As a former Olympic silver medallist and multiple world champion, BBC athletics commentator Colin Jackson is better placed than most to judge the host nation’s prospects at this summer’s global track and field showpiece in London. The Welsh hurdling legend givs his views on the current state of atheltics.
With Jessica Ennis-Hill retired and Mo Farah saying he will no longer run on the track after this summer's World Championships in London, do you think Great Britain's emerging athletes are ready to carry the baton into the next Olympics and beyond?
What Mo, Jess and Greg Rutherford have done in winning medals at the last two Olympics fills our youngsters with confidence that it can be done, time and time again. The team is most probably in the best position it has ever been in. The talent that is out there right now is just sensational and it is a great pleasure watching them and knowing that they'll grow together. That was one of the big things that we had, back in the day. We knew we had winners in Linford Christie, John Regis, Roger Black, Tom McKean, Steve Cram, Kriss Akabusi, Steve Smith, Steve Backley, Jonathan Edwards and myself. We were all building together and filling one another with confidence and this is being repeated now."
What about the importance of others who will leave the sport this summer, eg, Usain Bolt?
"Massive. Because he and people like Mo Farah give the next generation belief that if you do do well then you can still get the rewards; that your sport might be going through hell and there is a lot of negativity, but there is still a positive side to it. It is wonderful to see greatness performing in the way that they do. They are lovely guys and they are also really switched-on to their events. Mo will tell you every single ounce that it takes to run a great 10k and the different ways you can achieve it, and Usain will tell you how to keep a cool head, how to get out of the blocks well and how to recover from a mistake. It is a massive bonus to have them giving out this positive message."
Who do think are the ones to watch at the World Championships?
"Look out for Adam Gemili. He was so irritated about just missing out on a medal in the 200m in Rio [finishing fourth with the same time as the bronze medallist]. That will put him in a good position and, in four years' time at the next Olympics, the powerhouse of Jamaica will have gone from sprinting and it will open the door for many of our youngsters. We celebrate sprinter Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson also has the capability. Whether that will be in the heptathlon or the high jump is another story. Denise Lewis [heptathlon gold medallist at Sydney 2000] said she'd be a fool not to stick with the heptathlon – the disciplines she is bad at she still has time to master. Laura Muir, who I spoke about before the Olympics, is still only young for a distance runner and will build with race experience."
What about those formerly mentored by your old coach, Malcolm Arnold, at the University of Bath?
"Andrew Pozzi is an absolutely unbelievable talent in my former event, the 110m hurdles. He had a torrid time in Rio, where he failed to make the final, because he knew he was capable of winning a medal there. But there are lots of circumstances that you don't always recognise when you yourself are the athlete. The fact that he had been out for so long [with feet and hamstring injuries] meant he lost so much experience about knowing how to deliver your best performance at that level. He's had some great performances but we have chucked him in there and said: 'survive'. It is quite hard to do that. For him, it will be a massive learning curve. We totally understand the frustration because he had the capability but, don't worry, this year is the World Championships in London, he'll have all this experience behind him and will come back a bigger, stronger and better athlete than the one that was on the start line in Rio. It's a similiar thing with Eilidh Doyle in the women's 400m hurdles. She is already a European champion and Commonwealth Games medallist, so she has oodles of experience, but it is always a step-by-step process."
Many observers would put Great Britain's improvement in Olympic sports down to the availability of National Lottery funding. What would you say, being someone who managed to get to the top without it?
"It helps, of course, but can also be the route to all evil because they can get complacent. What are some of these guys going to do when they retire? We had to be self-sufficient and generate our own income that meant when we retired we could continue what we were doing. These days, I work with Red Bull, Puma and the BBC, so I have a funding stream. I have a couple of bosses, but if you are a funded athlete and all that responsibility is taken from you, where do you go? The important thing is that some of them have a structure around them. The people I trained with back in the day achieved great performances while working as a dentist, solicitor or civil servant. I think that the fact that there are only eight lanes at any competition helps take away the complacency, because you have to be one of the best eight if you want to compete. You don't want to solely train when you are young – you have to be among the best to show off your training. My real worry is that they don't become self-sufficient financially. A lot of them will retire at the same time and there will be many who are left by the wayside. People only want to work with the best and they don't look elsewhere."
Given the harm done to athletics' reputation by drugs and corruption scandals, can you really expect the general public to watch track and field and believe what they are seeing is a genuine performance?
"When I watch the sport, I believe everything is a pure performance. I still have a world record that stands that I set in 1994 [60m hurdles] and we've had so many attempts to break it. I look at it like that because I know what I did and I know lots of my team members, like Jonathan Edwards, did the same. He's was miles ahead of everybody else in the triple jump and who would ever accuse him? Or Sally Gunnell? It is possible and you just have to hit it right at the right time. A lot of people would have looked at me when I was competing and thought I was doping as well. I was really small, and what I was doing was pretty phenomenal for somebody so short because it had never been seen before. But I don't care what anybody says, because I've done it without drugs. But I always say to athletes 'if something works, you know it's going to be banned – stop taking it. Full stop'."
So with that in mind, what do you make of the the International Association of Athletics Federations' stance in banning Russia?
"The IAAF were brave on so many levels and I like the fact they are genuinely trying to clear it up. It was a gamble that they knew would scar the sport, but it was one that is worth taking. Seb Coe [IAAF president] isn't frightened to take those steps because, ultimately, he will survive without the IAAF – unlike some other sports administators. He has already been celebrated in an unbelievable way and just needs to keep making these strong statements. I hope the story has changed by Tokyo 2020 and that Russia puts itself in order. I don't think they thought what happened would happen. They thought there were too big for it, but the sport has shown it can go on without them. It can be a massive lesson for a lot of countries, including the UK."