As the great adventure is ever drawing near its climax, the London Olympics next month, the demanding long haul of qualification for the British team comes to the crunch and the UK Olympic Trials mark an anticipated pulsating and tense last stage, played out before a full house at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham.

Like in the old ways, the Gathering summons all qualified contenders around the land to joust for the right to represent the country in the Midland arena over the following three days that will have dreams fulfilled and rewarded but even more end up shattered and scattered like ash to the winds.

Both or any of the top two markers in each event can gain automatic berths as long as they hold a ‘current’ A standard, namely set from 1 April onwards, or the equivalent of an A standard (posted as of 1 May 2011) on top of a top eight finish at the World Championships in Daegu last summer; whilst those still in with a shout for remaining vacancies will embark on a relentless late pursuing for places or/and standards either mainly at the Europeans in Helsinki or to a lesser extent at one-off meetings around as far as the selection deadline of July 1.

Stars like Jessica Ennis, on a trademark multi-stage assignment over the weekend, Mo Farah, stepping down a distance to polish up his speed over 1500m, Phillips Idowu, nursing a slight injury recently, Dai Greene and Christine Ohuruogu will illuminate the affair where rising major forces of the like of Robbie Grabbarz, Greg Rutherford, Lawrence Okoye and Holly Bleasdale will be eyeing to apply their own glowing touch to the championship-scape.

It has been a journey brimming with excitement, anticipation and thrilling displays but at the same time nowhere near short of casualties along the line. The season has defeated indoor revelation Joe Thomas (800m), Commonwealth champion Leon Baptiste (200m) and former European indoor medallist Craig Pickering (100m), past Olympic medallists Kelly Sotherton (heptathlon) and Tasha Danvers (400m hurdles) were forced to retirement and the likes of Andy Vernon (5000 & 10000m), Nathan Douglas (triple jump) and Tom Farrell (5000m) were left with no timely way back due to late injuries.

Yet, no matter what the outcome, it has definitely been worth going the distance and everyone can take pride in what one has achieved or how far has reached. But for now, it is time to turn our attention and take a look at what could be in store as well as how the outlook of events is shaping up in what promises to be three days of stirring action at the ‘Brum’.

Alexander Stadium

MEN

100m

Just as the domestic dash scene uncharacteristically lacked fire, a New Hope burst through to prominence out of virtually nowhere in the shape of burgeoning teenager Adam Gemili to reignite the British challenge in the face of the mighty sprint empires of Jamaica and the States ahead of the massive showdown on the floodlit stage of London, very much like a Luke Skywalker out of the planet of the twin suns (the name Gemili carrying a sense of ‘twin’ too).

The 18-year-old prodigy set up shockwaves around the globe when he powered through to a sizzling 10.08 (0.8m/sec) in winning the 100m final in Resenburg at the outset of the month, having set an earlier huge PB of 10.11 (1.2m/sec) in the heats, to announce his arrival in the thick of affairs in the sprinting world in so far as even mighty Usain Bolt came out to laud his talent and prospects.

In fact, had a ‘flyer’ been recalled from the outside lanes that left him in his blocks he might have likely threatened the world U20 record of 10.01, co-held by Darrell Brown (TRI) and Jeff Demps (USA), nevertheless the composure and confidence he showed to reel the field in and come through strong for a commanding victory revealed a substantially wider range of qualities.

For that matter, fortune may have reserved that privilege for the British audiences as he could become the first ever U20 in history to draw inside 10 secs, break Dwain Chambers‘s UK U20 landmark of 10.06 in the process and mount the top of the podium at the British Trials all into one this weekend – weather permitting of course, so may the force be with him.

That said, Chambers is not quite done yet and he could turn up a totally different proposition on the track of Alexander Stadium than he has been so far this term. He is a top class competitor that is not easily fazed by times or names around him, knows how to raise his game sharply when it matters and his form is in effect considerably better than his times suggest (10.29 SB), mostly set in non-favourable conditions.

A much different route through a lengthy hard training spell in Jamaica in spring may have also taken some time to bed in and been intended towards a later peak into the season that falls in with the Olympics in London, so anyone had better wait until the rounds of the men’s 100m start reeling out before rushing to any verdict. After all, none becomes a bad sprinter overnight.

The dark horse of the affair looks likely to be James Dasaolu, a man that has shown to possess loads of speed in his legs (PB 10.09) but been reduced to curtailed seasons out of injuries in recent times. Yet, this once he is arriving at the Trials in one piece having raced sensibly and sparingly in the build-up, he is unbeaten across all three races of his – save a disqualification in Geneva – peaking in an Olympic A qualifier of 10.18 in France and is well-known for his ability to slip swiftly through the gears.

Former UK champion Simeon Williamson has conjured up some absolute stormers coming from way behind time and again in the past so has he still got the magic to make things happen and break into contention for a place? He is certainly none to write off easily no matter what his form book may display; on the other hand, Richard Kilty was looking on the verge of a major breakthrough (10.23 PB) before injury knocked him off his stride so will be a fairly unknown quantity until he settles in his blocks for the first round heats.

Harry Aikines-Ayreety has been relatively quiet, only a SB of 10.35, but he is always a force to be reckoned with, European silver medallist Mark Lewis-Francis is on a bumpy ride yet again but somehow seems to relish performing with his back to the wall and Christian Malcolm is ever reliable and consistent to bid for a relay spot.

One should also keep an eye on lively-again Beijing semifinalist Tyrone Edgar, a SB of 10.22 and a windy 10.15 to his name, and from there on European U23 champion James Alaka, also U20 David Bolarinwa, James Ellington, Luke Fagan and fellow U23 Danny Talbot and Andrew Robertson could all go inside 10.2 on their day and into the mix for relay slots – but decorated veteran Marlon Devonish has been worryingly off pace so far.

Entries

http://www.uka.org.uk/results/20120622_birmingham/Timetablemvc/EntryList/5536@eventID=123&EventOrder=1.html

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(A 10.18) Dwain Chambers 10.01, Adam Gemili (U20) 10.08, James Dasaolu 10.11 (10.18), Harry Aikines-Ayreety 10.13, Marlon Devonish 10.14, Christian Malcolm 10.17

(B 10.24)  James Alaka 10.22, Tyrone Edgar 10.22, Richard Kilty 10.23, Danny Talbot (U23) 10.24

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400m hurdles

World champion Dai Greene may have suffered defeat twice in as many outings this summer, slowed down a little by a health issue just before Rome in the meantime, but he still fared well to edge under 49 secs on both occasions in 48.96 behind Felix Sanchez (DOM) in Rabat and 48.98 for fourth in the wake of Xavier Culson (PUR) in Oslo.

Therefore he isn’t effectively lying that far off the main pace on the global stage and he could haul in the top markers within a short spell while he will have identified the UK Trials  as the place to mount a return to winning ways, slashing a few tenths off his mark in the progress.

All the same, he could be forced to work hard to earn his spurs under a potential stern challenge from training partner Jack Green whose form is substantially better than his SB of 49.22 suggests, set in winning in Montreuil (France), but employing a revised stride pattern on the tips of UK record holder Kriss Akabussi has seen him struggle to negotiate certain hurdles round the track.

But should it come together on the day his fierce drive and flowing flat speed could tell if it comes to a tight duel down the home stretch to start staking his own claim on the top of the home scene as well as moving up a flight on the international ladder.

Nathan Woodward has been faced with similar issues of his own over hurdles nine and ten that have reduced him to a SB of 49.42 so far but he looks full of pace and will be venturing on another hard run from the front over the first 300m in an attempt to unsettle his major rivals and force his way into the top two and an automatic berth.

None should underestimate Rhys Williams, nevertheless, who is racing consistently well this term and relishes rising to the occasion, a SB of 49.45, where Rick Yates (49.39) may be very unpredictable but on his day he is capable of almost anything.

Ben Sumner has been a real find as he has knitted together his first three sub 50 races on the trot, peaking in a PB of 49.57, but will need more than his two current B marks if he is to make an impression on the battle for Olympic places where a revived Richard Davenport is going to be a dark horse lying seventh on 49.93 but yet to translate his new-found flat speed (46.35, PB) over the hurdles.

From there on, the likes of David Hughes, ‘American’ Thomas Phillips, Niall Flannery and indoor revelation James Forman will try to take their game into the 49 secs and get more involved. One should keep an eye on 17-year-old Jacob Paul, and name for the future.

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(A 49.50) Dai Greene 48.20 (48.96), Nathan Woodward 48.71 (49.42), Jack Green (U23) 48.98 (49.22), Rick Yates 49.39, Rhys Williams 49.45

(B 49.80) Bem Sumner 49.57 (2)

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WOMEN

100m

The late withdrawal of Jeanette Kwakye, dogged by persisting achilles problems, has come to raise alarms in a looming emergency state in the women’s dash on the back of faint displays by Asha Philip and Laura Turner returning to action from injuries last weekend, right when a resurgence on the international scene looked in the works during the indoor term.

The Beijing finalist’s hopes of making the British team literally hang by a thread as she is going to make a late decision on whether to even contest the Europeans next week, a potential last-gasp chance for an individual place, and having run a best of just 11.68 (-0.6m/sec) outdoors so far can hardly make for a solid case on her part.

Turner will feel hard done by herself after some promising early outings over in the States including a SB of 11.31 (1.5m/sec) and a 11.27 secs in a mixed race, stronger and having tweaked her dynamics, while so could Philip who mounted a staggering comeback to the fore after years in the twilight earlier on the boards.

Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom as Ashleigh Nelson shrugged off her own woes to power to the British U23 title in an impressive 11.46 secs in the teeth of a strong headwind (-1.9m/sec) in Bedford to offset the impact and shows poised to surge inside the qualifying A standard.

A rejuvenated Abi Oyepitan is convincingly leading procedures on a SB of 11.21 secs (1.2m/sec) set in Florida, her fastest in eight years, and along with Anyika Onuora, a SB of 11.31 (1.1m/sec) in Regensburg, and Nelson look as though the more likely trio to occupy the podium places in Birmingham in any order between them.

UK record holder Montell Douglas (SB 11.54, -0.6m/sec) is working steadily her way back to form and might appear as the safest bet for fourth and a relay spot while teenage prodigy Jodie Williams has got a great deal of ground to make (SB 11.87, -1.3m/sec) held up by the demands of exams on the run-in so will shape an unknown quantity to a considerable degree.

Hayley Jones comes from a PB of 11.42 secs (1.0m/sec) and could figure as a relay contender where rising young gun Sophie Papps could dare ruffle a few feathers  on the momentum of a PB of 11.47 (0.4m/sec) at the U20 Champs in Bedford. Veteran Joice Maduaka and winter revelation Margaret Adeoye will be two more names to note though the latter hasn’t competed since late May.

Entries

http://www.uka.org.uk/results/20120622_birmingham/Timetablemvc/EntryList/5538@eventID=123&EventOrder=2.html

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(A 11.29) Jeanette Kwakye 11.15, Anyika Onuora 11.18, Jodie Williams (U20) 11.18, Abi Oyepitan 11.21, Laura Turner 11.23

(B 11.38)

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400m

Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu (50.69) looks firmly on track to regain her best form through a string of solid consistent good displays on the international curcuit, coming between runner-up and fourth in all her three showings over the distance, and is heading into the Trials as red hot favourite to clinch top honours and selection.

But maybe her mind will be a little bit more on the clock to contain a potential new world lead by Sanya Richards-Ross at the US Trials by means of a new SB so that the gap between them doesn’t grow larger by the time the clash on the turf of the Olympic stadium of London in August.

UK rankings runner-up Perri Shakes-Drayton (51.26, PB) is solely focussing on the hurdles this time round and third-ranked Shana Cox (51.54) looks like a slight doubt before the heats get underway but she ought to have enough to grind out that coveted second place.

Nicola Sanders needs desperately to get her season going before it is too late in the shape of a well improved time on her SB of 52.33 to make a serious bid for an individual berth while Lee McConnell is also still missing a current ‘A’ that will render her eligible to a call-up.

Nevertheless, both ought to be at least named in the relay where a further place will be up for grabs between Nadine Okyere, having not raced yet outdoors so a question mark, Kelly Massey (52.38, PB), U23 Emily Diamond (52.69, PB), Faye Harding (52.95, PB) and maybe two-three more runners from behind.

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(A 51.55) Christine Ohuruogu 50.69, Lee McConnell 51.01, Shana Cox 51.24 (51.54), Perri Shakes-Drayton 51.26

(B 52.35) Nicola Sanders 52.33

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