Two Olympic hopefuls and a former European silver medallist are backing a campaign to save the athletics track where they first pulled on their spikes.
Katie Snowden, from Balham, who on Tuesday was selected to run for Team GB in Tokyo next month, is one of a duo of Herne Hill Harriers (HHH) campaigning for Tooting Bec Athletics Track to be refurbished.
The 84-year-old circuit, at the southernmost section of Tooting Bec Common, has not been given a new surface 36 years.
Another Olympic hopeful backing the campaign is sprinter Kristal Awuah, who claimed two national age group gold medals at the England Athletics U20 and U23 championships at Bedford this month.
A third backer is former Olympic long-jumper – also a former HHH member – Jade Johnson, who won silver in the long jump at both the 2002 European Athletics Championships and at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester the same year.
Snowden, 27, pictured, whose Tokyo heats will start on August 2, said: “I used it for my preparations for the Olympic Trials – but it has definitely got to the stage that you can’t really wear spikes on it any more.
“I would love it to be re-done so I can keep using it for training and hot have to go elsewhere.
“I’ve been a HHH member since I was 12. It was so important to have through my school years. When I was home from university I would always use it and it would have been very difficult to keep my training going without it and reach the level I have been able to now.
“There are so many good young athletes coming through the club at the moment. It would be a real shame not to have the track fit for competition going forwards.”
Awuah added: “It’s where I discovered my talent and happiness. It remains my home and is critical to my progress and success.”:
Johnson, now 41, said: “Tooting track gave me a place to go at a critical time in my development – a place I felt safe and secure enough to develop as an athlete and adult.”
The track can no longer be used for competitions, after failing an inspection last summer. It can now be used for training purposes only until the end of 2021 – and its future beyond this time is yet to be secured.
Before lockdown, more than 80,000 people – roughly four times the national average – used the track a year, including an array of school groups from across the capital.
The campaign has also been backed by Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan, who is calling for Wandsworth council to fund the resurfacing of the much-loved track.
Dr Allin-Khan MP said: “Tooting Bec Athletics Track is a much-loved and well-utilised facility, both by Tooting residents and the wider London community.
“The track is a home to schools, clubs, and aspiring athletes – to lose such a valuable asset in our community will be a devastating blow to so many of our young people.
“I am urging Wandsworth Council to recognise the value of the track and commit to funding the resurfacing of this vital part of Tooting’s history – and future – without further delay.”
The track, originally with a cinder surface, opened in 1937 and had six three-foot lanes with eight three-foot lanes on the straight. The 1945 Women’s Amateur Athletics Associations’s main championships were held here. It was opened as a synthetic track on 24th Aug 1985 by Olympic gold medal javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread.
A report, commissioned by the council and produced by Labosport, a leading company in sports field testing and certification, monitored surface hardness, bounce and shock absorption at the track, and concluded that it remains suitable for “UK Athletics License Level 1 events”.
Its report said: “Use of the facility for training can still continue to take place providing the following informatives are put in place: All known users and any coaches should be advised ……that the track surface has been recently tested and found to have hardened to a degree which has reduced its ability to absorb shock. Therefore, coaches and athletes should adapt the volume and type of training accordingly and consider the footwear that they wear (i.e. consider wearing trainers/racing flats as opposed to spikes).”
The council’s environment and community services spokesman Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “We have seen some claims on social media in recent days that the track is crumbling, unusable and unsafe and that its future is somehow at risk. Let me say now that these claims are totally untrue.
“We fully support and encourage our residents, especially our young people, to engage in sports activities, which is why we provide top quality sports facilities across Wandsworth including running tracks at both Battersea Park and Tooting Common.
“We want our local schools and clubs to use these facilities as often as possible. The athletics track at Tooting remains perfectly adequate for training purposes and for school sports events as we continue to monitor its condition we will continue to have discussions with local groups, schools and sports clubs about how it can best serve its users in the future.”
A petition in support of the refurbishment is running on the council’s website until 1 July 2021.
The petition to “give it back its bounce” is here: https://democracy.wandsworth.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?ID=169&RPID=10906070&$LO$=1%20it.
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