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The shining lights of Crystal Palace

Sonja McLaughlan | 11:49 UK time, Sunday, 26 July 2009

It's a simple question, but it's one which is actually quite difficult to answer: Where will Britain's medals come from at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin next month?

In recent weeks there's been a succession of medical bulletins with key athletes either struggling with injury or out of this summer's showpiece altogether.

Marathon runner Mara Yamauchi, who was second in London this year, Olympic bronze medallist Tasha Danvers and heptathlete Kelly Sotherton will all be left behind with one ailment or another. And they're not alone in spending more time on the treatment table than on the track.

Christine Ohuruogu, Nicola Sanders, Goldie Sayers, Lisa Dobriskey and Martyn Rooney have all had a frustrating season so far with setbacks that have threatened to end their season. Tim Benjamin has simply quit altogether because his body can't take it any more while there's still no word from France on Paula Radcliffe's immediate future.

It seems that Charles Van Commenee's first significant championships as head coach are in danger of being jeopardised with his team ravaged by injury.

Steve Backley, Kelly Sotherton
Photo: Rob Cox

It's hardly the ideal build-up for Britain but there were some positive signs at the Aviva Grand Prix at Crystal Palace. This was the last chance to impress the selectors with the team named on Tuesday. So far, only a handful of athletes have booked their passage to Berlin because they won their event at the trials in Birmingham and have got the all-important qualifying standard. The rest face an anxious wait to see if they've done enough to get the nod.

So who is set to impress and could even bring home a medal for Britain?

The outstanding contender wasn't even in London over the past two days.
Heptathlete Jessica Ennis is completing her preparations at more low-key events this week, but will soon take centre stage as Britain's best hope of a gold medal.

The 23-year-old missed the Olympics in Beijing, but has leapt to the top of the world rankings on her return and is red-hot favourite. Kelly Sotherton is convinced her former rival will take the title: "She's a very strong athlete in fantastic shape."

The fact that Ennis opens with her two strongest events, the 100m hurdles and the high jump, could set her on the way to something special.

Christine Ohuruogu was at Crystal Palace, but as a guest of the sponsors because of a slight hamstring injury. The Olympic champion seemed relaxed and remains determined to defend the title she won in Osaka two years ago.

"Get me on the start line with my race head on and I won't leave any stone unturned," she said.

Ohuruogu has proved she's a championship performer and can't be discounted. Whether she can hold off Sanya Richards to take gold remains to be seen.

With an Olympic silver medal to his name, Phillips Idowu is certainly in the frame. 5 Live pundit Steve Backley believes the triple jumper is more than capable of winning a medal but has reservations about his current form.

"His last two outings have looked less than convincing," said Backley.

Idowu endured a mixed evening with three fouls to finish third behind American Brandon Roulhac, who jumped a career best of 17.33.

He's as laid back as most Jamaicans but Germaine Mason hates to lose and a silver medal from Beijing is proof of that. He competes for Britain now, of course, and is hitting form at the right time after, guess what, an injury! He cleared 2.31m to go joint fifth in the world.

"It just seems he's coming right at the perfect time," added a suitably impressed Backley.

Michael Bingham might not be a household name, but Backley has tipped him for a possible medal. The American-born athlete ran a season's best to win the men's 400m in 45.03secs and could sneak into the mix. He'll certainly be key to Britain's relay prospects in the 4x400m, along with Rooney and Robert Tobin.

Michael Bingham wins the 400m at Crystal Palace
Photo: Rob Cox

There were also notable performances from Jemma Simpson in the women's 800m and Chris Tomlinson in the men's long jump. Simpson in particular believes she's made a significant breakthrough and can challenge the best in the world. "Previously, I felt like I was running everyone else's race," she said, "now I feel like I'm running my own race and it's working for me."

Elsewhere, there was a welcome return for a few familiar faces and just in the nick of time Nicola Sanders won the women's 400m after missing the trials through injury.

The silver medallist in Osaka is making a timely comeback and is confident she can make up for lost training and competition. Lisa Dobriskey has hardly raced this year due to a catalogue of injuries but forced the selectors to sit up and take note with a strong run in the 1500m. She finished fourth in Beijing and the selectors will surely place their faith in her again.

Goldie Sayers is likely to make the team in the javelin. She nearly called time on her season this week because of a back injury, but came close to 60m at Crystal Palace which should secure her a place on the team.

It'll be interesting to see the final make-up of the British team for Berlin when it's revealed on Tuesday. Britain won four track-and-field medals in Beijing and in reality it's likely to be an equally small number this time round as well.

It remains a team in development and the true test will come in London in 2012. But, for now, Ennis will be one of the first to start in Berlin and, if all goes to plan, she could well take gold to give Britain the perfect platform - and then who knows what might follow?


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