This close to the Olympics, the athletics world picks over the bones of every performance with an obsessive eye.

At this stage of the game, it's too late to squeeze in a life-changing block of training. It's all about moving into top form, avoiding injury and maybe gaining a psychological edge over your rivals.

For all three of Britain's big gold medal hopes, the London Grand Prix on Friday night seemed at first glance to fulfil that role.

Kelly Sotherton after her hurdles race was abandoned

Kelly Sotherton jumped a personal best in the long jump. Phillips Idowu extended his unbeaten run in the triple jump. And Christine Ohuruogu clocked a season's best in seeing off Nicola Sanders in the 400m.

That's how it appeared on the surface. The reality was somewhat dicier.

Sotherton, for starters, was left fuming after a shocking error from track officials saw the third set of barriers in her 100m hurdles race placed at least a metre out of position.

To an outsider that might not seem like much. To hurdlers, who thrive on rhythm and a set stride pattern, it could have spelled disaster - a pulled muscle, a calamitous fall, the end of the Olympic dream.

"I am totally fed up," Sotherton raged afterwards. "The long jump went so well but they have ruined the hurdles, and now I'm just angry."

For Idowu, who has said this season that he feels "bullet-proof", there were initially worrying signs of the old inconsistency that used to dog him.

He failed to record a mark with his first and third jumps, striding over to coach Aston Moore in the stands in an attempt to work out what was going wrong.

Going into the fourth round he was trailing in third place. The Crystal Palace crowd were almost hushed as he tore down the runway for his next attempt.

When he sailed out to a mark of 17.41m, the roar told of relief - and a certain vindication of the confidence he's shown all summer long.

"I didn't know what the problem was at first," he said. "I had to wait a bit to get going. But I've been saying all year that I feel, regardless of what anyone else does, I'm not going to lose. That's a nice way to finish before Beijing."

The positives for Ohuruogu were the win and the defeat of Sanders in the first race between the pair since they won gold and silver at the World Championships last summer.

What wasn't so hot was the time. It was a good night for 400m running - 21 degrees, not too humid, no blustery wind - but neither Briton left satisfied with their performance.

"I'm not happy. I'll go back and analyse things with my coach," promised Ohuruogu.

"I'm not very pleased," said Sanders. "It's been three and a half weeks since my last race and I never really got into it."

What did give cause for optimism was the memory of their preparations last year. Sanders had a stinker at Crystal Palace a year ago, trailing home way down the field, while Ohuruogu was yet to run competitively after her 12-month ban for missing three drugs test - and from that they went on to top the world.

Elsewhere, it was a good night for Jamaican sprinters and a bad one for Americans.

Asafa Powell's 9.94secs victory in the 100m wasn't a surprise in the absence of world champion Tyson Gay (injured) and world record holder Usain Bolt (entered only in Saturday's 200m) but, following his defeat of Bolt in Stockholm on Tuesday, it did provide more evidence that he's finally ready to take his first global sprint title.

What was a shock was the thrashing world champion Allyson Felix in the 200m. The favourite for gold in Beijing trailed home fourth behind Jamaican rival Sherone Simpson and left the track shaking her head.

Simpson, by contrast, knew what the scalp meant. "It gives me a lot more confidence going into the Olympics," she beamed. "Having this win against this competition is a great boost for me."

Form, injury-free and an edge. It's what they're all after.

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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