Birmingham, UKSprinter Craig Pickering is hoping to build on last Saturday’s impressive performance in Stuttgart by first establishing himself as Britain’s fastest this weekend in Sheffield, at the Aviva Indoor UK Trials and Championships, and then beating Commonwealth champion Lerone Clarke at the Aviva Grand Prix, the penultimate stop of the 2011 IAAF Permit Indoor Meetings series, in Birmingham next Saturday (19).
All eyes had been on triple European champion Christophe Lemaitre, when Pickering arrived in Stuttgart for the Sparkassen-Cup on Saturday, but the 24-year-old ensured he was a talking point by beating the Frenchman in the 60m, with a time of 6.66.
The meet was won by USA’s Michael Rodgers, with Jamaican Commonwealth 100m champion Clarke finishing second in 6.63. European and Commonwealth silver medallist, Mark Lewis-Francis, finished in sixth.
Pickering, the European indoor silver medallist, now insists he is ready to come out from behind the shadows at Birmingham’s NIA at the Aviva Grand Prix on 19 February to announce himself once more on the world stage by beating Clarke and usurping compatriot Lewis-Francis in the 60m.
“I don't ever pay attention to what people are saying before a race," Pickering said. "I knew Lerone Clarke didn't run particularly well in the States last week, so I thought I had a chance to beat him. I also knew Lemaitre hadn't been running really well. Hopefully I will have a chance to beat Clarke in Birmingham, I hope so. I will give it a go."
“Stuttgart was better than the week before (London Games), much better, so I was pleased with that. There was quite a tough build up to the race but I was really happy to make the final and come where I did. I quite like one-off races (as opposed to heats) but a lot of the Grand Prix meets have 60 heats and finals.”
Before Pickering travels to the West Midlands for the Aviva Grand Prix, he will compete in Sheffield at the Aviva Indoor UK Trials and Championships at the EIS this Saturday and Sunday. And he insists that the competition for a ticket to Paris, to compete for the Aviva GB&NI team at the European Indoor Championships, is wide open.
Pickering will line up against European indoor 60m record holder Dwain Chambers and the West Sussex-born runner hopes his change in coaches from five-year mentor Malcolm Arnold to Michael Khmel will put him in good stead at the English Institute of Sport.
“Sheffield is most definitely going to be an open field," Pickering said. "No one has run under 6.60 this year and both Mark and Joel are the only two guys to get the qualifying time (6.65s). I need to run and get that time in Sheffield. Dwain (Chambers) is still in good shape so he will do something I'm sure. It should be a great race.
“I've changed coach this year, I've joined Michael Khmel. We've been doing a lot of 100m work so I'm not sure how that will pan out. I've not been specifically focusing on an indoor season this time. The focus is to make the World Championship team. I'm feeling in great shape. I was delighted with my (relay) gold in the Commonwealth Games as that was the major competition that my coach and I were looking at.”
Clarke building strong momentum
Clarke, who’s personal best is the same as Pickering’s at 6.55, admits he is in the best possible shape ahead of the Aviva Grand Prix and is desperate to show Birmingham’s Jamaican faithful what he’s all about.
“Stuttgart was especially pleasing seeing the competition that was out there," said Clarke, who took the victory at the Meeting Pas de Calais in Lievin, France, last night, clocking 6.59. "I ran a season’s best and better than the time I was expecting to run at this time of year, so I was really proud of my performance. I just can’t wait to go out in Birmingham and show what I can do in front of the public there.
“I don’t know Craig Pickering too well, but from what I've seen of him he’s a good runner and someone who’ll be up there vying for the win. But I’ll also be up against Mark (Lewis-Francis) again who’s a very talented athlete, and someone I’ve known for many years, so it’ll be a tough race for sure. He’s been telling me all about the Birmingham fans so I can’t wait to go out there and see for myself. And it’s even better now as it’s a rematch from the Commonwealth Games, and I'm sure he’ll want to go out there and really show his stuff in front of his home fans."
“Obviously the Jamaican team are based here for the Olympics, so I'm hoping to see loads of Jamaican flags in the crowd and I’d love to come back and be a part of it next year. But in the mean time my priority is just giving them a victory.”
Organisers for the IAAF