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A nervous weekend for the Olympic hopefuls

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Tom Fordyce | 08:42 UK time, Thursday, 21 June 2012

In three days of intense competition at the Alexander Stadium this weekend, the British athletics squad for London 2012 will begin to take firm shape. But if that end-point at the Olympics is clear, the route there is lined with pot-holes and problems.

In some ways the format is stark: finish in the top two in your event, with the 'A' qualifying standard to your name, and you're off to Stratford. But that only hints at the complications and calculations that lie just beneath the surface.

For most athletes in Birmingham it will be a nervous few days. The big gold medal hopes must prove their form. Those with outside hopes of the Olympic podium must secure their places and show they are starting to peak. Others, shackled by injury in the first half of the season, know now is the time to find a time and finish from somewhere.

Neither are the big battles quite where we have seen them in previous years.

Dwain Chambers

Chambers must now prove himself on the track after winning a selection battle off it. Photo: Getty

Already this summer we have seen several athletes raising their game in Olympic year. That's to be expected. What's more of a surprise is where the improvements have come.
On the men's side, it is the field eventers who are leading the way from the track athletes.

Greg Rutherford is currently the highest ranked long-jumper in the IAAF's global top-lists; Robbie Grabarz is third in the high jump; Lawrence Okoye fourth in the discus and Steve Lewis eighth in the pole vault. Olympic triple jump silver medallist and former world champion Phillips Idowu, if the pattern of his last few seasons is to be believed, will move rapidly up the top-lists from his current ninth.

All those men already have the required qualifying marks. Even in the highly unlikely event of them finishing outside the top two, should all compete, they would be given the selectors' third discretionary place.

Elsewhere it is not so clear cut.

The talk a month ago was all of Dwain Chambers finally being cleared to run at the Olympics. But unless he produces a big performance in the 100m this weekend, his only involvement might be with the relay squad.

Only two men - Adam Gemili and James Dasaolu - currently have the 100m 'A' standard of 10.18 seconds. Gemili, with the World Juniors his main focus, is yet to decide whether he would compete in London if selected. Dasaolu's form is uncertain; others, like Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Marlon Devonish, are a long way off.

It leaves a gap for Chambers, but one that is closing fast. The cut-off date for qualifying times is 1 July. This weekend will tell us what chance he really has.

It is far tighter in the 400m, where four men have the 'A' standard of 45.30 secs, and the 800m, where Andrew Osagie and Michael Rimmer will come under pressure from Gareth Warburton and Mukhtar Mohammed.

Qualification will be tougher still in the 110m hurdles, where the form of young guns Lawrence Clarke and Andy Pozzi could mean both of Britain's two finalists at the World Championships in Daegu last summer (Andy Turner and Will Sharman) miss out on automatic qualification.

Cruel? Possibly. Unfair? Arguably, no. Not for nothing are these called the Trials.
The weekend should be less stressful for two of the so-called big four - Jess Ennis and Mo Farah - who will be using their events more to fine-tune than qualify, their form this summer already proven.

For another, world 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene, selection may be a certainty but form is not. Greene's uncertain start to the season means 13 other men have run faster times than him this year.

At least he has shaken off his winter injuries to be there. His fellow world medallists Hannah England and Jenny Meadows, plus 2008 100m finalist Jeanette Kwakye, are all late withdrawals, left hoping the selectors will grant them that precious discretionary berth.

England's early season form means she has the 1500m qualifying mark of 4 mins 6 secs. Behind her, former world silver medallist Lisa Dobriskey must battle it out with the impressive Laura Weightman.

Meadows, world 800m bronze medallist three years ago, does not have that luxury. Her Achilles problems have ruined her summer so far and given Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson a great chance to guarantee their selection with top two finishes.

If the criteria seem harsh, that is exactly how UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee likes it, even if it means that athletes who could technically have been picked are left at home.

Van Commenee believes that having underachieving athletes in the team could bring down the mood of the rest and affect the ability of possible medal contenders to be probables.

The message is clear: there will be no passengers, no-one taken along for the experience. This Olympic team is about winning, not taking part.

As point 16 of the selection policy says, the panel will strictly favour "the athlete(s) who they believe will finish higher at the Games".

If this means that an athlete finishing third, with the qualifying mark, is overlooked for that final place in favour of one finishing fifth, then so be it.

"The panel will not nominate any athlete who it has good reason to believe will be uncompetitive at the Games due to injury, illness or lack of recent form," states the policy.

In practical terms, this could both shut doors on some and open them for others.
Because of that insistence on an 'A' standard, it is possible that someone could win an event in Birmingham and not gain automatic selection, while the person they defeat does make the team.

It also means that an athlete deemed world class - like England, or Meadows - has a lifeline. If injury or conditions on the day mean they cannot prove their form this weekend, the selectors will take that into account.

For the red-hot favourites this weekend - Tiffany Porter in the 100m hurdles, Yamile Aldama in the triple jump, Goldie Sayers in the javelin - the minutiae of the selection criteria should not matter.

Others will be obsessing over the small-print.

At World Championships, Van Commenee is allowed to take a combination of athletes achieving 'A' and 'B' standards in the same event.

Not at the Olympics. If one 'A' athlete is picked, any others must also have an 'A' standard. Any 'B' athlete cannot be selected alongside an 'A'. And there is room for only one 'B' in each event.

Head hurt? This is only the start of it. Expect to see calculators and PDFs alongside the spikes and sports drinks this weekend.


  • Comment number 1.

    This report, particularly the 100metres section makes pretty grim reading (unless I am missing something).
    UK Athletics seems to diminish by the year. Really think CVC is doing a great job, but as with a lot of things sport based in the UK, the class, quality, hunger etc is not there.
    To have people struggling to make 10.18s is embarrassing.

  • Comment number 2.

    At least it means that Chambers may not be selected even if he does run under the quali time...! Result ...

  • Comment number 3.

    I think you are missing the point. If Chambers runs the qualifying time, he will be selected. With all the controversy that has surrounded his exclusion to date the BOA would be exposed if they didn't select

  • Comment number 4.

    I quote , "As point 16 of the selection policy says, the panel will strictly favour "the athlete(s) who they believe will finish higher at the Games".

    If this means that an athlete finishing third, with the qualifying mark, is overlooked for that final place in favour of one finishing fifth, then so be it. "

    So if in their opinion Chambers will not perform in the Olympics, he doesn't get picked.

    Shouldn't be about opinion , sport is about winning.

  • Comment number 5.

    We are no were near in terms of 100 and 200m but I think things are looking up with most other events.

    Looking back just a couple of years ago we wouldn't have neccesarily been expecting medals in 100 hurdles, 400m hurdles, discus, long jump, pole vault and high jump but now we have Pozzi, Dai Greene, Okoye, Rutherford, Bleasdale and Grabarz as serious contenders in those events, as well as the likes of Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Idowu being odds on for medals.

    Can't wait to go to the trials this weekend. Crazy that's it not sold out?!

  • Comment number 6.

    Brad again you are missing the point. Our athletes are not even clocking 10.18. One of the only guys that has isn't even sure if wants to run at the Olympics! If Dwain hits the qualifying standard he will be in the top two, and his form although not great is no worse than any other 100m UK athlete. Its just a bad time for the sport.

    Chambers will be in the team. Of that there is no doubt sorry

  • Comment number 7.

    What is the rule around the 'A' standard?

    Some of the athletes have achieved the A standard last year (mens discus, 100m for example) so could people these then get selected for the olympics without the standard this year?

    Mo Farah has not ran a 10,000m this year (achieved time last year) but assume he will be selected.

    Not quite sure how to interpret the rule!

  • Comment number 8.

    GooseUK, you are so stupid to think it is embarrassing not having a country were athletes can't break 10.18 secs? You are so ignorant it is unbelievable. You have no idea the ability you must have to break 10.5 never mind 10.2. You are comparing to athletes who are running ridiculous times and are more than likely enhancing performance with things other than training. Almost every Olympic winner since 1988 has been caught taking performance enhancing drugs, Ben Johnson, linford Christine, Justin Gatlin and the other winners having investigated at one point or another. We should enjoy these Olympics and be proud of our athletes through all sports as the frets the are achieving are amazing even if they don't make certain standards.

  • Comment number 9.

    For the record, there has never been any scandal around Usain Bolt. Michael Johnson took numerous tests and never failed one. There is a huge difference between supplements and performance enhancing drugs. Professional atheletes would not be able to complete training, schedules etc without supplements. They need it for recovery.

    I do however have to agree with GooseUK on this. You would hope that if professionals from other countries are consistently running under 10 seconds we could at least produce one athlete who has run a good time this year and at the top of world class standards 10.18 isn't impressive. The Olympic heats will be faster than that!

  • Comment number 10.

    The A standard rule is set by IAAF and runs from last year. Hence many more athletes have the A standard. However, UKA might and can enforce their own A standard qualifying period.

    Weather conditions will be poor this weekend, so standards will be hard to meet. But a few will reach a seasons peak thus far. across the board UK athletes are achieving higher standards than previoulsy. It's just that are sprinters are not where we might hope they would be.

    The results from the field event athletes is particularly encouraging. After all it's not all about the 100 and 200 meters.

  • Comment number 11.

    Using the fact we are weak at 100m/200m to say that our athletes as a whole are crap is frankly ridiculous. One of the main points to come out of the article is that across the field events the team will be stronger than it has ever been (and there wasn't even a mention of our outstanding female prospects in the field events). If you then throw in Ennis, Farah, Dai Greene, a revitalised Ohuruhogu, Hannah England (hopefully) and several others, and we will possibly have more real medal chances than was the case even in the heyday of Gunnell, Jackson, Christie etc.

  • Comment number 12.

    You might want to look at the wind speeds. There have been a lot of negative wind speeds this year, and that always slows things up. I'm not saying that the sprinters have been running wonderfully, because obviously they haven't, but even those with the A standards, in other races have run a lot slower because of the wind speeds, so if someone's been unlucky with wind they might be potentially able to run a fair bit faster with a positive wind, rather than a negative one...

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't see why Dwain has been vilified? All athletes take drugs. They wouldn't be there if they didn't. That is just a fact. As much as people will complain about my post and demand proof, the proof is their anatomy. Look at people's bodies in the 1950s. Anyone on that start line for 100m has an impossible body and the public are just too out of touch to see it. Thank you Hollywood, pop-music, male models, pornography and all other steroid happy industries that have given men bigorexia.

    At least Dwain is honest about it. What turns my stomach are the lying ex-athletes now commentators demanding his blood. They just didn't get caught. Horrible hypocrites. This game of the emperors new clothes has been going on since dianabol was invented in 1958 specifically to cheat in sports. Then onto blood doping in the 1970s. Skinny endurance athletes are not exempt. The fact is they work. And those that take them will always rise to the top. In all sports.

    Educate people about drugs. Lying to them only makes the problem worse and drives it underground where it is more dangerous for people's health.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    TD this post is not about me, its about sprinting and being world class but since you mention it.... I was a competitive rugby player who chose not to pursue the sport professionally and have representative honours. I also was a 10.5 second 100m runner even though I wouldn't consider myself a 'sprinter' I was also fortunate to win a silver medal at national level for triple jump but was beaten by Jonathan Moore who ironically has yet to realise his full potential.

    This of course is all irrelevant. What is relevant is that athletics have moved on and so have the attainment levels due to training and performance supplements. Not every high attainment athlete is dirty and personally I dont like individuals being discredited because they do what others cannot. This should be the the goal of every self respecting sportsman. The fact remains sprinting in the UK is sub standard. That is the only point being made here. Running sub 10 seconds is certainly not unrealistic, its the standard. I'm sorry if this point is pretty close to home but that's just the way it is.

  • Comment number 16.

    And perhaps you shouldn't talk about judging people whilst calling other individuals stupid for putting forward an opinion. Being active in the sport, does not give you a monopoly on truth.

  • Comment number 17.

    JWR, as of today, only 81 sprinters have run 100 m below 10 s with an official, legal time. I don't know how, like you said, it can be the standard.

  • Comment number 18.

    JWR, what on earth are you on about? This is the best British athletics team in history. Mo Farrah, Jess Ennis, Philips Idowu, Dai Greene, Christine Ohuruogu. When have we EVER sent 5 current or former track and field world champions to an Olympics?

    You do realise the men's 100m isn't the only event at the Olypmics, right? I'd rather have 5 world champions elsewhere than a sprinter of even Linford's quality in the team, who today wouldn't even have a realistic chance of a podium finish.

  • Comment number 19.

    Glad other people with knowledge in the sport have joined this discussion instead of people who just watch athletics on tv like the diamond league and think every athlete should be like that when that's the cream of the crop. We have an 18 year old who is running 10.08 for 100m? How is that sub standard for that age group? And i saw him run an easy 20.65 at the weekend into a minus wind. And to get off the point of 100m and onto other outstanding athletes that have been mentioned previously here. Jess ennis is outstanding for example she is ranked in the top 3 an even first in GB with the majority of her heptathlete events. She has changed her long jump leg and still records 6.50 m and improving? Mo farah, idowo, an greene and the other top names speak for themselves too. This is before I even get into the wealth of 400m men athlete who have run well beyond the a standard an the 110mh were we have a handful of young potentials running low 13 sec? Women's long jump is up to high 6m? Women's tj we have high 14s? These are all medal potential athletes. Apologies for missing anyone out. JWR get your facts in order. Last time I post.

  • Comment number 20.

    Would ANYONE in their right mind want to share a relay team with Chambers? Look where it got them last time!

  • Comment number 21.

    I think there are some great UK athletes going to the games, and think it is fantastic that there is a spread of talent across the athletic disciplines. World ranked UK discus throwers - wow! Go for it.

    My real concern is about our male middle distance runners. I was horrified to read that no-one has bettered the time of Steve Cram at an Olympics. Given all the advances in supplements, training methods and recovery periods, etc., added to the funding they can now have, why aren't UK runners anywhere the times of 20 years ago? Kelly, Jenny, Hannah, Lisa et al have shown what can be done. Boys, where are you?

    Mo Farah has been an inspiration, and shown how it can be done, yet in middle distances there aren't new world records regularly, and the times that win aren't incredible. It's often down to clever racing and decision making.

    About time the boys matched the girls desire and effort i think.

  • Comment number 22.

    Tim and TD, I agree with you that this is indeed a great GB team in-the-making for London. I'm excited, especially with individuals coming through in events that traditionally we have not had great representation - and others coming back to world class form. Only thing; I wouldn't say it's unrealistic for Linford Christie to have had a shot at making it onto the podium today. At his best during his career, he did run 9.87 after all, and clocked a good few sub-10 seconds (actually recording sub-10s in seven of his competitive years). So, maybe with today's crop of Jamaicans and US sprinters pushing him, he might have had a fair chance of grabbing a medal. At least, I wouldn't have written him off.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the selection process Tom explained is as fair as it possibly could be. It gives proven Athletes like Hannah England a chance to step back and recover which will hopefully enable her to perform at a higher standard in August. Dwain Chambers has served his ban, the rules made by others have allowed him to be eligable for selection. He was punished and has shown a committment to the sport.
    If he does qualify then I hope he does well, this is how I feel about any athlete who will be wearing a GB vest.
    We have the makings of a fantastic team, let the selectors do what they are qualified to do. Bring it on.

  • Comment number 24.

    @13 SwampPuppet
    Why is it that athletics discussions always come back to drugs? Athletics takes drugs seriously, so finds its cheats. The issue is the other sports where drugs cheats aren't found. I'd say athletics is probably one of our cleanest sports. Don't tarnish those that are clean and work incredibly hard with the same brush as the cheats.

  • Comment number 25.

    @20 last time Dwain ran the relay in a champs we got Gold in 2006 Euros. That is where it got them. He was subsequently left off the team as it was thought he would never be able to run in an olympics.

  • Comment number 26.

    Tom, far from giving me a headache, your timely summary in advance of the trials is just what I was looking for to better enjoy and understand the competition. I'm especially curious to see how well the enigma that is Christine Ohuruogu fares...

  • Comment number 27.

    I think the selection process is somewhat unfair but without massive strength in depth it is probably the most sensible way to do it. Hopefully we will get a few up and coming talents and among these i think Rob Mullett in the 3000m steeplechase and Tom Russell in the 5000m have good chances of even medalling in the olympics. Russell is one of the most promising athletes i've seen this year

  • Comment number 28.

    I have decided to never post on these boards again. I complained about 13's post, in which they maintain that ALL athletes are on drugs. Apparently,it's fine to make such baseless comments.

    I find it really odd that initailly Dwain Chambers made a comment that all olympic gold medalists in every sport took stimulants, but later retracted that statement.

    On this board however it is fine to say all athletes take something.

    Moderator after delteing my comments, please delete my account.

  • Comment number 29.

    My issue with Chambers is not that he took drugs, as others have in the past and been punished.

    The problem is his attitude to the sport.

    When he got found out, he categoricially said that ALL athletes take drugs and said you couldn't win if you didn't. He effectively shrugged his shoudlers , stuck 2 fingers up and went to American Football / Rugby League.

    When that didn't work out, he now has apparently 'seen the light' , retracted his statements and expects everyone to forgive him. As if it was all a bad mistake he has learnt from.

    Well sorry Dwaine it doesn't work like that - thanks to your comments Athletics has probably gone back 20 years.

    I'm with Steve Cram, if Dwaine makes it to the Olympics I think the media coverage should completely ignore him, even if he is in the lane next to Bolt in the final.

    You want a medal Dwaine ? - you can have it, just don't expect real sports fans to applaud.

  • Comment number 30.

    I dont think it's disgraceful to not have a constant sub 10 second runner in the squad, but it's indicative of where the current standard lies that the A standard is 10.18.

    If you want a medal at any major event, you'd expect to run at least 10.01, and when it's in your home country you'd want to see your athletes competing for national pride as well as a sense of individualism. And I think that is where this argument has emanated from.

    On the world scene, many miles away in Beijing, if you achieve it's excellent. And if you dont, you at aleast gain credibility for making the distance. But in this instance, the distance is your doorstep. So people will be less inclined to give credibility for making the distance.

    Obviously the world's elite have got better year on year, but its only marginally.
    The exception to the rule is Usain Bolt, who is literally one in a million.

  • Comment number 31.

    Do all atheletes take drugs - NO, Do some take drugs and ruin the sports for others -YES. This practice is the same the world over in pretty much every sport. The good thing about atheletics (and cycling) is they actually do something about it with huge numbers of tests etc so they catch the majority of the cheats. Unlike other sports such as football where there is less testing and potentially a system that is more open to abuse. I feel sports like athletics are more likely to be clean because they have such stringent procedures therfore catching many of these cheats. Unfortunatley this means that the cheating minority get the headlines in the popular press over the honest athletes., but I think it's a price worth paying. you may agree or disagree but that is my opinion and i'm sticking to it.

  • Comment number 32.

    Taffy6270 and bradStan

    Could you actually show me any transcript where Dwain Chambers said that?

    I think you'll find the following was said

    When asked whether a clean athlete was likely to beat one using drugs in an Olympic final, Chambers added: "It's possible, but the person that's taken drugs has to be having a real bad day. That's what I believe."

    At no point did he say you have to be on drugs to win an olympic final/medal but to beat someone on drugs you have to probably be on drugs.

    Pantani made the same statement when he was so juiced up and Armstrong rode away from him on the tour, saying that the only way anyone else could have beaten him was if they were better juiced!.

    It's not really a controversial statement and certainly one that he should have been vilified for as it's most likely true, if you have 2 athletes make an Olympic final then they are at the upper most echelon of their sport because or ability, training, genetics etc, if you were to further enhance one of those athletes would he be more likely to win? Yes, hence why it's cheating. So logic says that an athlete doping would have to have a bad day to get beaten in an Olympic final by a clean athelete of the same or similar ability. What I found most annoying/funny was how all these 'atheletes/Olympiads' completely refuted it, as if it is the case then you might as well let them dope as they wouldn't have an unfair advantage.


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