Olympic trials promise to be the most exciting in recent memory
THE Olympic trials this weekend are being talked of as the biggest, toughest, most competititve trials since 1992 at least – and so they should be.
For 99.9 per cent of the athletes taking part, these three days of competition in Birmingham are very, very important. As long as you have the A standard to qualify, if you finish in the first two places you’re in the Great Britain team for the Olympics. Only the handful of world-class athletes who have already made certain of their place are exempt.
That incentive should be enough in any case for every athlete. But the fact that these are home Games has obviously intensified the interest and enthusiasm, and the pressure as well.
In some years, winning your event at the AAAs is an end in itself and, in any year, it remains a significant honour to put on your CV. But this year there’s that added incentive. By winning, or coming second, you are taking a vital step down a path which could lead to an Olympic medal. Get it wrong, and your hopes are gone.
It’s that cut-throat nature of the event that is going to make it so exciting, and hopefully will also translate into success in the Olympic Games themselves. We don’t just want these to be the best trials since before Barcelona 20 years ago, we want to translate that into having the most successful team performance possible.
Our athletes are under pressure to perform, and so they should be. This is one of the great things that Charles van Commenee as head coach has brought to the table. He dares you to compete and takes you out of your comfort zone.
Perhaps it’s a natural tendency for some athletes to shy away from that pressure but our message is that there will be a lot more pressure at the Olympics, so prove to us you can deal with at the trials.
You’re running out of time before the Games anyway, so show us now that you’ve got what it takes.
There are certain events in which the competition will be particularly fierce. For example, the women’s 800 metres, which I think is going to be really fascinating. Scotland’s Lynsey Sharp is up against a few girls such as Jenny Meadows and Marilyn Okoro, who have already got the qualifying time. They’ve all got to go out and race.
In the men’s 1,500m there are three who have the A standard – and four if you count Mo Farah, who is in the event in Birmingham but is going to do the 5,000 and possibly the 10,000 in London. And there are plenty others who don’t yet have a time but are close to it, and could come into the reckoning.
There’s a similar story in the men’s 800m and in the discus where, at the last count, I believe we had five men with a qualifying distance. I can’t remember that happening before. There are four guys with the A standard in the 5,000m, and in the women’s 10,000m there are two with the time and another two or three within touching distance of it. We are getting closer to how the US trials are run, where the first three across the line are selected. It’s a fantastic meeting, the competition is intense, and my own view is that in five or six years’ time we should be strong enough to do the same thing and say the first three, provided they have the qualifying mark, are in.
You could say that would run the risk of losing a few superstars from the team, and that’s true, but you probably gain a lot as well, so it evens itself out. New stars have to come out of somewhere – world and Olympic champions all begin their careers as unknowns – and a lot of American track-and-field greats have first come to prominence at their trials.
It’s a more transparent process that way too. As a competitor, I would prefer to know that, if I fail to make it into the team, it’s because I have fallen on my own sword and not finished in the top three, rather than relying on a bunch of guys in suits to decide who should be selected. Even though I’m one of those guys in suits myself now, I still feel like that.
The US have always said “If you can’t do it at the trials, you can’t do it at the Olympics”, and UK Athletics is now saying something very similar. Certainly, by the end of the weekend, I think we will have a very close indication of how well we’re going to do as a team.
• Back the team and watch 750 of Britain’s best athletes in action at the Aviva 2012 Trials from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 June. Live on BBC 1 from 4.45pm on Saturday 23. For further information visit www.uka.org.uk.
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