Simple, natural, no fuss: The Food that fuels Olympic marathon champions

Country/area: United Kingdom

Organisation: BBC

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 12/07/2021

Credit: Tural Ahmedzade, Leoni Robertson, Johannes Dell, Roberto Belo Rovella, Sean Willmott, Olaniyi Adebimpe, Maryam Nikan, Marcos Gurgel, Shilpa Saraf, Sally Morales


Editorial production by Tural Ahmedzade (research and writing), Leoni Robertson (research and writing), Johannes Dell and Roberto Belo Rovella (editing)

Field production by Muthoni Muchiri, Gloria Achieng and Njoroge Muigai (interviews with Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei, and video production).

Design by Sean Willmott, Olaniyi Adebimpe and Maryam Nikan.

Technical production by Marcos Gurgel (development), Shilpa Saraf (testing) and Sally Morales (project management). With thanks to Dr Justin Roberts, nutrition and scientific advisor, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

Project description:

Through marathon world record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei we get to know about one of the key “ingredients” in their preparation for Tokyo 2020: their diet. And as part of that journey, we learn about their daily lives training in Kenya, the East Africa cuisine and culture and their calories’ tally. All based on solid data and academic research on nutrition, presented in a seamless, engaging narrative with cool retro-8-bit illustrations to appeal to non-sporty-geek people, particularly young and female. Sit at the table with Eliud and Brigid, and even try cooking some of their recipes!

Impact reached:

The project, published in 28 languages, achieved its main objective: connecting an audience not keen in following sport or the Olympic Games in particular, with Olympic marathon runners, their lives, their work, their culture, their food. And it was a good opportunity to focus on Africa, which is very much line with the BBC World Service’s mission of “bringing the UK to the world, and the world to the UK”. The average engagement time has been above 70 seconds, with the majority of the audience accessing the content on mobile.

Aside from the positive impact on our audiences, it was a great opportunity for colleagues from different teams to work together for the first time, having started with a pre-2020 Covid lockdown Olympics brainstorming session. After a one-year hiatus, the research resumed supported by sports nutritionist, Dr Justin Roberts from Anglia Ruskin University.

It was the close collaboration with the Africa and Near East teams that lifted the project off the ground, and secured the interviews with both Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei . This was achieved despite the general apathy surrounding the Tokyo Olympic Games, not knowing up to the last minute whether they would actually go ahead or not. It was certainly the team’s perseverance, resilience and enthusiasm that brought it successfully to the finish line. 

Techniques/technologies used:

The design of the scrolly was inspired by 8-bit videogames from the 90s and features gamified athletes’ avatars.

The development was based on our standard scrolly code base, incorporating new elements of interaction within a scrolly, like and expand / contract box option, which are now part of our modules library.

There was also work synchronising the narrative with the different illustration elements – even if you scroll back up.

For the data processing, we used Google spreadsheets.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most challenging part was finding a robust, reliable, consistent data for a particular sets of sports that clearly showed the amount of energy required by different sport disciplines, and the kind of diets related to them. And then, build an interesting, engaging narrative around them, bearing in mind the key objective of attracting non-sporty-geeky audiences. Also, the idea of doing our original field research was completely out of the window due to the pandemic restrictions, so we had to rely on already existing data. With the clock ticking, an applying strict project planning, we defined a “minimal viable product”, focusing on Olympic running, and only after securing the basics there, we made a bid to get Eliud and Brigid in their training camp in North Kenya, and when getting a green light on that, everything else fell into place.

What can others learn from this project?

Don’t be afraid of thinking big. Get the right sources, get the right specialists to help you understand the information, what is relevant. Check, check, check, and check again. Do not make generalisations. Have a daily scrum / catch up with the team members, raise any issues, be open to other ideas, no matter where they come from – especially those from colleagues in other disciplines tend to be quite mind opening! And the most important of all: keep the humanity in your story, and think of your audience all the time. How they would feel, how they would access the content, how they can engage further.

Project links: