Seizing opportunities

Hi everyone, sorry it has been so long since my last blog! Since arriving back at university for my third year time has just flown – there have been so many new faces to great and old friends to catch up with. The start of a new year is a good time to reflect how lucky we are to be able to attend university, study something we enjoy and participate in other activities which we love. The excitement at the start of a new year is infectious and you can just sense that the number of opportunities that are going to be thrust your way. I have been brought up in the spirit that you only regret what you don’t do and what better time to put that philosophy into action than when starting afresh with a new year at university.Fresher's Fun Run 2

The idea of making the most of every opportunity is of course applicable to whatever stage of life you are at but being in the melee that is Freshers’ Fair makes the number of different things you can try blindingly obvious. This year I largely avoided being sucked into the numerous mailing lists on offer but, even though I am a third year, the variety on offer could not be ignored. This year I decided to combine my new found faith with my sport and join the Cambridge Christians in Sport society, a supportive network that operates across the country (

For Freshers’ in a new place the organised chaos of Freshers’ Fair can be a bit daunting. However, if you push on through, university is a great place to try something new or revive an old hobby. Being me, I am obviously going to advocate taking up a new sport, preferably cross country running. There are many reasons to take up a new sport at university of which fitness is almost the least. As an article I recently read ( puts so eloquently, sport at university allows you to grow and develop as well as producing friends and memories you will treasure forever.

Beyond this, I find that sport is perhaps most important as a coping mechanism. When you are stressed about an essay or fed up with endless reading and study there is no better way to let off steam than to go for a steady plod across Grantchester Meadows or up the river to Fen Ditton. Even though I feel I am not running very well by my standards at the moment, running is still invaluable as a way to clear my head and focus on something other than my seemingly insurmountable work pile.

For those of you not at university, the chance to start something new may not be laid out before at a fair but the opportunities are still there. Everyone will be within a short distance of a park run or a running club so all you need is the drive to go out and discover what it is you are missing out on. You will not regret it!

Liz 🙂

The D word

Drugs, an ugly word that accurately summarises the cause of the negative headlines athletics has recently had to endure. To take drugs is to besmirch and disrespect a sport we love and does more damage than simply depriving honest and clean athletes of medals, although this is bad enough. With all the stories in the press recently an outsider could be forgiven for believing that every top athlete cheats and, in this climate, how is athletics supposed to attract new talent? Clean athletes are in danger of falling into the trap of thinking they are condemned to always loosing if they don’t take drugs and therefore what is the point of trying? Lord Coe certainly has a battle on his hands getting a more positive message across to the public.

Yet the situation is far from hopeless and there are several steps that I believe should be taken to remove the stench of drugs and doping from our sport. This will probably lead to athletics going through a similar period of disrepute to cycling but I believe athletics can and will recover. The measures I suggest below all need to be carried out in tandem to have a significant effect.Drugs

In my opinion a crucial element to tackling the problem of drugs is education. In terms of educating athletes themselves, this should start from a very young age. Doping is wrong and as well as this youngsters should be taught the dangers of drug taking right from the start. A number of the blood test results published by the Sunday Times showed that the athletes should have been in hospital not running around a track and the reality that drug taking has medical, as well as moral and professional, risks needs to be communicated.

This education should be extended beyond the athletes themselves and done in schools and in the media. I believe that the danger of a drop in grassroots participation in athletics stems from a misunderstanding of the extent of doping. While not strictly libellous, the way the Sunday Times and other publications have presented the issue of drug taking makes it seem to the casual observer like everyone who has had an anomalous blood test result is a cheat. This is not the case – the list of athletes obtained by the Sunday Times is not a list of cheats! Anomalous blood test results can be caused for a variety of reasons including altitude and temperature and a few blood test results are far from conclusive proof of a cheat. While there are undoubtedly people who try to cheat their way to glory, I firmly believe that these people remain a small fraction of those who compete in athletics. I certainly do not believe that drug taking is any more prolific in athletics than in sports such as football. Although the media reporting of the issue could make you believe that these sports are clean, a recent study found abnormally high testosterone levels in the urine samples of 7.7% of the 879 football players tested ( If the public are made more aware of these facts then the loss of credibility in athletics should be markedly reduced.

Having said all of the above, it is clear that the IAAF and WADA could have done more in terms of testing to tackle the issue of drugs. Unfortunately, as the Panorama documentary showed, there is currently no test that can prove beyond doubt that an athlete is clean. The biological passport is a necessary part of the picture and the increased testing at the World Athletics Championships is an improvement but I still believe more has to be done. I believe that the IAAF and WADA need to work with regional bodies such as UK Athletics or Athletics Kenya to bring about a marked increase in random testing for doping. An athlete needs to know that at any time an official could request a blood or urine sample. Admittedly this would require a significant increase in staff and funding for athletics organisations but I believe it is necessary. A serious crackdown on drugs should help to rebuild confidence in the sport and without this crackdown the level of investment in athletics may well suffer. Sainsbury’s may have stated that its reasons for cutting short its sponsorship of British Athletics had nothing to do with drugs ( but I personally find this hard to believe.

Finally, and probably controversially, I am in favour of lifetime bans for those caught cheating. Athletes need to be taught that cheating does not pay off. If all that they are faced with if found guilty of cheating is a ban which may be reduced (Asafa Powell & Sherone Simpson have both had their doping bans reduced from 18 months to six months) then the rewards of cheating can be perceived as greater than the punishment. However, if it is a lifetime ban from competition that is handed out then this should persuade athletes that cheating is not worth the risk. This should also encourage young athletes. Justin Gatlin may have been overly demonised, he was far from the only drugs cheat competing at the Beijing World Championships, but I believe it is off putting to up and coming athletes to see drugs cheats such as him competing. He has suffered very few long term repercussions for his actions when you examine his overall career but if he had been banned for life the unacceptable nature of cheating would be far plainer. By allowing athletes such as Gatlin back into the sport I believe the message is sent out that cheating can have positive effects on your career with very few drawbacks, even if you are caught.

I am well aware that people are going to point to cases where it is not clear cut as to whether an athlete has intentionally cheated but I am not advocating a lifetime ban for everyone who has an abnormal test result. As said above, there are circumstances that can explain these and it would be up to the officials inside the IAAF or WADA to decide if mitigating circumstances exist. I am not saying this system would be perfect but I believe that a firm stance and severe punishments are necessary to rebuild trust in athletics. Drug taking is abhorrent and must be tackled and, in my opinion, no mercy should be shown to those who try to cheat their way to success.

I hope you have found this thought provoking!

See you next time,


Is Mo Farah Britain’s greatest athlete? Part 2

Hi everyone and welcome to the second instalment of my discussion about whether Mo Farah is worthy of Brendan Foster’s claim that he is Britain’s greatest athlete. I have decided this title should go to someone who currently holds a British Record otherwise they have been shown not to be the best Britain can produce. There are several people in this category who, in my opinion, challenge Farah’s claim to being the greatest. I am planning to compare them to Farah in terms of Olympic, World and European outdoor medals won, records broken and length of time at the top. Clearly these two blogs are assuming the absence of drugs in the careers of any of these athletes and I will tackle the issue of drug taking next week.

When drawing up my list of athletes to consider I came up with the following, the events in brackets are those for which they hold a British record: Paula Radcliffe (5,000m, 10,000m, half marathon, marathon), Jonathan Edwards (triple jump), Kelly Holmes (800m, 1,500m), Daley Thompson (decathlon), Sally Gunnell (400m hurdles), Sebastian Coe (800m), Jessica Ennis-Hill (heptathlon), Steve Cram (the mile), Greg Rutherford (long jump), Colin Jackson (110m hurdles), John Regis (200m) and Iwan Thomas (400m). Sadly the great Roger Bannister is not on this list. His achievement of breaking the four minute mile is one of the great milestones in athletics history but, in my opinion, his greatness lies in a different era of athletics, outside of the realms I believe Foster was thinking of when he made his comment. Bannister never won a medal at World or Olympic level and his World Record only stood for 46 days. His British record was beaten three years later by Derek Ibbotson.

If any athlete can be said to have surpassed Farah then I believe they have to have held both Olympic and World gold medals at some point in their careers because this achievement shows them to have truly been a world beater. This rule excludes Holmes, Coe, Cram, Jackson, Regis and Thomas. Radcliffe is also excluded, despite her World Record and four British records, because she failed to perform consistently throughout her career, never winning an Olympic medal. If you add the Commonwealth Games into the list of medals considered some of the other athletes have surpassed Farah. Only five British athletes have held Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles simultaneously –Thompson, Linford Christie (who was banned for drugs during his career), Gunnell, Edwards and Rutherford. However it cannot be denied that Farah is capable of winning Commonwealth gold.

My next category for analysis is in terms of records broken. All six remaining athletes hold a British record but only Edwards currently holds a World Record, which he has held since 1995. Thompson held the decathlon World Record intermittently 1980-1992 and Gunnell held the 400m hurdles World Record 1993-1995. However Ennis-Hill’s personal best is 336 points off the heptathlon World Record. Even if she set all of her personal bests in one competition she would still be 155 points off the record of 7291 points which has stood since 1988. Rutherford’s personal best is 44cm off the long jump World Record, a very large gap which encompassed the top eight athletes at the recent Beijing World Championships. In my opinion Ennis-Hill and Rutherford can be discounted from being named Britain’s greatest athlete because Farah, despite not setting a World Record, does top the leading times this year in the 10,000m. Ennis-Hill sits second in the heptathlon and Rutherford third in the long jump. These two athletes might be winning medals but they are not displaying the dominance currently shown by Farah.

Another area for consideration is how long an athlete was performing at the highest level. So far Farah’s gold medals have spanned the period 2010-2015. Thompson won his five gold medals 1980-1986, and Edwards won his four gold medals 1995-2001. However Gunnell won her three medals in just 1992-1994 and therefore failed to produce consistently top class performances for as long as the other three athletes.

This analysis has brought my decision down to Daley Thompson, Jonathan Edwards and Mo Farah. Farah has won more World, Olympic and European gold medals than the other two combined, although it must be remembered that he has the chance to win two gold medals per competition while Edwards and Thompson only had the chance of one. Edwards and Thompson have then both broken World Records during their careers which Farah has yet to do.

Choosing between these three giants of British athletics is not easy but it is my opinion that Jonathan Edwards is the worthy holder of the title Britain’s greatest athlete. This is largely due to the fact that he has held the triple jump World Record for an astonishing 20 years but is also due to his consistency, winning a medal in five consecutive World Championships (Daley Thompson only ever won one World Championships medal). Farah is a great athlete and may well become Britain’s greatest ever athlete but, in my opinion, he has to keep winning medals for another couple of years and get a bit closer to a World Record.

I am sure many of you will have your own opinions on this topic and I hope that this blog sparks some lively debates and discussions!

See you next week,


Is Mo Farah Britain’s greatest athlete?

Hi everyone and welcome to the next instalment of my sports blog!

Following the 5,000m at the Athletics World Championships last Saturday Brendan Foster, a former Olympic bronze medallist over 10,000m, declared Mo Farah Britain’s ‘greatest sportsman’. This claim elevates Farah beyond his sport and compares him to the like to Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Chris Hoy. Farah is certainly a great sportsman but is he the greatest? I feel I lack sufficient experience in sports beyond athletics to truly assess Foster’s claim and therefore I just intend to consider if Farah is Britain’s greatest athlete, as he must be if he is to be in consideration as our ‘greatest sportsman’.

First of all, how is greatness to be measured? Greatness comes in many forms and athletes who are not multiple World or Olympic champions can still make claims to it through their actions outside of the sporting arena and the legacy they leave behind. Lord Sebastian Coe won two Olympic gold medals but his true greatness can be seen in his role in London 2012 and, hopefully, the impact he has as the new IAAF president. However, I believe that the greatness Foster was thinking of relates simply to success as an athlete in the form of medals, titles and records.

What then is Farah’s claim to being the greatest? The recent World Athletics Championships saw him become the first athlete to complete the distance ‘trMo Farahiple double’ (gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m at three successive World Championships or Olympics). This brought his gold medal haul up to five World Championship golds, two Olympic golds and five European golds. This surpasses the success any other British athlete has had in these three competitions, including greats such as Steve Cram and Colin Jackson. Indeed, Farah remains unbeaten on the track outdoors since finishing second in the 10,000m in Daegu at the 2011 World Championships. Furthermore, Farah holds the British record at 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m and half marathon.

This is a very impressive list of achievements and nothing should be taken away from it. Nonetheless, Daley Thompson, former decathlete with five Olympic, World and European golds to his name, is right to point out that Farah has yet to break a World Record. Farah sits 9th on the all time list for 1,500m and 16th for 10,000m but doesn’t even make the top 30 for 5,000m. In 1,500m he is 2.81s off the record while in 5,000m this is 14.2s and in 10,000m 29.04s. This might not sound like much but at the top end of athletics these time gaps are significant. In the 10,000m final at Beijing 2015 the top five athletes were all within 8s of each other.

Despite this, Farah’s achievements are still amazing. Distance races are tactical and in order to break a World Record you need someone else to push you along and essentially pace you to it. At the moment Farah could be seen as simply lacking the opponents necessary to push him to his maximum and achieve that World Record. He tops the best times this year in the 10,000m and his 5,000m pb is five seconds clear of the best time this year, although Farah did set his pb in 2011. It could be argued that you can only race the people around you and here Farah is clearly excelling.

However, before labelling him the greatest British athlete ever, the contenders for this title must be considered. I will start doing this in my next blog so I hope that you look forward to reading that!

Hopefully see you then,


Running should be savoured and not taken for granted

Hello and welcome to the second post in my sports blog. Last week I focused on the joys of sport and running being for everyone and the current World Athletics Championships have really driven this home. People from 207 countries across the globe have joined together to participate in a sport we love. The new javelin world champion Julius Yego should be an inspiration to all having gone from honing his technique by watching YouTube videos to gaining Kenya’s first World Championship gold in a field event.

However these championships have also highlighted the fact that the ability to compete should never be taken for granted. The controversy over team selection aside, injury is something every athlete will face at some point in their career. Unfortunately this can be career ending but most of the time athletes can recover.

While Dai Greene and Perri Shakes-Drayton missed the World Championships after persistent injury prevented them meeting the UK athletics qualifying standards, Usain Bolt and David Rudisha both managed to spectacularly overcome injury and win gold.

With patience and common sense most injuries can be overcome and interviews with athletes such as Greene and Shakes-Drayton show how much getting back into competing means to them. Greene has stated that throughout his long running injury trouble he ‘never once thought about stopping’ ( and it looks like he may well be back on his way to the top.

The frustration at being unable to run is something people of all ability experience. This has been driven home to me by two recent events: a friend whose bike crash has put him out of running for several months and an unprovoked dog attack on someone very close to me. Six weeks, two operations and 33 stitches in the left calf later, the dog bite is getting better but I have witnessed at first hand the frustration caused by being physically unable to run and train. I will never forget the grin on her face when she managed a very slow ten minute jog last week.

For those of us lucky enough to currently be without injury it is important to be sensible and remember we are not immune. Even if you feel you are not running well, try to appreciate the ability to run.

If you are currently struggling with injury it is the joy you get from running that you should try and hold onto. The vast majority of people will recover and get back to running, whether that is in the World Championships or simply around your local park.

Everyone can enjoy running but being able to do so should be savoured and not taken for granted.

Anyway, I think that is enough from me for now. I hope you have found this blog interesting and I will post again in a week or two.


The joys of running are for everyone

Hi everyone and welcome to my sports blog, primarily focusing on running. I suppose I had better start by introducing myself, my name is Liz Mooney and I am a 20 year old, very enthusiastic cross country runner. I have always been into sport but only seriously took up running a few years ago, joining Gateshead Harriers around Christmas 2012.

When I started at Cambridge University the following September, studying history, I joined the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds (CUHH) and running has become an increasingly important part of my life. I am currently CUHH ladies captain and was thrilled to gain a bronze medal for England at the Home Countries International cross country in Antrim last March.

I feel that this shows it is never too late to take up a sport, especially running. Male distance runners tend to peak in their mid to late 20s and women a few years later but running can be taken up by anyone of any age or ability. Throughout most of my school career my main interest was hockey. I competed in the occasional ‘cross country’ race in order to help make up a team but a foray into Gateshead Harriers at the age of 12 only lasted a month or two because I did not enjoy it.

Despite this I was persuaded to give running another go, largely because the only compliment I ever seemed to get in hockey was that I was good at running after the ball. It proved to be the best decision I have ever made. The group I joined at Gateshead was full of like-minded people and introduced me to proper cross country. Running around an athletics track or school playing field just can’t compare to the thrill of hills and shin deep mud. The exhilaration of cross country was a new experience and one I was determined to repeat – many people have told me these sentiments make me slightly crazy!

It was joining CUHH that really transformed my unpromising start into performances I could not have dreamed of a year ago. The supporting environment of a university sports club is hard t o beat, as is the inspirational coaching of Phil O’dell.

Being part of CUHH has made my first two years of university and has driven home to me how important sport is, no matter what level you participate at. The club encompasses those of all abilities and mass participation in running is growing nationwide. Sport England’s Active People Survey found a total of 2.162million people aged 16 and over took part in athletics for at least 30 minutes a week from October 2013 to October 2014. This was an increase on the figure of 2.016million for the previous year.

Sport is not only good for our physical health; it is good mentally as well, giving you goals to aim for and friends to treasure forever. These benefits are just as available to the slowest runners as the fastest and it is my hope that events such as the upcoming athletics World Championships in Beijing will continue to raise the profile of a sport I love.

Running is great because everyone can do it at their own level and it is never too late to start!

Anyway, enough babble from me. I hope you have found this blog interesting, I intend to add new ones every couple of weeks analysing any developments in the world of running.

Hopefully see you then,