For two sun-kissed days in London, the Anniversary Games have provided an oasis in the midst of the desert of despair that still threatens to kick sand in the face of the Olympics when they open in 12 days’ time. At least track and field has purged itself of Russia’s corruption ahead of Rio, but it would be suspending disbelief to imagine that the problem is wholly solved.
However, quality performances – none finer than the 1,500 metres triumph that claimed a British record for Laura Muir – in front of near-packed houses have flashed a timely reminder that athletics can provide pulsating entertainment when not engulfed in a dust cloud of doping and corruption.
Like Usain Bolt less than 24 hours before, Mo Farah threatened to lift the refurbished roof at what will soon become West Ham’s new home by satiating the public’s desire for heroes to stand tall and embrace the stage.
In his final tune-up before he begins his quest to add to the two gold medals acquired in 2012, the local boy done good was barely threatened as he breezed into the distance from the chasing pack.
His 5,000m time of 12:59.29 was enough to put the length of the home straight between him and Andy Butchart who was just shy of his own Scottish record in second place.
Next stop Brazil, with a spring in the champion’s step. “This was my last chance before Rio,” he said. “And this track has so much meaning to me. Not many athletes can do it in their hometown.”
Even fewer achieve greatness on the road. “Training’s going well,” he affirmed. “But you can’t forget, is it harder for me to win first Olympics or is it harder for me to defend? I think it’s harder for me to defend because the rest of the guys have had four years preparation to try to beat me. Anything can happen. They are going to try anything to beat me.”
Butchart’s preparations, carefully cultivated during a month training at altitude in Font Romeu, feel similarly ideal. Over two years, he has yet to hit an upper plateau. Why stop now? “I want to make the final in Rio. I think this race could be something similar to that.”
Lynsey Sharp was taken off the track for treatment due to what officials confirmed was a bang to the knee sustained during a frenetic burst to the line in coming second in the 800m behind British rival Shelayna Oskan-Clarke.
“I am in good form at the moment and felt good,” she said afterwards. “But Shelayna was just stronger in the home straight.” Her fellow Scot Lennie Waite failed even to finish the 3,000m steeplechase, dropping out with three laps left with an apparent ankle problem.
However the British men’s 4x100m relay squad are in the rudest of health. Bolt publically rubbished their Olympic ambitions but the European champions provided the perfect riposte with a world-lead of 37.78 seconds. It was a time that would have earned silver at last year’s world championships. And the disputes and disarray of the past are now done, Adam Gemili insists.
“Hopefully when Rio comes everyone’s running a lot faster and we can go and push that British record and push the other guys in the world to be challenging for gold,” he said.
“We came together and we sat down and said if we get the baton round we’ve got a really good chance of challenging for a medal and we’ve believe we are going to push for a gold medal. We are not there to fill the lane and go behind America and Jamaica. We want to be the best, just like the guys in 2004, it’s possible.”
Elsewhere Katarina Johnson-Thompson affirmed her readiness ahead of her heptathlon quest in Rio by edging out Shara Proctor to win the long jump in a season’s best of 6.84m with Jessica Ennis-Hill toiling in seventh.
“I think I just need to sharpen up now, I’ll go into the heptathlon fresh,” declared the London 2012 gold medallist, who will remain in Europe rather than accompanying the bulk of the British team to their training camp in Belo Horizonte. “I will go and concentrate on the job in hand.”
Matt Hudson-Smith took 400m victory after European champion Martyn Rooney was disqualified for a false start while Dutch star Dafne Schippers won the 200m in 22.13.
Meanwhile, George Evans qualified for today’s discus final at world junior championships in 11th place with a best of 57.88m.