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What Are the World Athletics Championships?

BY: Rachel Boswell
29 August 2023

Whether you run competitively, recreationally or not at all (just yet), chances are you caught at least some of the big athletics competition held in Budapest over the last nine days. But what are the World Athletics Championships all about?

A Spike in the Athletics Calendar 

The World Athletics Championships host the highest level of competition for senior outdoor track and field events, including marathon running and race walking. Organised by World Athletics – previously known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) – the best athletes from around the world convene at the Championships every two years, each in a bid to earn their spot at the top of the podium and have a gold medal hung around their neck.

For athletes to lace up their spikes and don their nation’s vest at the World Athletics Championships is nothing short of an honour, with these competitions holding as much weight as the Olympic Games for stars of track and field. After all, ‘world champion’ is an impressive addition to any athlete’s CV. 

A Great Track Record

The 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, marked 40 years since the competition was born, with the 1983 competition in Malmö, Sweden, being regarded as the first official championships to include all disciplines. Originally hosted every four years, in 1991 the championships became a biennial occasion, offering title-hungry athletes more opportunities to be the world’s best. That said, the pandemic threw out the timings, giving fans the luxury of back to back World Championships in 2022 and 2023. 

The breadth of the World Athletics Championships disciplines is diverse, with field events giving us even more to watch than just running. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Sprints: From the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 100m to the lung-busting 400m, sprints showcase athletes’ raw speed and explosive power on the track. 
  • Middle and long distances: Including the shorter 800m and 1500m and the longer 5,000m and 10,000m – as well as the 3,000m steeplechase – these races test an athlete’s ability to hold a strong pace over several laps.
  • Marathon: The only event to go beyond the realms of the stadium, this 26.2-mile contest is a classic showdown of endurance. 
  • Hurdles: These events demand speed and agility, with athletes maintaining their stride while navigating hurdles over 100m (women), 110m (men) and 400m.
  • Jumps: High jump, long jump and triple jump display athletes’ incredible ability to propel themselves through the air. As for the pole vault? Probably not for those afraid of heights.
  • Throws: From the hammer to the javelin, these disciplines require immense strength and precision. 
  • Relays: Teamwork takes centre stage in the 4x100m and 4x400m relay events, with smooth, synchronised transfers of the baton often proving pivotal. 
  • Combined events: True tests of all-round athletic prowess, the heptathlon sees women take on seven track and field disciplines, while the decathlon sees men take on ten. Whoever scores the most points across all disciplines wins – simple. 

Bold Performances in Budapest

The athletes at the 2023 World Athletics Championships displayed immense class, with unexpected triumphs, inevitable upsets and unfortunate falls all on parade. As for Great Britain, the team equalled its greatest scoop of 10 medals – a tally last achieved 30 years ago at the 1993 World Athletics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Following a string of injuries over the past few years, Katarina Johnson-Thompson bounced back to her very best by claiming her second glorious World Athletics Championship title, her previous win arriving in 2019. The Brit clinched victory by the closest margin in the championship’s history, sealing the deal in the 800m – the seventh and final discipline in the heptathlon series – where she ran a personal best time of 2:05:63.  

As for Josh Kerr’s jaw-dropping win in the 1500m final? In-Kerr-edible. Thanks to Kerr’s stunning performance, this is the second consecutive World Athletics Championships where a Brit has stormed through on the final straight to force Norwegian favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen into second place, with Jake Wightman claiming the crown in 2022. That said, Ingebrigtsen still managed to bag a gold, winning the men’s 5000m by a whisker on the final day of the competition.

Sifan Hassan quite literally had a downfall in the 10,000m, tumbling to the ground just metres from the finish line and sacrificing what could have been a win. But the Dutch multi-distance star held her own to secure a bronze in the 1500m the following day, and later secured a stunning silver in the 5000m. Don’t forget, it was only four months ago that Hassan won her debut marathon in London, so her speedy transition from road running back to the track is something to praise.

Sticking to the middle distance, British bright light Keely Hodgkinson powered round the 800m to claim second place in a time of 1:56:34, with Brit Ben Pattison also taking the bronze in the men’s 800m discipline. There was a brilliant British sweep across the relays, too, as both the men’s and women’s 4x400m teams finished third and the mixed 4x400m team went one up to get silver. Meanwhile, the women’s 4x100m relay team displayed an excellent series of sprints to nab bronze. 

Primed for Paris

With powerful British performances from Zharnel Hughes in the 100m and Matthew Hudson-Smith in the 400m adding another bronze and silver to the mix respectively, Great Britain is buzzing off the back of its World Athletics Championship success – and promising to be a force to reckon with at the Paris 2024 Olympics…

To see Andy, Rick and Sarah catch up with Jake Wightman and Irish record holder Ciara Mageean at the 2023 World athletics Championships – and ask them your questions – watch the video below.



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