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Birmingham, UKThere were mixed fortunes for Britain’s international stars at a hot and steamy Alexander Stadium in Birmingham over the weekend where (some of) the UK’s finest battled for Barcelona selection at the Aviva European Trials and UK Championships.
Not for the first time at this event, injuries, illness and other priorities meant a number of top names were absent while – also not for the first time – it was Dwain Chambers who stole the headlines.
The World indoor champion over 60m, Chambers was a commanding presence throughout the 100m rounds on Friday evening and Saturday, and he emerged as a decisive winner in the final to book his place on the plane to Spain.
After clocking 9.99 at the European Team championships the previous weekend, Chambers already topped the European rankings, but he needed to finish in the first two here to be guaranteed selection. The 32-year-old began his weekend with an imperious 10.18 in round one on Friday evening, a performance that, with hot weather forecast, had the watching pundits predicting another sub-10 time on Saturday.
The temperatures duly rose to the mid-20s by the time of the final, but a marginal headwind of -0.6m/s meant Chambers had to be happy with 10.14, a stride or two ahead of James Dasaolu and Marlon Devonish, who clocked 10.23 and 10.34 respectively.
“It wasn’t the time that I wanted or that everybody else expected,” he said. “But the main thing is I won and qualified for Barcelona.”
In truth, Dasaolu, a talented but injury-prone 22-year-old, was the only sprinter in the final – a field including seasoned internationals such as Christian Malcolm, Craig Pickering and Mark Lewis-Francis – to mount a serious challenge, matching the European number one to 40 metres.
“I’m just happy to win. James has had a fantastic season and I knew he was going to be a great competitor,” said Chambers, who was beaten last year by Simeon Williamson, an injured absentee this time. “The sub-10 I ran last week came out of the blue. Today was only about winning and qualifying.
“I hope I’ve got enough to win,” Chambers said, referring to upcoming continental championships. “Running is what I really enjoy and I am enjoying it now more than ever. I will just go out and do my best and hope that will be enough.”
Illness and injury sideline Ennis and Ohuruogu
Not surprisingly, Chambers never gets top billing in the build-up publicity for these events – which is, perhaps, a pity as the championships were missing a number of star names, not least the world Heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, and the Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu.
The in-form Ennis withdrew on medical advice after showing signs of a virus, while Ohuruogu is still hampered by a quadriceps injury that’s been bothering her for a month and will keep her out of the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Gateshead in two weeks time.
After her recent victory in Gotzis, Ennis was scheduled to compete in four disciplines with a realistic chance of winning the High Jump, 100m Hurdles and Long Jump, events at which she tops the UK rankings. “I had a really great session on Thursday morning where everything was on track, then I started to feel ill soon afterwards,” she explained. “I’ve been advised to rest for three or four days. I’m really gutted.”
Other potential European medallists who did not compete included pole vaulter Steve Lewis (out of form and confidence); distance runner Mo Farah who’s guaranteed selection and has chosen altitude training over another national title; and 400m hurdler Tasha Danvers, the Beijing Olympic bronze medallist, who’s now targeting a comeback at October’s Commonwealth Games after more than 12 months on the sidelines.
With Meadows sidelined, Simpson takes 800m crown
To make matters worse, Jenny Meadows, the world bronze medallist, pulled out of Sunday’s 800m final after nursing a tight calf through the first two rounds on Friday and Saturday. “It’s not an injury but a niggle, and niggles can be a long process,” she explained, after winning her semi-final in 2:02.46. “I felt really comfortable today and feel confident that I will be in top shape for the Europeans.”
After Mariya Savinova’s world-leading performance on Saturday, she’ll need to be. “I’ve taken a few steps back but I’m not panicking,” she said.
Jemma Simpson took full advantage of Meadows’ absence to win the title in 2:01.50. Simpson, a former European junior bronze medallist, hit the front at the bell and pulled away from Marilyn Okoro to win by five metres.
Likewise, Lee McConnell made the most of Ohuruogu’s absence to post a convincing win over former World silver medallist Nicola Sanders in 51.55, an agonising 0.05s outside the European qualifier.
Greene and Rooney continue notable campaign
Among Britain’s European medal contenders, David Greene was perhaps most impressive. The 400m hurdler enhanced his position as favourite for Barcelona gold as he lowered his season’s best to 48.77, making him Europe’s quickest by more than half a second.
Martyn Rooney looked equally dominant in the men’s flat one-lapper. The European number one outran Michel Bingham and Conrad Williams in the home straight to clock 44.99, matching his Europe-leading best of the year and ensuring at least one victory for a sporting Rooney this weekend.
There was even one for England– that’s Hannah England who beat the World silver medallist Lisa Dobriskey into third place in a slow and slightly chaotic women’s 1500m final. Dobriskey finished in 4:34.29, clearly still lacking race fitness after a back injury. England clocked 4:33.23 and Celia Taylor was second in 4:33.81.
Idowu content with 17.12m best
Phillips Idowu was the only reigning British world or Olympic champion to make an appearance, and the Triple Jump champion duly took his sixth outdoor title with 17.12m, his only jump to mark the sand beyond 16 metres.
“I came here today thinking it was another technical session and I got it done,” he said. “I’m still in one piece so now on to my next competition.”
Chris Tomlinson was in decent form in the Long Jump, winning with a first round leap of 8.17m, although afterwards he said he felt in shape to hit 8.50m-plus. Jade Johnson won the women’s with 6.48m aided by a 2.9 wind.
She needs to find a bit more to make the European team, as does Jo Pavey who also just missed the qualifying mark in the 10,000m. Pavey, racing again after missing a year to have her first child, enjoyed a solo victory in 31:51.91, barely seven seconds adrift of the 31:45 target.
Michael Rimmer was a commanding winner of the men’s 800m, front-running from the gun to cross the line in 1:47.22, some 10m ahead of his nearest rival. And Andy Baddeley was an impressive winner of the 1500m, running away from the pack in the home straight to clock 3:41.49.
Martyn Bernard beat Tom Parsons on countback to take the men’s High Jump title. Both cleared 2.28m but failed at the European qualifying height of 2.31m.
Record 8th straight titles for Myerscough and Sayers
Carl Myerscough won an eighth consecutive men’s Shot Put title, a record for an individual event in the 130-year history of the championships. Myerscough took his victory on Saturday with 19.77m, beating Goldie Sayers to the distinction by 24 hours.
Sayers won her eighth straight women’s javelin title late on Sunday evening with a disappointing best of 58.60m. She left the field nursing a sore hip saying, “That’s not where I’m at at all.”
Turner takes women’s sprint double
Laura Turner was queen of the women’s sprints. She defeated Joice Maduaka on Saturday to win the women’s 100m in 11.41, and then completed the sprint double on Sunday when she took the 200m in 23.66 into a headwind of -2.5.
The men’s 200m title went to Christian Malcolm, the world and Olympic finalist, who came through in the home straight to beat Marlon Devonish in 20.77.
There was another close race in the 110m Hurdles as William Sharman denied Andy Turner a third national title, out-dipping his rival to win by three hundredths in 13.45. Both could be medal contenders in Barcelona.
As could 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton. The European under 23 champion has a best this year of 54.91 and was a comfortable winner here in 56.93 ahead of former World junior bronze medallist Meghan Beesley.
Kate Dennison won the women’s Pole Vault with 4.45m and had three attempts at her own British record, just failing to clear 4.61m, while 18-year-old Holly Bleasdale cleared 4.35m to break the UK junior record in second place.
She could be a name for the future, as could Laura Samuel who made a big breakthrough in the Triple Jump. The 19-year-old snatched the British senior title with a UK junior record of 13.52m in the final round, improving her best by 54cm and making her the ninth best Britain of all-time.
While most of the weekend’s victors have their eyes on Barcelona, she’s now heading to Moncton for the IAAF World Junior Championships.