Tokyo 2020: Immense British talent poised to shine at Olympic trials despite TV coverage clash
Laura Muir is one of Britain’s leading stars in middle-distance running
With Tokyo on the horizon, this weekend’s British Olympic Trials are primed to produce genuine drama.
The stars on Team GB for this summer’s Games will offer a glimpse of their greatness in Manchester over three enthralling days of athletics.
A host of new faces will blossom, while there will also be a number of familiar champions, including Mo Farah, who is chasing the Olympic standard (27:28) in a 10,000m invitational, while also entered for the 5,000m.
There will likely be a variety of tactics implemented across multiple disciplines with only some athletes possessing the coveted standard guaranteed to punch their ticket to Japan with a top-two finish. While a third place will be up for grabs for anybody outside the top two, provided they have already banked the standard.
While the rawness of athletics is guaranteed to deliver storylines, there is sadly an elephant in the room: The ongoing squabble between UK Athletics and the BBC, which has been unwilling to pay a rights fee or seemingly showcase the action on its main channels, instead only floating the prospect of a live stream behind the red button and on its website.
The decision has stoked tension among British athletes, including 200m world champion Dina Asher-Smith, who have been left dismayed at being denied an opportunity to shine on the big stage following a testing year due to the pandemic.
But ultimately this weekend’s action will be the first time this century that no live coverage of the trials is shown on television, though the action can be seen on UK Athletics’ website and YouTube channel.
Still, this is a crying shame given the trials should be entwined with the host broadcaster of the Olympics in order to sow the seeds of some of the most remarkable stories that await us in Tokyo.
The women’s 800m promises both depth in quality and excitement, with training partners Jemma Reekie and Laura Muir, both also entered in the 1,500m, the most established figures.
But rising star and European indoor champion Keely Hodgkinson, 19, will hope to defend her title having ducked under 1:59 in Ostrava in May.
While Alex Bell also looks well-placed to make a run at the team with an eye-catching run of 1:58.52 in Belfast last month.
Keely Hodgkinson is one of Britain’s brightest young talents
Muir’s excellent credentials in the 1,500m all but guarantee her a spot on that team, having pushed world champion Sifan Hassan and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon close in the Florence Diamond League with a time of 3:55.59. Should the Scot instead opt to concentrate on the 800m, then Reekie’s strongest competition is likely to be Katie Snowden, who also has the standard in her pocket.
The men’s 800m is no less compelling and, just like the US Olympic Team Trials after world champion Donavan Brazier suffered a stunning upset, appears primed to steal the show this weekend.
Former British 1,500m champion and World Championship finalist Neil has circled both the men’s and women’s 800m as his events to watch.
“I’m excited for the 800m,” Gourley told The Independent. “I just have no idea how it’s going to go. The 800 I just haven’t got a clue, there are youngsters who can really challenge.
800m runner Daniel Rowden will hope to come through a competitive field in Manchester
“Elliot Giles is usually a lock, Jamie Webb is looking well, but then you have Oliver Dustin who just ran 1:43 with a ridiculous last 200m. I’ve never seen somebody run 1:43 from that far back in a race, if he runs like that, he’s on the team.
“It’s a lot of pressure in major championships. I wouldn’t even like to put a prediction on it. The 800 tends to go lots of different ways, depending on who takes it and when, it’ll be a tactical battle and a really interesting to watch.
“The women’s 800m as well, it’s just as deep as the men’s, that’s a tough team to make. Both 800m teams are looking like the toughest in terms of making the team.
“She [Laura Muir] looks set to race the 800m, I assume to test herself at that distance, it makes sense for her to go up against such a stacked field.”
The men’s race will also have defending champion Daniel Rowden, with Giles producing fireworks back in February in Poland, running 1:43.63 to smash Seb Coe’s long-standing UK indoor record to place second all-time.
Sir Mo Farah makes one last bid to make the plane to Tokyo in the 10,000m invitational on Friday
Webb, also inside Coe’s former mark that day in Torun, bested his rival outdoors by six-hundredths of a second with a 1:44.14 in Chorzow last month. While the mercurial talent of Max Burgin also hit 1:44.14 this season, though the 19-year-old has sadly since pulled out of the trials through injury.
The aforementioned Dustin, 20, who produced a world-leading 1:43.82 in Nice this month, though Rio bronze medallist Clayton Murphy broke that mark to win the US trials this week, appears to have peaked at just the right time too.
Veteran Kyle Langford will also contend, while there is even more young talent bubbling under the surface in the shape of Yusuf Bizimana and Finley McLear, who have made waves in the American collegiate system with Texas and Miami.
The men’s 1,500m can also boast some serious talent, with the trio who eventually qualify sure to be targeting a medal in Tokyo, especially with Timothy Cheruiyot’s involvement for Kenya unclear and Jakob Ingebrigtsen possibly moving up to the 5,000m.
Josh Kerr is the fastest on paper this year after recently breaking an American soil record (3:31.55), though fellow Scot Jake Wightman, fifth at the 2019 World Championships and with a scorching PB of 3:29.47, will be tough to beat.
Beyond Kerr and Wightman, Charlie Grice, a finalist in Rio five years ago, and Jake Heyward also banked the standard in Portland recently with times of 3:33.81 and 3:33.99 respectively.
George Mills celebrates victory in the Men’s 1500m final
Another stacked field is rounded out by Piers Copeland, another who has the standard, and reigning champion George Mills, son of former England international footballer Danny Mills, though Gourley, who contracted Covid-19 earlier this year, has been forced to pull out due to injury.
Should Farah’s late dash to break 27:28 fall short, it would almost certainly signal the end of an era for British athletics. The four-time Olympic champion will double back in one last attempt in the men’s 5,000m, where an intriguing battle awaits with Andrew Butchart and Marc Scott, while NCAA 10,000m champion Patrick Dever, of Tulsa University, is also one to watch.
But if Farah’s time does indeed fizzle out, the 38-year-old will watch on as a formidable collection of British middle and long-distance talents set off for Tokyo.
And should the recent trend of extraordinary performances continue this weekend, then the sport’s governing body and the BBC will only have themselves to blame.
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