16 Feb Brits vying for performances and European berths in Birmingham
The final stage of the run-in to the qualification deadline has arrived in the shape of the British Athletics Grand Prix and a host of British athletes will be turning up in the arena of the NIA in Birmingham looking either for late places up for grabs or strong performances as concerns the British team bound to Gothenburg early next month, or a good sharpener in the case of Mo Farah come to that.
Thirteen athletes have punched their tickets and at least a further five or six should be considered certain to be called up on the plane to Sweden when the British selectors meet on Monday to afford a final shape to the team.
So let’s take a snapshot into the events of the British winter showpiece of athletics and how affairs are shaping up therein.
Everything is effectively settled as regards the three individual places on offer as Eilidh Child and Shana Cox secured automatic spots at the UK Trials up in Sheffield while Perri Shakes-Drayton is bound to be selected on current form, so they will be all setting their minds on some fast times to set up nicely in the battle for European silverware and top six places.
Child is coming on the back of a superb brace of a 52.06 (PB) and 52.13 secs races in style last weekend, looking poised for her first trip inside 52 secs, but so does Shakes-Drayton having run the latter mark (iPB) on her only outing so far over the distance in Glasgow, holding a 1-0 lead over the Scot in between them contests this season.
Yet, this encounter is staged on a substantially different footing as they could fight neck-and-neck all the way to the wire for the right to the British summit while at the same time they will be facing a stern opposition by in-form Americans Natasha Hastings, who conquered them both in Glasgow, and Ebony Floyd, fourth and second in the world rankings.
Cox, badly drawn on the inside lane, will be seeking to better her SB of 52.97 and there is also vivid interest as concerns the three places left open in the relay, with Christine Ohuruogu having expressed her interest and most likely to be picked.
The other two are certain to be decided out of the national 400m race that opens up the programme and Meghan Beesley looks close on her recent PB of 52.80 secs and third spot at the Trials where Laura Wake has got a solid case herself on a big PB of 53.26 and fourth right behind, yet may have to face a demanding challenge in the face of stepping-up Margaret Adeoye for that purpose.
Nigel Levine and Richard Strachan have both ensured of their places as they came one-two in Sheffield and will be looking for some serious markers in the 45 secs and top scalps against two Olympic medallists from London on show, Luguelin Santos (DOM) and Lalonde Gordon (TRI). On current form, though, the Trinidadian looks like the man to beat.
With Michael Bingham and Conrad Williams out of the game, the third spot is going to come between three in the ‘national’ edition, namely Richard Buck, Jack Green and Luke Lennon-Ford, in an anticipated fascinating battle of swift pace.
As things look, however, Buck should have an edge having run twice in the 46 secs region and looking capable of even dipping inside that marker whereas Green comes in as a relative unknown quantity off a slight shoulder-injury lay-off and Lennon-Ford has yet to break inside 47 secs – yet all three ought to be named in the relay.
It’s intriguing to see where the sixth is going to come from – a vote of confidence for missing Williams or someone like Rory Evans (47.38) or Michael Warner (47.42)?
Women’s Pole Vault
No selection worries whatsoever for world-leader Holly Bleasdale (4.77m) who will get stuck into gaining revenge over Cuban Yarisley Silva following her first defeat of the season midweek in France as well as hopefully pushing her top-ranking mark higher into the 4.80s.
Sally Peake had a poor UK Trials last week but has still got an outside chance of sneaking a late qualifier while up-and-coming Katie Byres and Lucy Bryan will be aiming in the 4.30s.
Shara Proctor has yet to click into gear on the runway but a recent PB of 7.49 secs over the dash recommends that this could be subject to change, presented with a good chance of a return to winning ways over a not particularly strong field.
All things equal, she should be selected on the team where surprise new UK champion Dominique Blaize will be hoping for a PB on her recent string of outings.
UK champion James Dasaolu (6.58) has opted out of the meeting to concentrate on his preparations and certain-to-be-selected Dwain Chambers can turn his sights solely on winning a mighty affair on his hands against the likes of Lerone Clarke (JAM), Mike Rodgers (USA), Nesta Carter (JAM) and evergreen Kim Collins (SKN), with an eye on a low 6.5 secs timing.
Harry Aikines-Ayreety has also secured his berth but hasn’t been near his sharpest yet and that might weigh in his mind if there is no turn of situation. Sean Safo-Antwi (6.61), Rion Pierre (6.63) and Greg Cackett (6.65) are those with a fair chance of a qualifying time should an opening come up.
Women’s 60m hurdles
Tiffany Porter is with one foot on the plane to Gothenburg and will be eyeing to go one better than her runner-up place as well as moving up a gear on her 7.99 secs in her season debut in Boston, with Christina Manning and experienced Danielle Carruthers her main opponents.
Irish Derval O’Rourke will be there too and burgeoning multi-event prospect Katarina Johnson-Thompson gets an excellent chance of drawing further top level senior experience and hopefully a considerable PB over the sticks to the good out in lane eight.
Asha Philip struck sensational impressions blasting to a thorough UK title in a superb PB of 7.15 secs so will be out to test her strength and sheer speed against global sprint heavyweights Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM) and Carmelita Jeter (USA), arguably the top two sprinters of the last five-six years.
The real favourite, however, has got to be an invincible this winter Myrielle Ahoure coming off the back of a striking string of displays in the 7.0 region.
Annabelle Lewis needs desperately to shave at least a hundredth off her recent PB of 7.31 secs to make her runner-up spot at the UK Trials count where Montell Douglas bounced back to erase her six-year-old PB into 7.25 secs and gain an edge out of nowhere in the scrap for the two remaining spots.
Hayley Jones (7.31, PB) can hope provided she betters her time but the standard of 7.30 could be a bridge too far for more strength-based Anyika Onuora.
Chris Warburton, holding a qualifier of 3:41.62, had a disastrous disqualification in the heats in Sheffield last weekend but could get back on track as long as he can pull a time inside the standard (3:42.00) off the anticipated sizzling pace up front between the likes of Abdelaati Iguider (MAR), Bethwell Birgen (KEN), Mekonnen Gebremehdin and Teshome Dirirsa (ETH).
Sensational U20 Matt McLaughlin will be raring to put the disappointment of Sheffield behind him and carry his recent UK U20 record (3:42.87) into qualifying territory, earning a senior cap in the process, while U23 Charlie Grice looks likely to follow through, with an indoor PB of 3:44.37 recently.
Men’s 60m hurdles
Andy Pozzi has pulled out but he should have done enough to warrant a berth on the merits of his showings so far whereas his training partner Lawrence Clarke, fourth in London over 110m hurdles, is coming in the other way round for his first race this winter with somewhat unknown intentions yet.
Whatever the case, both he and UK champion Gianni Frankis need to slice off at least two hundredths of a second of their identical PB of 7.67 secs to make the cut, the latter this term, whilst returning Allan Scott might fancy his own chances too (7.73 SB).
The powerful American duo of Omo Osaghae and Kevin Craddock along with Cuban Orlando Ortega and Russian Sergey Shubenkov promise a cutthroat battle royal over the sticks.
Men’s High Jump
Robbie Grabarz nearly touched a mighty would-be UK record of 2.39m last weekend so will be buzzing with confidence heading into a massive clash against Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov and fellow Russian Aleksey Dmitrik, with records on the line.
Selection is in the bag so there won’t be any such distractions on the mind of the bronze Olympic medallist. On the other hand, Tom Parsons and Samson Oni haven’t come within shouting distance of the 2.29m qualifier anywhere this term and they will struggle to make the team.
Young Allan Smith showed he is capable of heights around 2.25m last time out and this could be the perfect place for him to pull it off.
Laura Muir is skipping the event, earning an outright berth last weekend, and Hannah England returns to the racing fold holding a qualifying time from summer (4:04.05) so ought to be drafted in as long as the Europeans tie in with her plans.
It will be interesting to see what the impact of surprise 800m winner Claire Tarplee (IRL) is going to be while U23 revelations Rosie Clarke (4:17.09) and Melissa Courtney (4:17.57) will attempt a crack at the 4:14.00 barrier.
World indoor champion Yamile Aldama clinched her slot on the team in Sheffield but her recent form has not been up to the mark and will need something more convincing, especially going out in the face of Olha Saladuha at that.
Sineade Gutzmore has been very consistent and this is a rare opportunity of such level competition that could drag her further than her recent equal total PB of 13.30m.
The event hosts the return to track racing of European champion Helen Clitherow after nearly a year of ‘exile’ but will form an unknown quantity on that aspect, as well as building up for a marathon debut in London come April.
Lauren Howarth streaked off to a striking runaway British title in a huge PB of 8:56.48 and is going out seeking that precious qualifying time while Emily Stewart (9:08.47 iPB), sensational Jessica Judd (9:14.71 iPB) and season debutant Eilish McColgan, enjoying her best training ever, are eyeing times near the 9 minutes barrier at least.
This has the makings of a cracker in every aspect of the race and Andie Osagie, certain to earn a call-up, is squaring off against Abubaker Kaki (SUD) looking for a major scalp and a first foray inside 1:46 on the boards.
Joe Thomas and Mukhtar Mohammed both looked in fabulous shape as they engaged in a breathtaking tussle that went all the way to the line and a photofinish verdict in Sheffield, with nothing to spare between them in an identical 1:48.55, so should normally pick up that missing qualifying time with aplomb.
Guy Learmonth and Mike Rimmer both own a qualifier on 1:47.94 indoors and 1:44.86 from the summer respectively but need a combination of results to sneak into the team and their fate is out of their hands.
Along similar lines with Clitheroe, Jenny Meadows mounts her long anticipated return to competition and will be a dark horse with no form book to her name since 2011, yet a qualifying time of 2:03.50 should normally fall fairly easily within her stride.
European silver medallist Lynsey Sharp is also involved and should meet the standard as well, although it remains to be seen what her intentions over the Europeans are, while surprise UK indoor champion Alison Leonard came close in 2:03.88 last weekend and will fancy her own chances.
Russian Ekaterina Poistogova, third in London, is the reasonable favourite going into the affair.
The peak and curtain-drawer of the meeting is reserved for great Mo Farah as he is looking for a good sharpener and a winning start to his season before tackling an all-important in his build-up half-marathon eight days on, with none looking particularly capable of posing real questions on him.
The double Olympic champion is not defending his European indoor title in Gothenburg and Andy Baddeley is missing the action for a second straight weekend so it remains to be seen whether someone from behind can come through and snatch a qualifier, with Lee Emanuel standing on solid ground on his recent 7:52.42 in the States.
David Bishop, the new UK indoor champion, might have an outside chance of bringing it off as well.