There was a change in the order of British sprinting at the UK indoor trials this weekend (10-11) when Craig Pickering confirmed his new-found status as the British number one over 60m by comprehensively beating his training partner, and the five-time UK champion, Jason Gardener.
Pickering's momentum continues
It was the third time in as many weeks that Pickering has got the better of his 31-year-old mentor and formed the climax of a weekend in which a number of British athletes put themselves in the frame for European Indoor championship medals in three weeks time.
The form book suggested it was always going to be between Pickering and Gardener for the men’s 60m title, but Gardener had one of those races he will want to forget. Left for dead in the final by a uncharacteristically terrible start he never made up the ground and finished seventh, while Pickering kept his nerve to win in 6.58.
It says much for the 20-year-old’s growing maturity that he was not completely happy with his display.
“I came here to get the job done – to finish in the top two and qualify for the Europeans,” he said. “I’ve done that. But to be honest, I’m a bit disappointed not to set another PB – it’s the first weekend this winter I’ve not done that.”
Pickering also had words of encouragement for his training partner who, understandably, was downhearted with his performance. “I’m sorry for Jason but he will be back. For me, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Ironically, it was another man from the Malcolm Arnold sprinting school – Ryan Scott – who stole in to take second in 6.64, his second PB of the day.
Gardener had the better of the opening heats, posting 6.63, the fastest time of the round and 0.05s quicker than Pickering. But the youngster laid down the gauntlet in the semis, winning his race in 6.58 despite a sluggish start, while Gardener was 0.01 slower than his earlier time.
Mark Lewis Francis was a casualty of the three semis. The former world junior 100m champion finished fourth behind Pickering in a heavy-looking 6.76 and did not make the final.
But Gardener, a former world indoor champion who’s renowned for starting well under pressure, fell far short of world-beating form this time.
“I don’t know what went wrong with that one,” he said. “Once I’ve had a chance to think about it, it might become clearer.”
The two are due to face each other again next week, at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Birmingham, when Gardener will need to improve – only the first two in these trials are guaranteed a place in the British team. “I have run 6.58 and 6.59 this year so I’m still the second fastest in Britain,” he said. “Let’s see what happens in Birmingham.”
50.60 World lead for Sanders
As so often, the championships had all been set up for the men’s 60m to be the highlight of the weekend. It did bring the event to a thrilling climax, but the highlight performance came earlier in the afternoon when 400m runner Nicola Sanders clocked the fastest time in the world this year. The 24-year-old former hurdler blasted away from the field to win the two-lap final by more than 10 metres in 50.60.
Sanders went through at the bell in 24.16 and held her form to break the stadium record she set here last year by 0.12s, and miss the UK national record set by Katherine Merry six years ago by just 0.07s.
“Fastest time in the world, that does sound good,” said Sanders. “I am really pleased with that. It was my first race of the season and I didn’t have an idea of what I could run. I knew I was in good shape but I didn’t know it was that good.”
However, Sanders added that her place to the top of the world rankings may not be enough to persuade her to run at the European indoors. “I will run in Birmingham next weekend,” she said, referring to the Grand Prix. “But I need to talk to my coach before I decide whether to run the Europeans. I have to think about what’s best for my outdoor season.”
Okoro, Meadows optimistic for European indoor championships
Two athletes who will definitely be at the championships are 800m runners Marilyn Okoro and Jenny Meadows. They battled out one of the hottest contests of the weekend with Okoro winning by a dip at the line in 2:04.39 after a slow first 400m, just 0.01 ahead of her friend.
“I can’t wait for the Europeans,” she said. “All we have to do is get to the final and see what happens from there.”
“The Russians don’t seem to be going too well at the moment and you can’t often say that,” added Meadows. “So it looks good for the Europeans.”
7.56 European 60m Hurdles lead for Turner
It’s also looking good for 60m hurdler Andy Turner who twice lowered his pb today and won the final in 7.56, the fastest time by a European this year. Turner’s time puts him equal fourth on the UK all-time list with Jon Ridgeon, who was on hand to interview him after the race.
“Every race seems to be getting quicker and quicker,” said Turner, who had also clocked 7.59 in his heat. “The fastest in Europe! I think that means I can win this thing.”
Triple jumper Nathan Douglas also leapt to the top of the European lists with a first attempt of 17.19m, his furthest ever indoors.
Although he then withdrew to protect an injury, it was enough to beat Commonwealth champion Phillips Idowu who also pulled out after the first round. Idowu did enough to take second with a leap of 16.68m before with drawing with of an “uncomfortable heel”.
Indoor PB for Farah
Many Britons also expect Mo Farah to be amongst the medals at the Europeans. The European cross country champion safely qualified for the championships here with an indoor 3000m personal best of 7:50.87, smashing his own stadium record in the process.
But Farah insists his main priority remains the world cross country championships in Mombassa. “It would be good to get a medal in front of a home crowd,” he said. “That would be amazing but my main focus is the world cross country.”
Slow comeback for Hansen
On Saturday triple jumper Ashia Hansen failed in her bid to qualify for the European Indoor Championships. Hansen, a former world indoor record holder, was hoping to reach the qualifying distance of 14.10m but her longest leap was only 13.68m.
It was enough to win the event easily, but more than a metre and a half short of the world record of 15.16m she set when winning the European indoor title in 1998. It is the latest stage of a long recovery for the 35-year-old who missed more than two years competition after suffering an horrific knee injury before the Olympic Games in 2004.
“Between 13 and 14 metres is not really where I should be at the moment,” she said. “I should have done the qualifying distance today.
I felt as if I could have done it quite easily.”
Hansen lost her world indoor record to Tatyana Lebedeva in 2004 but after two-and-a-half years of injury problems would clearly love to be able to compete against the Russian in her home town in three weeks time.
“I felt nervous before today’s event as it was my first big competition in almost a year,” she said. “Once I got the first good jump in the nerves went away, but I need a lot more training to get back to my best.”
Three PBs for Sotherton
There was better luck for another Birmingham-based athlete as multi-eventer Kelly Sotherton produced three PBs from her three events. She opened her busy afternoon by finishing fourth in the 60m Hurdles in 8.19, beating her previous best by two hundredths of a second, and went to equal her indoor PB in the High Jump, leaping 1.81m, before setting another best in the Shot Put – 14.42m.
But the Commonwealth Heptathlon champion was beaten by 0.01s in the 60 hurdles by her young colleague Jessica Ennis who also ran a PB despite clipping hurdles.
Ennis finished third before going on to win the High Jump with 1.87m, only three centimetres below her best. After beating Britain’s specialist high jumpers, the 21-year-old European junior heptathlon champion then narrowly failed to clear 1.92m.
“It’s nice to know I can attempt those heights,” said Ennis who won the Commonwealth bronze medal last year. “I’m sure when it comes to the European indoors I will get it right and be up there in the 1.90s.”
Ennis finished her day with 12.38m in the shot, 55cm short of her indoor best, and then returned on Sunday to finish third in the Long Jump with 6.15m, just six centimetres short of her best. The event was won by 19-year-old Amy Harris, who improved her PB by some 30cm to 6.47.
The best track final on the first day was the women’s 3000m in which Commonwealth 1500m champion Lisa Dobriskey outkicked Helen Clitheroe over the final 200m to break her PB by nearly 13 seconds.
Clitheroe, who leads the world over 1500m at the moment, led from the gun and dragged Dobriskey to her first ever sub-9:00 time. Dobriskey escaped over the final lap to win in 8:55.22, while Clitheroe ran 8:58.27, breaking her PB by more than six seconds.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF
Click here for complete results