Harriers off to a flyer in Ayrton’s field of dreams


One recent Monday evening I visited the Allianz Stadium, Hendon, to watch a group of young athletes in training. They were members of Maccabi London Harriers (MLH) and I was there at the invitation of their head coach Murray Ayrton. It is largely through Ayrton’s vision and hard work that MLH came into being in September last year. His aim is that the club will help develop the next generation of GB Maccabiah athletes.

The session that I attended took place at the indoor track underneath the stadium’s East Stand. A display near the entrance of this world-class facility records that the track was moved from the Olympic Stadium, where it was used for the warm-up area for the 2012 Olympics. The wall running down the length of the track is decorated with framed posters of every modern Olympiad, in chronological order.

MLH currently caters for three age groups: under-11, under-13 and under-15. The only entrance requirement is a willingness to try out the sport. During the session that I attended, the young athletes were preparing for a pentathlon competition at the end of the month.

They were split into three groups, each of six to eight young athletes. Murray was teaching the elements of hurdling while his daughter, Rachel, was guiding a group of long jumpers. A little further down the track youngsters were trying the high jump under the guidance of coaches Steve Norris and Sara Black. Each group listened attentively to the technical guidance given by their coaches before each round of practice.

Most of the athletes were kitted out in their stylish dark blue club colours. They were not by any means elite performers; they encompassed a broad range of natural abilities. But they were giving each other help and encouragement as they tried out each new athletic discipline.

Every long jumper ran down towards the sandpit to the accompaniment of the rhythmic clapping of the others in the group. The hurdlers leapt over expanded polystyrene barriers, and picked themselves up smiling if they stumbled onto the soft and forgiving track. The high jumpers simply jumped on to the air bed, before attempting to clear a rope or a bar.

I have followed athletics at this same stadium for 50 years, ever since I ran in the 1966 Barnet Schools Championships. But never have I seen a session that the athletes so thoroughly enjoyed.

Several contested their pentathlon at Lee Valley on Sunday, and Ayrton expressed his delight. He said: “I could not be prouder of our athletes. What an incredible end to the indoor season — eight athletes, 30 PBs and 15 club records — with each one contributing to these numbers. Now for the outdoor season.”

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