Is the Fly Swat the future of Street Athletics?

SPIKES is a sucker for cool pieces of kit, so when we heard the Fly Swat was the largest piece of mobile athletics equipment in the world, we just had to find out what all the fuss was about.

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Okay, so what is the Fly Swat?

Weighing in at a hefty 25 tonnes (roughly equivalent to two full double decker buses) and measuring a little over 72m long, with a 50m runway, it has a long jump pit attached to one end and a pole vault bed at the other. It’s used as the ‘track’ for the Golden Fly Series: a five-strong series of competitions held in city centre venues.

Who do we have to thank?

The Fly Swat was the brainchild of Armin Margreiter, the former Austrian long and triple jump national coach.  “I am the inventor,” says Margreiter. “I thought of the concept. My guys always did their best but often had to compete in empty stadiums. It was very frustrating for me as well as them, so I decided to build a mobile track for them.”

Why the focus on pole vault and long jump?

“To me, pole vault is like modern circus and is the most spectacular event for the people to watch,” says Margreiter. “The long jump also demonstrates the speed and athleticism of the athletes.”

The track has the scope to be extended into a 100m track and Margreiter has a long-term vision. “One day I’d love to have Usain Bolt run on the Fly Swat”.

Did you say  25 tonnes!? How do you even move the Fly Swat around?

Stored in Innsbruck, it is transported by train from each venue. “The track can then be laid down by our crew and with the help of volunteers within six to seven hours.”

So where can I see it in action?

The season opener of the second-ever Golden Fly Series takes place in Innsbruck on June 1st followed by meetings in Munich, Cologne and Bolzano, concluding in Vienna on August 24th.

Does street athletics work?

Last season 10,000 people witnessed the action in Munich, drawing a potentially new audience to the sport of athletics.

“I get the impression the audience enjoys it very much,” says Margreiter. “They are very close to the athletes and they can feel the wind rushing the athletes. There is a really special mood in the city when the Fly Swat takes place. It offers a great advert for athletics.” This season he estimates that more than 25 million people will see the Golden Fly Series on TV.

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How do the meetings work?

Compact and fast-moving, no Golden Fly series competition lasts longer than two-and-a-half hours. The competitions run simultaneously with a pole vaulter followed by a long jumper, and so the sequence continues. The fields are limited to a small number of elite athletes.

What was the quality of competitions like on the Fly Swat?

The runway is a Mondo surface and works to all the IAAF specifications. The best pole vault performance on the Fly Swat last year was 5.72m and the best long jump result was 8.11m, and on the distaff side 6.83m. Useful.

What other entertainment is on offer for the crowd?

Every athlete has their own personalised walk-on music. So last year, 2008 Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker came on the runway to the sound of Australian rock band ACDC’s 1980 song ‘Hells Bells’ while world indoor long jump champion Mauro Vinicius da Silva entered to the samba beat of a lively Brazilian number.

What next for the Fly Swat?

“Up until now we only have one Fly Swat but we have had also had interest from the USA, so maybe it is possible in future to build a Fly Swat 2 or Fly Swat USA,” says Margreiter. “For the Golden Fly series we want to keep it around five or six events because if we have ten or 12 I couldn’t guarantee the quality would be of the same level.”