a long period off – you don’t take your training and fitness for granted and there is no danger of becoming complacent.”

Coe at the time said his Olympic victory had been “as much a mental comeback as anything”. Physically, the national director of coaching, Frank Dick, says, athletes are capable of regaining lost fitness in a short period of time. “Some athletes, and coaches, panic if two days’ training are gone, but it is an irrational fear. If an athlete is unable to train for a month, in six weeks he can back to where he would have been at 10 weeks had he trained right through.”