A mixed bag of goods

If the London Grand Prix was supposed to clear up certain selection issues and provide a thorough form guide of the British team a few weeks before the World Championships commence in Daegu, one could hardly argue there much was done towards this end. The end of the second day left more of a bitter taste to the lips of the many Londoners who packed the stands round the arena at Crystal Palace, unaware of the unrest brewing in the streets of London in the backdrop, despite a rich menu of tasty performances arrayed by a wealth of international stars on show.

The truth is that the timing of the meeting may have not tied in with the graph of the form of many British athletes, coming in off the back of a very demanding three days at the UK Trials in Birmingham, leading to an extensive number of below par performances that may have blurred the overall picture and drawn a few too many pessimistic responses. The low return of either A or B qualifying standards among athletes still in pursuit of qualification along with the sight of a struggling Chris Thompson, a cutting edge-short Jemma Simpson and a dropping out Charlene Thomas overlaid a coat of disappointment for good measure.

In fairness, head coach Charles van Commennee might need to overhaul the season’s planning at this crucial late stage if he wants to draw the best possible team for the Olympics in London next year, the landmark that looms in the distance as the potential pinnacle of his career. Might that be that a two week span between the Trials and the selection deadline serves his aims to better advantage? After all, athletes will have more time to recover between and definitely two-three competitions on hand to meet standards rather than rush themselves back into action with very much a sole chance at their disposal.

That said, organisers were found wanting as concerns facilitating British athletes from certain quarters, who could be essential to the British team, in their cause at this make or break point. Why wasn’t there a B string 400m race for women that forced Nicola Sanders and Kelly Sotherton to travel all the way to Belgium to get a race, or why both women’s 800m races were paced by the same pacemaker (Tara Bird) – that was no BMC meeting, that was a Diamond League affair! Come to that, with Brit milers still in quest for qualifying times why wasn’t laid on a separate 1500m race and were forced to run in the mile?

On the upside

If van Commennee was looking for two-three further genuine medal contenders to bolster up his claim on silverware in Daegu, then he must have definitely identified two of them in the women’s middle distances and particularly a couple that mounted the podium last time round in Berlin; Jenny Meadows and Lisa Dobriskey.

Meadows delivered an impeccable and stellar performance, asserting herself superbly and timing her moves to perfection, to inflict an effective first defeat on a rampant Kenia Sinclair (JAM) with aplomb in a big UK-leading and SB of 1:58.60, raising her own medal stakes and gaining a sound confidence boost ahead of Daegu. Actually, the Jamaican may have ‘overcooked’ things a bit as she poured round the track at a furious pace that even saw her pushing pacemaker Tara Bird, going past the bell in a suicidal 56.61 secs, to pay the price as she was found short of any response when the Brit surged past round the top bend and away to a comprehensive victory. All the same, that takes nothing away from the quality of Meadows’s run,  who never rushed into anything unnecessary and held a firm hold on the race through. Versatile and tactically astute, as well as strong finisher, she served up a serious warning around and everyone must have paid heed on Friday.

There was further glow around as Marilyn ‘Maz’ Okoro showed as though returning as the force of old to edge inside 2 mins for the first time since 2009 in a big SB of 1:59.85 for fourth, surviving a hazardrous ride on the heels of Sinclair, and rising star Emma Jackson sneaked under the same landmark in 1:59.97 a place behind for an inaugural trip in this elite region of the event. Mixed, though, with some disappointment as both narrowly missed out on the tough A standard but that wasn’t to last long as a determined Okoro displayed remarkable physical and mental strength to return and run an even faster lone 1:59.53 less than 24 hours later at Lee Valley and settle matters for good as concerns selection.

This is a very strong trio heading to Daegu and I sense that Okoro could do real damage as she is well capable of moving up a gear or two with three more weeks of training in her, having also improved substantially as a championship performer, while Jackson is going to carry a considerably different outlook now she has knocked that initial “2” off her PB, with a powerful finish likely to stand her in good stead.

For Jemma Simpson, nevertheless, this race came a little too early and she will be missing a major championships for the first time in five years. She ran a good race but the edge wasn’t there in her legs to challenge in the end, coming marginally shy of her SB in 2:00.69. Hopefully, she can take things from here and build up into some fast times to end the season on a promising note. Lyndsay Sharp, the European U23 bronze medalist couldn’t quite mix it in the battle for qualifying places but that was a good learning curve for her, coming home last but one in 2:02.73.

Lisa Dobriskey displayed once again how well she masters the art of raising her game swiftly when it matters, looking an even better racer tactically on top of that, as she turned round her defeat at the UK Trials into a convincing win over a flowing Hannah England in the 1500m in a fast 4:04.97 to the UK champion’s 4:05.38 and she will be flying over to the Far East brimming with confidence and pace. Some may have been quick to assert that it was a rather tailormade line-up for her but they should also take good note of England’s superb form at the moment, as well as some useful American names like Shannon Rowbury or Erin Donohue behind them, to draw a measure of Lisa’s sharp upturn over the last few weeks. Both British girls can fit in with virtually every sort of race or pace while they are strong finishers likewise to suggest serious medal contenders.

On a disappointing note, Charlene Thomas could not win her battle against time and fitness to form a formidable trio for Britain at the Worlds, dropped out through the race, while U23 Stacey Smith came well behind in seventh in 4:10.80 and will have to make do with the World Student Games in China instead.

Perri Shakes-Drayton comes through strong to grab a superb third in a SB of 54.62 secs

A third prospect that ticks all the boxes is undoubtedly Perri Shakes-Drayton, poised on the edge of a breakthrough into the 53 secs territory for some time now, who looked hardly any affected by a demanding three days that saw her accomplish a unique flat/hurdle 400m double at the UK Trials days earlier. There was no answer to Kaliese Spencer‘s overwhelming performance to demolish a world-class field in 52.79 secs, a global-leading mark and equal 9th all-time, but the way Perri asserted herself in the race and built up round the top bend to set up a storming last hundred past Zuzana Hejnova (CZE) at the end demonstrated that something big lies in the shaping, setting a SB of 54.62 secs.

Eilidh Child tried as she could running blind on the outside to come a solid sixth in 55.76 secs, on a very consistent patch lately. She shows due a leap to the next tier herself anytime but missing the A standard meant that European U23 bronze medalist Meghan Beesley would not make a full quota of British lap-hurdlers to Daegu.

The men’s 3000m effectively assumed the semblance of training turn-of-pace practice for an overwhelming Mo Farah who had the simple task of pulling away from 1500m speciallist Simeon Gathiba (KEN) to notch up a comfortable win by over four seconds in 7:40.15, covering the last kilometre in a sizzling 2:29.85. That could prove particularly useful if it comes to a late burn-up against the likes of Bernard Lagat over 5000m in Daegu. Disappointingly enough, the only man who could offer some competition, Kenyan Mark Kosgei Kiptoo (SB 12:59.91), faded badly towards the deep end of the field.

Chris Tomlinson leaps to a slightly windy 8.30m (2.2m/sec) (slow motion)

The long jump duo of Chris Tomlinson and Greg Rutherford extended further their good and consistent run of form to occupy second and third place behind an outstanding Mitchell Watt (AUS), who powered out to a comprehensive second-round winner of 8.45m (1.4m/sec) and had also a huge foul to confirm that he will be the man to beat at the peak of the season. Rutherford opened up with a solid 8.19m (0.8m/sec) to take a brief lead but it was Tomlinson again that gained the edge on a second-attempt 8.23m (1.1m/sec) before he stretched that to a slightly windy 8.30m (2.2m/sec) in the fourth to make it 2-0 on the domestic front. Incidentally, they filled the same places in the same order in Paris early last month where the latter landed at a new UK record of 8.35m.

Olympic champion Irving Saladino was fourth with 8.14m (0.5m/sec) and Godfrey Khotso Mokoena (RSA) sixth at 7.93m (1.5m/sec) to reflect the depth of a field that suffered the late withdrawal of reigning world champion Dwight Phillips (USA), where new UK champion Julian Reid could not follow up on a solid display in Birmingham to wind up seventh with 7.84m (0.7m/sec).

Helen Clitheroe may have had to endure a nervous lead-up to a make or break women’s 5000m, her season on the line, but her perseverance and commitment paid off handsomely as she rode on the winning end to a massive PB of 15:06.75 and clinch her place for Daegu in style, slashing well over 22 secs off her previous best. American Lauren Fleshman was rather a surprise victor in 15:00.57 (SB) ahead of the rejuvenated European Indoor 3000m champion who collected some excellent scalps in Jessica Augusto (POR), Grace Momanyi (KEN) and Jennifer Rhines (USA). Onto the big stage now!

While a serious stepping stone to the build-up of most athletes, Crystal Palace served as the curtain-drawer on the season of sensational double European sprint champion Jodie Williams who came out of her senior international ‘self-exile’ to make her Diamond League debut. Despite whatever claims, the 17-year-old looked again well at home and competitive at such a level and was only defeated by a considerable headwind of -1.1m/sec in her quest of Kathy Smallwood‘s long-lasting UK U20 record, crossing the line in seventh in a classy 22.95. Bianca Knight was a convincing winner up front in 22.69 secs but everyone else was lying within a tenth of a second or thereabouts of Jodie, including US champion Shalonda Solomon, so that was a good day’s job out and out.

Tiffany Offili-Porter turned in another convincing display on the trot to occupy third in 12.78 secs (-0.4m/sec) well behind a dominant of late Sally Pearson (AUS), who emerges as a firm favourite for the global title at this rate, whilst Goldie Sayers ended up a solid third on a last-ditch 63.41m behind the big duo of Christina Obergfoll and Barbora Spotakova who claimed the top two spots at 66.74 and 66.41m respectively, the German turning on top this time round. Both Brits look like reasonable medal bets for Daegu and one has got to mention the substantial tranformation of Sayers who has displayed a well-improved endurance through her series peaking in the last two attempts in all her competitions this season.

On the downside…

I wouldn’t necessarily read anything into Phillips Idowu‘s third place with a below-par 17.07m (0.8m/sec) apart from a one-off bad result on the road. True, young American Christian Taylor looks to emerge as a major force on the global scene, brimming with speed and strength as his early season 45.46 secs over 400m suggests, but it may be at least a season too early for him to challenge for the top despite an equal third ranking in the world with that winning 17.68m PB (1.3m/sec). He hasn’t anywhere near settled in that region yet although he should be a serious medal contender.

Philllips has opted to return to the drawboard and put in some good mid summer training to sustain his final push for a second global title at the peak of the season so he was going to turn up short and more subject to defeat than is usual.He knows that he has got the big jumps in him and didn’t look the least affected by that defeat – it was just that it sort of came to compound an overall disappointing second day by the Brits on show. As long as he remains healthy, he is going to be the man to beat in Daegu and he has shown that he knows to raise his game to dizzy heights when it really matters.

The same cannot be said over Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu who was left for dead by the opposition in the women’s 400m and looks as though she has got a mountain to climb to arrive really competitive in Daegu in a few weeks time. Nevertheless, she isn’t quite in such bad state as that since her strength was still there to pull her round the second 200m, which wasn’t bad in proportion. It was the speed that was missing and I speculate that she may have dropped back to make up some lost training, thus risking a below par outing. She was looking much sharper in either Barcelona or Birmingham as some sort of evidence to this reasoning. But, realistically, her best shot in Daegu should be a top eight spot which will lay a solid platform for the defence of her Olympic title next summer.

Funnily enough, it’s Lee McConnell that may look slightly the most likely out of the three Brits to sneak a final place in Korea as she ran her fastest time for a long while in a big SB of 51.01 secs to clinch her place on the British team, from the outside lane at that. On the strength of that run, her long-standing PB of 50.82 secs could be shaking. Further, she opened the way to Nicola Sanders who grabbed that much-needed second B of 51.84 secs in Belgium, in not the best of conditions, and snatch a last-gasp individual berth of her own. She has followed up in a winning 51.92 secs in very windy conditions in Germany and with some good speedwork falling in in the run-in to Daegu she could hope of returning into the 50 secs region.

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The Golden Mile at Crystal Palace in 1980 featuring Steve Ovett, John Walker, Filbert Bayi, Steve Scott and a very young Steve Cram

IAAF Reports

Day I

http://www.iaaf.org/competitions/dlm/news/newsid=61065.html

Day II

http://www.iaaf.org/competitions/dlm/news/newsid=61072.html

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Full Results

http://www.diamondleague-london.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/

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Leading up to the London GP

Martyn Rooney has drawn lane eight in the main race of the 400m tomorrow at a time that he is chasing the A qualifying standard and other Brits are leaning on the result to hopefully get one or two more individual places. How helpful really! And there is more as Michael Bingham has got lane two in the all-British B race! I’m really starting to question the judgement and reasoning in certain cases of some people in charge of the meeting.

Great Eliz McColgan will be forced to miss the Legends relay, specially arranged on Saturday, as well as her daughter’s Eilish efforts to attain that much needed second B standard in the steeplechase over personal matters. A shame that we won’t have the chance to watch her again on the track after many years, even if it was to be in a sprint relay.

Well, what about that? Charlene Thomas is back on the women’s 1500m starting-lists meaning that the battle for that much coveted third place is on again!

None of the original trio of Brits lined up in the men’s 400m hurdles have left as Nathan Woodward has also opted to pull out through illness and European silver medalist Rhys Williams gets a chance to apply some gloss to a modest season of his so far. In the triple jump, Julian Reid comes in to join the field.

Following Laura Turner, re-established top lady of British sprints Jeanette Kwakye has also pulled out of the 100m at Crystal Palace as she wishes to focus on her build-up to the World Championships in Daegu.

Mike Rimmer has withdrawn from the men’s 800m, I presume in order to put in some more training since through a prolonged rocky patch since May, without any home replacement to have come in the other way round.

U23 James Wilkinson and Mark Draper have earned two additional places for the Brits in the men’s 3000m steeplechase so there rises a good chance for the event to really get going this season and hopefully gain a solid footing in the low 8:30s.

Stevie Stockton comes in for scratched Charlene Thomas, along with Abbey McGhee and Tara Bird seems to have been promoted to the A 800m race as a pacemaker.

Charlene Thomas has withdrawn from the women’s 1500m leaving the field open to Stacey Smith and her fate totally at the discretion of the selectors, apparently losing her race against time to reach Saturday fully fit. Now, that is another real selection headache coming up.

UK Trials third-placed Laura Turner has scratched and in her place comes on UK record holder Montell Douglas in the women’s 100m on Saturday. I don’t think there is any problem with Laura but a decision along similar lines with Dai Greene and Jack Green.

European and Commonwealth champion Dai Greene and European U23 champion Jack Green, both under the hurdles ‘Guru’ Malcolm Arnold, have withdrawn from the men’s 400m hurdles where UK Trials runner-up and UK U20 record holder Richard Davenport comes in the other way round. There are no injury or other setback worries whatsoever as both have simply decided to focus on their preparations for the World Championships in Daegu and opted out of the race.

Muchtar Mohammed (U23) has instantly gained a place in the men’s 800m following his breakthrough of 1:45.90 tonight in Karlstad, Sweden.

Former European U20 champion and UK Trials runner-up Chris Clarke has joined the B race of the men’s 400m along with European U23 bronze medalist Luke Lennon-Ford.

James Walsh, who won the 10000m British title last Friday, has been added to a field that keeps building up over a late slotted-in 5000m. There is rumour that great Kenenisa Bekele could make a long-awaited comeback on the track at the meeting and I suspect that he would pick this distance rather than take on Mo Farah straight on.

World U20 silver medalist Laura Samuel has earned a priceless place to make a last-ditch bid for a place for Daegu in the women’s triple jump.

The On Camp With Kelly 800m involves European U20 silver medalist Rowena Cole, Tara Bird, Charlotte Best and veteran Karen Harewood.

Jonny Hay and Richard Goodman headline the U20 men’s 3000m.

Double European U20 champion Jodie Williams comes out of her senior international  ‘self-exile’ to contest a quality 200m race against the likes of US champion Shalonda Solomon (22.15 PB) and Bianca Knight (22.35). Her sights will be also set on getting hold of Kathy Smallwood-Cook‘s long-standing UK U20 record of 22.70 secs since 1970, considerably slowed down by a strong headwind (-1.5m/sec) when winning in 22.94 secs at the recent European U20 Champs.

Rob Tobin seems to have withdrawn from the B all-British 400m laid on to provide contenders for either individual or relay places on the British team with a last chance to make their case. The 27-year-old pulled up during the final at the UK Trials on Sunday so he has apparently met with some setback.

Incidentally, surprise UK Trials runner-up Chris Clarke still doesn’t appear in any start-lists at the moment where Martyn Rooney is the only one to have earned a lane in the main DL race.

Andy Baddeley and Nick McCormick have joined new UK champion James Shane and European U20 champion Adam Cotton in the Emsley Car Mile on Saturday. There will be much at stake as Shane will be looking for an A qualifier to nail his place, or at least a B, Baddeley may need to grind out an A to boost his bid and McCormick will be hoping that a second B will open the way for him as well.

Chris Thompson has switched to a late-inserted 5000m race in a bid to gain the A standard over the distance for Daegu, having initially entered the 3000m. Andy Vernon and Ryan McLeod, the son of former Olympic 10000m silver medalist Mike, have joined him there.

Nicola Sanders doesn’t seem like getting a lane in the women’s 400m and may have to see her fortunes abroad to get that much needed second B standard and hopefully make the team.

Among the most eagerly awaited run-offs for places on the British team will be that of Charlene Thomas, making her return to action for the first time since winning at the European Team Champs, against U23 Stacey Smith in the women’s 1500m. Others involve Marlon Devonish vs MLF in the 100m, Lawrence Okoye vs Brett Morse in the discus, and Lawrence Clarke vs William Sharman vs Gianni Frankis in the 110m hurdles.