Neil Gourley’s late surge nails down place in British team

Latterly, a Scottish monopoly of the men’s 1,500 metres podium has become something of a tradition at the UK Athletics Championships in Birmingham, as certain as death, taxes and other surefire bets. The only variation has been a shuffling of the faces involved. And as the bulldozers prepare to demolish Alexander Stadium, it was Neil Gourley who flattened his Caledonian cohorts to wrestle the title away.
Thumbs up from Neil Gourley after winning the 1,500m UK title with an assured run in Birmingham. Picture: Steve Bardens/Getty ImagesThumbs up from Neil Gourley after winning the 1,500m UK title with an assured run in Birmingham. Picture: Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Thumbs up from Neil Gourley after winning the 1,500m UK title with an assured run in Birmingham. Picture: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

The 24-year-old Glaswegian has quietly built his reputation in the United States on the collegiate and mile circuit while biding his time to surge forth. As the mad dash off the final bend of yesterday’s final began, he appeared helplessly trapped on the kerb, his path blocked.

Yet his long-time contemporary Josh Kerr moved out just enough to open a priceless gap. “And it was a case of driving and driving and trying not to strain, and thinking about all the people who were willing me on and who’d believed in me all season,” he proclaimed.

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In baking heat, he fired himself up and slipped past Kerr and then Jake Wightman and through the line in 3:48.36, securing his place in the British team for the forthcoming IAAF World Championships in Doha. “My coach isn’t one to believe in luck,” Gourley underlined. “He believes you make your own. But of course, there is an element of fortune in a race like that where there are a huge number of variables. I just had to focus on holding my spot up the home straight and getting over the line.”

Kerr, pictured, 15-hundredths of a second behind, is also bound for his second worlds with high expectations of showcasing his immense talent. Second place sufficed, he shrugged. “I went for it but with the wind down the home straight, it was about holding on. I just had to get on the plane. When Neil came past me, I just thought ‘I’ve got to stay focused here and push as much as possible.’ I’ll have to analyse it. I’m not ecstatic but I’m happy to head to Doha.”

Wightman took third. He must now sweat on a Doha berth which surely comes down to a decision between the European bronze medallist and Charlie Da’Vall Grice, who is top-ranked domestically but, in coming fourth, once more failed to translate that into dominance.

Defending champion Chris O’Hare fled the track disconsolately. Sixth, short again of his prime, he must now regroup for an Olympic year.

Other Scots can begin to make travel plans to the Middle East in five weeks’ time.

Jemma Reekie came second to Sarah McDonald in the women’s 1,500m in 4:23.41. Both will join Laura Muir in the event, providing the European champion declares herself fit after missing these trials.

Likewise, Lynsey Sharp’s summons is safe after she came second in the 800m, 
narrowly losing out in a late duel with Shelayna Oskan-Clarke. Beth Dobbin is also bound for her maiden global event, reaping silver in the women’s 200m in 23.13 secs behind a rejuvenated Jodie Williams.

Some are not quite yet over the line, although Zoey Clark’s third place in the 400m final all but guarantees the Aberdonian a relay run in Doha. Guy Learmonth’s job is exactly half-done. He just missed the 800m title in a photo finish with unheralded Spencer Thomas, with both timed at 1:46.79. Now the Borderer must run the qualifying standard of 1:45.80 by next weekend. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround to get in a race and we’ll take it from there,” he acknowledged.

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Adam Gemili wrestled away the championship record in the men’s 200m final by winning in 20.08 secs ahead of Zharnel Hughes. However the most dominant track contribution of the weekend arguably arrived in the women’s 5,000m where Eilish McColgan was the length of the home straight clear at its conclusion.

The Dundonian, likely to solely pursue this distance in Doha even though she has also qualified for the 10,000m, ran 15:21.48 to earn the UK crown for the first time. “It’s the first year I’ve come to trials in shape with no issues whatsoever,” she said. “So I thought ‘why not make the other girls hurt?’”

Elsewhere, Scottish champion Nick Percy won the discus with a best of 60.57m.