On Sunday (11th September) an innovative athletics concept will take over the streets of one of Europe's major capitals. Organiser Frank Lebert gives us four key ingredients that make up the tasty recipe that is Berlin Fliegt!
1. It isn’t Wanne-Eickel
Street athletics isn’t a ground-breakingly new concept. There are pole vault and long jump meets in city centres all around the world. With the Golden Fly Series taking place in Liechtenstein and the Great North City Games in Newcastle-Gateshead, there are two big street events this week alone.
Frank Lebert, the man behind Berlin Fliegt!, the third major street fest of the weekend, reckons he’s got the best curb appeal of the bunch.
“It isn’t anywhere,” he says. “It isn’t Wanne-Eickel [yeh, us neither]. It’s the capital, right in front of Germany’s most recognisable landmark, the Brandenburg Gate.”
Tourists and passing traffic are guaranteed to join the fun. Get ready, Instagram. But Lebert is quick to point out that it won’t just be social media maniacs enjoying the images.
“The ARD [Germany’s national broadcaster] are showing over 100 minutes of live athletics,” he grins. “The Brandenburg Gate is the perfect backdrop and makes for great television images.”
Berlin is only the start. In the future the Fly Europe! concept will be rolled out in iconic settings of the capitals of each of the five participating nations – Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain. After Berlin there will be one further 2016 event in Paris on 21st September.
2. Fly your colours
“Participating nations?” you say.
Berlin Fliegt! began in 2011 as a four-nation challenge between Germany, France, the USA and Russia. This year the teams are different but the concept is the same.
Unlike regular permit meets, competitors will sport their national colours, making it easy for spectators to see who to cheer for.
“It’s almost a thing of national pride,” says Lebert. “One big problem athletics has is that athletes competing at non-championships all wear the same or similar kit. It’s difficult for the non-fanatic spectator to identify athletes.
“By allowing athletes to compete in their national kit, it allows the viewers to instantly recognise who is lining up next on the runway.”
World and 2012 Olympic long jump champion Brittney Reese was part of the inaugural event in 2011
3. Team’s the theme
Professional track and field is, for the most part, an individual sport. Athletes rarely get the team experience. At Berlin Fliegt! it’s all about collecting points for your team.
There are three events: men’s pole vault, women’s long jump and men’s sprint. Each nation has one athlete per event.
“There aren’t many events in which athletes really form a team. You get the European Team Championships, or relays, but here it's all about the team. Athletes don’t just focus on themselves, but see how their teammates are getting on at the same time.”
4. Unpredictable character
“It’s like a game of poker,” says Lebert of the unique scoring system used at Berlin Fliegt!
The concept is simple. In the jumps every athlete has four attempts, every jump counts.
Before each attempt pole vaulters write their height on a piece of paper and hand it to the judges. They can pick any height; there’s no progression athletes have to stick to – no consulting between each other, either. One jumper can start on 5.40m, another on 5.41m. But there is only one attempt. At the end of each round of vaults, the highest clearance gets five points, the next best gets four, all the way down to one for the worst. A foul gets you a zero. Jumpers can’t go down in height as the competition progresses, but they only have to move the bar up if they want to. Pass the abacus.
In the long jump points are awarded after every attempt. Again, the best distance gets five points, a foul gets a big fat zero.
“It’s not about breaking records, the results are almost secondary,” highlights Lebert. “We’re going back to basics. It’s about direct competition and who comes out on top in each round. It’s spectator-friendly because points are awarded after every single round, then the scoring starts again.”
The sprints also see a revolution. Rather than lining up next to each other, the athletes take to the runway one after another in three rounds. Instead of looking at the final result, a timing system works out the velocity between start and 40 metres, so it’s not the final time that counts, but the maximum speed achieved by athletes.
“It’s totally unpredictable. I’d compare it to the biathlon. Someone might have a several second lead and ruin it at the shooting station. It’s very similar. With every round the overall lead can change.”
Ok, we’re going.