Written by Frankie Conway
The culmination of years of sacrifice, dedication and physical upheaval all led to the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, where last weekend the best of Britain’s athletes took to the stage in an attempt to fulfil a long-time ambition and qualify for the London Olympics. Those present for the weekend show piece were royally treated to some first rate athletics. British records were smashed, young stars were born and a couple of old stagers demonstrated that they are not quite ready to surrender to the relentless surge of youthful prowess.
Two of Britain’s best hopes for gold medals in London were each looking to lay down a statement of intent, not just to their British challengers but to their international rivals. Indeed, both Dai Greene and Jessica Ennis were among the most impressive performers during Saturday’s line-up. The Swansea athlete, Greene, showed characteristic composure in cruising to victory in the 400m hurdles. The Welshman is looking to add the one major title that has so far eluded him when he lines up at the Olympics later this summer, having already registered World, European and Commonwealth titles in what has so far been a stellar career.
Ennis also exhibited her star quality in the two events she competed in on the Saturday. Having won the high jump, the Sheffield athlete proved her pedigree in the 100m hurdles. Up against specialist hurdler Tiffany Porter, Ennis was in no mood to bow to any reputations, taking the title in a time of 12.92s, the Olympic A-standard. Ennis’ victory over an athlete that was fourth at last year’s World Championships will no doubt give her further encouragement to compete in the hurdles alongside the heptathlon at the Olympics.
The performance of the Saturday arguably came from the mercurial Christine Ohuruogu in the 400m. Having racked up the coveted set of Olympic, World and Commonwealth titles, the 28-year-old is clearly hungry for more. Ohuruogu stormed to the front of the field, winning comfortably in a time of 51.89s. Like Ohuruogu, Dwain Chambers has been no stranger to controversy during his career. But the Belgrave harrier was able to stave off the challenge of 18-year-old prodigy Adam Gemili (who has clocked 10.08s this year) to win a fascinating 100m final. Chambers’ emotional celebration gave a strong insight into what last weekend’s victory meant to the Londoner. Although he narrowly missed out on securing the A-standard time, Chambers will in all probability join his younger compatriot at the Games.
Sunday’s action will be forever remembered for some captivating theatre in the field events, as two British records were broken. The first of those came in the women’s long jump, where Shara Proctor set a new national leading mark of 6.95m, erasing Bev Kinch’s 29-year-old record. Not to be outdone, 20-year-old talent Holly Bleasdale extended her own national leading mark to 4.71m. On a magical Sunday in Birmingham, Bleasdale’s day took a remarkable turn after she had been staring an early exit in the face having failed to clear her first two heights at 4.4m. But the Lancashire athlete showed true tenacity in arresting the crisis to win her first national title in fine style.
The day’s drama went far beyond the record breaking duo however. In fact, the final day of the trials had a bit of everything. Notably, a number of youngsters surged to prominence, recording victories over some more experienced contenders. One such athlete was Eilish Mccolgan. Daughter of 1991 10,000m champion Liz, the 21-year-old crushed a high class field in the 3000m steeple chase. After staying in the lead pack for most of the race, Mccolgan really let loose on the final lap, winning by 30m. Another athlete who has grown in stature over the past year is BUCS 110m hurdles champion Andrew Pozzi. The 2012 world indoor finalist thwarted reigning European champion Andy Turner and British number one Lawrence Clarke to add to his ever growing collection of medals. The middle distance events saw another pair of up-and-coming stars strut their stuff in front of a packed Birmingham crowd. Andrew Osagie is undoubtedly an Olympic medal contender and the 24-year-old looked serene in dispatching a quality field to take the 800m title. 20-year-old Laura Weightman also impressed in the women’s 1500m. Coached by ex-1500m world champion Steve Cram, Weightman decimated the field to land a place at her maiden Olympics.
But the championships were not all about the youth. Jo Pavey, 37, showed that the 30-plusses are still making a splash in British athletics. The three-time Olympian used her characteristic endurance to outlast the field in the 5000m, winning in a time of 15.54. Two of the more dramatic races of the day came in the one-lap variety. The first of those saw Perri Shakes-Drayton pip Eilidh Child to the 400m hurdles title, shortly followed by another epic contest, where Martyn Rooney edged Conrad Williams to land his fourth national 400m title.
After a quite thrilling weekend of athletics, the selectors must now get together to pick the Olympics team, drawing on times over the season as well as the results of the trials. One thing seems sure though, Britain’s athletes are primed and ready to make their mark in the most historic event of their lives - the London Olympics. Bring it on!
Athletes who secured their Olympic places at the trials:
100m: Adam Gemili
110m hurdles: Andrew Pozzi, Lawrence Clarke
200m: James Ellington, Christian Malcolm.
400m: Martyn Rooney, Conrad Williams
400m hurdles: Dai Greene, Jack Green
800m: Andrew Osagie
1500m: Andrew Baddeley, Ross Murray
5000m: Nick Mccormick
Pole Vault: Steven Lewis
Long jump: Greg Rutherford
High Jump: Robbie Grabarz
Discus: Lawrence Okoye
100m hurdles: Jessica Ennis, Tiffany Porter
200m: Margaret Adeoye, Anyika Onoura
400m: Christine Ohuruogu, Shana Cox
1500m: Laura Weightman
3000m steeple chase: Eilish Mccolgan
5000m: Jo Pavey
Long jump: Shara Proctor
Javelin: Goldie Sayers
Pole Vault: Holly Bleasdale, Kate Dennison
Hammer throw: Sophie Hitchon