Mike Rowbottom

I hadn’t assumed I would win, of course I hadn’t. But I thought I’d be up there. When "Ready…Steady..Go" was shouted out, however, and I set off with the other dads at my children’s school sports day race, I soon had to configure myself to a more mundane reality. Also-ran.

Not a disgrace; not a faller; not last - just, a finisher.

Of course, sprints have never really been my thing…

I can still picture the dad who won, bit younger, floating away from me - turned out he was the husband of Darryl, who I would see working in Tesco, bossing the aisles.

Not that I dwell on it you understand.

But imagine what the memories would have been like had I lined up that day alongside Usain Bolt.

Such, relatively, was the experience of a bunch of mums in Jamaica recently as they turned up for a school sports day race and found themselves up against #MommyRocket herself - the Beijing 2008, London 2012 and five-times world 100 metres champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, whose five-year-old son Zyon is a pupil.


Now of course, in these circumstances, you would expect a multiple Olympic and world champion sprinter to leave all opposition in the dust.

And that’s where you’d be right.

She left all opposition in the dust, charging away from them inexorably, joyously, uninhibitedly, to accompanying yells of "Go Shelly, Shelly, Go Shelly!"

The video of that performance has gone viral. What is it, I wonder, that makes it so compelling?

Certainly not suspense. This was an athletics version of seeing a kid trying to stop a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, or squaring up against Tyson Fury, concentrating their own fury on his kneecaps.

I think it was the glee. There was no false modesty here, no running in second gear to give the others the fleeting sense of the beginnings of a trace of a ghost of a chance. Boom. Off she went, doing her thing and loving it.

Fraser-Pryce was at least casually dressed in leggings and a tee-shirt, wearing trainers and a back-to-front white baseball cap. Not massively dissimilar to the mums in the lanes of the bumpy grass track either side of her. Until the race began…

Such restraint, sadly, is not universally observed in such races - and, anecdotally, it is mums rather than dads who take it a stage too far in terms of sportswear.

I certainly don’t recall any mums or dads wearing running spikes or lycra for school sports day races - but it is clearly, and ludicrously, a thing that happens.

For instance, a recent enquiry on mumsnet about what to wear for a first school sports day race elicited some illuminating examples of parents pushing things more than a step too far.

Danni677 responded: “At our school, normal clothes. Parents race is often something silly like egg and spoon after one dad got too competitive running and ended up tearing his Achilles tendon."

Competing at a school sports day parents' race in 1965 - 11 years after becoming the first man to break the Four Minute Mile, Sir Roger Bannister, wearing the waistcoat, finishes a smiling second ©Getty Images
Competing at a school sports day parents' race in 1965 - 11 years after becoming the first man to break the Four Minute Mile, Sir Roger Bannister, wearing the waistcoat, finishes a smiling second ©Getty Images

Twilightcafe said: "The head put a stop to the parents’ race after some dad who looked as if he would have trouble running for a bus tripped over, hurt his wrist and tried to sue the school."

That contribution is echoed in another response: "They stopped the parents’ races at my kids primary school after a dad dislocated his shoulder falling over."

Yodaisawally replied: “When I went to Dts yr sports day there were three Year Six mums with spikes and full-on lulu lemon. None of them won which was quite nice. Nothing so ludicrous since."

SkankingWombat recalled how 100 metres races had given way to "silly ones like bean bag on the head" after "a few years of some pretty terrifying dad races (think a dozen untrained, overweight, over-confident and super-competitive men thundering along elbow to elbow and right alongside the spectators. Then one of them trips…), it is a much more sedate affair.

"It doesn’t stop the mums dressing for the occasion though: so much gym/running gear with loud comments about how they are only dressed that way because they’re off to the gym/for a run straight afterwards. Uh huh."

Another respondent adds: "On a standard school run in our village the odd one or two may be in gym gear. On sports day more than half just happen to be heading to the gym straight after."

On singletrackworld, the following was posted by peterfile: "A friend of ours is a bit of a track star.

"Her daughter started a nice school a few years ago and they have a mum’s race at schools sports day which has a reputation for being pretty competitive between a few of the mums.

"She decided to do the race in fancy dress, both to make the kids laugh and save any embarrassment which may be caused by her annihilating the field at her daughter’s new school. 

"Everyone was expecting her to win, so this was a nice leveller in her eyes, to keep the competition alive and the day fun.

"Apparently there was uproar from some of the other mums, claiming that she was making a mockery of the race! 😆

Britain's four-time Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah was beaten in a recent school sports day parents' race over 100 metres by a bloke in jeans ©Getty Images
Britain's four-time Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah was beaten in a recent school sports day parents' race over 100 metres by a bloke in jeans ©Getty Images

"The 'officials' asked that she take off the fancy dress. She raced anyway and left everyone standing, then faced further criticism from the same mums that her behaviour spoiled a race with 'lots of history'.

"Primary school sports day! People are mad."

True enough.

Sir Roger Bannister took a different course to Fraser-Pryce when he competed in a parents' race at his children's school in 1965.

Eleven years after he had become the first man to break the Four Minute Mile and gone on to defeat Australia's John Landy at the Vancouver British Empire and Commonwealth Games in what was promoted as The Mile of the Century and remembered as The Miracle Mile, Sir Roger finished a smiling second. 

Something profoundly gentlemanly going on there, one suspects. 

But here’s an odd thing. Not so long ago, it seems, another multiple Olympic and world champion track runner rocked up to his child’s sports day, so ready to rock, indeed, that they were even wearing spikes.

And they were beaten by a bloke in jeans.

This sounds right enough like an urban myth - but it has been reported in numerous media outlets following an appearance on the Performance People podcast by Tania…Farah.

Sir Mo it was, double Olympic 5,000 metres and 10,000m champion at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics and six-time world champion, who turned up with hopes of another triumphant career moment - only to be rudely awakened.

"Mo took part in the parents' race at sports day and came second, and the guy that won it was wearing jeans," his wife reported.

"The dad that won dined out on it for an entire school year. Mo's not a sprinter, that's what it is, the parents' race is always 100 metres. 

"People just assume Mo can run fast, but his running fast is sustained running over many laps."

Sir Mo, who turned 40 last month, added: "I was like 'oh no,' and I had my spikes on, I thought 'I'm ready for this.' He was tagging me as well saying 'have some of that.' I can't sprint."

At least I can say I have something in common with an Olympic champion.