Neil Featherby: Gearing up for Smile 2 but why so few entries this year?

Tyler Bilyard on the home straight to take victory. Picture: Mark Armstrong

Tyler Bilyard on the home straight to victory at last year's Smile competition. Picture: Mark Armstrong - Credit: Archant

So here we are looking forward to tonight’s track semi-finals of the Smile 2 tournament at the Sportspark in Norwich for what really should be an entertaining evening of athletics.

Whilst last year’s first ever running of the Smile Mile Challenge was so very unique, I think it is fair to say that when all was said and done, the fastest three athletes took the podium places despite what was a handicapped final and devil takes the hindmost formula.

However, and having taken on board a number of comments which were made after last year’s event such as it not being fair to the ladies (they were given a 30 second head start in the men’s and women’s mixed final), and of course also unfair to those in the masters categories, it was decided to make this year’s event much more inclusive whilst using age grading and handicapping based upon people’s qualifying times from the virtual qualifying round.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group here

Hard-working Athletics Norfolk chairman, Clive Poyner, who was very much behind these changes, said: “To make it even more exciting, we decided to level up the playing field by adding age graded prizes and handicapping to the track finals which in theory should see all athletes battling it out in the finishing straight making for what will hopefully be a thrilling conclusion to Smile 2.”

Whether this will happen or not of course will only unfold on the night, but it certainly should make for a really exciting series of races between now and the grand final.

So and therefore, here is a question which I do have to ask. 

After listening and reacting to people’s comments and views after the 2021 event and assuming the changes would appeal to even more people, the lack of entries for Smile 2 dictate otherwise i.e. we have gone from 209 entry signups for what was the open to all Virtual Smile 1, down to just 75 for this year’s event. Why is this?

Most Read

Apart from the numbers being greatly reduced, it is also the absence of many of the county’s elite (men and women) which are most notably missing from this year’s tournament too.

Obviously, last time around it was on the back of what had been a lack of competition through lock down, so I do get that and of course I also understand that live competition is preferred by most people to that of virtual events. But this tournament has both.  

The prize money is also excellent whilst being nicely spread out thanks to the main sponsor Craig Bowen Jones and Cool Camper Graphics in Drayton, and while it is not all about the money, it does seem strange that so many of our faster athletes (men and women) are missing.

Anyway, it is what it is, but I am still interested in hearing what others have to say to hopefully continue with this event in 2023 while looking to make further improvements which will appeal to as many athletes/runners as possible.

Smile 2 medal

This year's Smile 2 medal. - Credit: Rebecca Tuff

For now though, it really is a huge, good luck to all of tonight’s semi-finalists and please do remember that you cannot race on the track in shoes that have a sole larger than 25mm (e.g. Nike next % are not allowed).

I must also mention co-sponsor On Running, Total Race Timing and Rebecca Tuff who like Clive has put a lot of time and effort into this whilst sorting out tonight’s three semi-finals with the top three finishers from each race going through to the final on April 15.

The handicapping for the semi-finals is based upon each person’s virtual qualifying time.