One last push for Tokyo’s GB marathon hopefuls

With the Olympic Marathon trials fast approaching in Kew Gardens on Friday 26th March, there will be plenty of storylines to keep an out for throughout the day. With plenty on the line for a whole host of ambitious athletes, and the ultimate reward a place on the plane to Tokyo, it will be an exciting race which we can all view on the British Athletics website from 8am on the day.

The start lists are as below:

The Women

Women’s marathon running in the UK is in rude health, and anyone earning one of the three spots will have done so in the face of the fiercest competition GB has ever seen. Four women have run within the qualifying time of 2.29.30, each of these comfortably so. Five have run within 2.30.00 in the qualifying period and a further three boast personal bests from previous years inside the qualifying time.

Separated by only 10 seconds are Jess Piasecki and Charlotte Purdue, both of who unfortunately will not be competing in Kew. Few debut’s will have been better that Jess’s 2.25.28 in Florence in October 2019. The third fastest Brit of all time, she hasn’t raced since, but her winning time included a huge negative split (74.31/70.58) and she may yet hope to prove fitness prior to the Games.

Up until Piasecki’s run, Charlotte Purdue’s 10th place finish in London was the stand out British performance of 2019. Consistent efforts in the low 68s for the half since have underlined the new level she has reached and in all likelihood her 2.25.38 but again she now finds herself in the awkward position of hoping her peers don’t run too quickly on Friday.

Steph Twell‘s 2.26.40 in late 2019 made clear the potential the decorated Aldershot Farnham and District athlete has over the marathon distance. Dropping out in London this year will have been a disappointment but came against the backdrop of a ludicrously early start and wet and cold conditions. Twell will not find herself on the start line due to injury and may now focus on securing a place in the 10,000 with the trials in June, an event in which she already has the qualifying time.

2.27.40 is stunningly fast, quick enough indeed for 9th on the British all time list, but it is testament to the competition that Steph Davis ranks as the 4th fastest Olympic hopeful and the fastest on the start line. Having nudged down her half marathon time since to 71.15, Davis will have hopes of breaking into the trio. Friday’s race represents a huge opportunity for the Clapham Chaser’s athlete to secure an Olympic spot.

Another athlete with a point to prove is Sarah Inglis. Now based in Western Canada, her 2.29.41 debut at the Marathon project in the US was only 11 seconds outside the standard. Her track credentials suggest the Scottish athlete could yet run much faster, and it’s great to see she has overcome the logistical barriers to find herself on the start line. She is the form athlete and one I expect may well force the issue.

In any other Olympic cycle British Champ Natasha Cockram would be looking just to run down the Olympic standard, and grab a spot on the plane, her 2.30.49 being good for 30th on the all-time list. Times have moved on however and the Welsh athlete will be hoping to back up a highly impressive London performance with a really breakthrough round the paths of Kew Gardens.

In a similar vein, Jenny Spinks and Tish Jones will hope to force the issue with the performance of their lives, and would do so as V35s. In the same age group, Tracy Barlow will be hoping to get back to the form that led her to selection for the 2017 World Champs.

It seems odd to find Lily Partridge so far down the list, one compiled based on rankings during the qualifying period. Back in April 2018 Partridge was Britain’s best female marathoner, with her 2.29.24 good enough for 8th place at that year’s hot London Marathon. An unfortunate series of races and injuries since will have been highly frustrating for the athlete coached by her father, who has since seen her competitors reach new levels. A strong performance in the trials will see her catapult her way back into contention, though she will need to run the qualifying time.

An interesting addition will be Charlotte Arter, making her debut over the distance but with credentials over the half (69.40 PB) to really mix things up in this event.

Our Team Predictions: Davis, Inglis, Partridge

The Men

By contrast on paper the Olympic team for the men picks itself, though there are plenty who have rightful claims to break the triumvirate. Callum Hawkins barring injury will travel and aim to improve on two fourth place finishes in consecutive World Champs. A class athlete, he has proved that in Championship racing conditions he always has a chance and will be hoping to enjoy success, in a country where he has won the Marugame Half Marathon.

With Jonny Mellor and Ben Connor amongst others, New Balance Manchester have the right to label themselves as Britain’s long distance school of excellence. For Mellor, a GB representative indoors over 3000m, this Olympic cycle has been marked by consistency but he has found himself injured at the least opportune time. His 2.10.03 in Valencia in 2019 was comfortably inside the 2.11.30 standard and he has backed that up with a British Champs win in October in London.

Connor on the other hand has only recently made the step up, enjoying success on the track, as an athlete who was less than 10 seconds from the 5,000 qualifying time. His step up to the marathon however was more than justified by running 2.11.20 on his first attempt. With the standard in the back pocket, Connor will head to Kew Garden’s knowing a creditable performance or slow race for others will leave him with an Olympic spot. It will be interesting to see his tactics if he does race, whether he will run to a time he knows himself capable, running the risk that he drags others with him, or sit and see how the race plays out.

One athlete watching his every move, will be one who had a luckless 2019. Illness prevented Dewi Griffiths from kicking on after a 2.09.49 performance in 2018 that underlined his credentials as a world class marathoner. Forcing the issue, he has the pedigree to upset the applecart though much may depend on how much long term illness has taken out of him. His recent outing over 10,000 in Newport shows he is not in bad form (28.45).

Behind the quartet, there’s a whole host of athletes each within three and half minutes of qualifying. Derek Hawkins will hope for back to back Olympics but has struggled to replicate the form that helped him to 2.12.49 in Frankfurt in 2019 and does not make the start line. British bronze medalist Josh Griffiths has just over 90 seconds to find, and will hope for good conditions on the day. He may yet force the selectors hands.

Steve Vernon, coach of New Balance Manchester will have further interest, from V40 British record holder Andrew Davies (2.14.36), an athlete whose run in Valencia was his fastest ever, all past his 40th birthday.

Hoping to roll back the years is Chris Thompson, one of the most likeable athletes on the circuit and a 2012 Olympian in the 10,000m. His 2.13.32 in London remains competitive but was disappointing in light of a 61.00 second place in the Big Half. You would be hard to begrudge him one last renaissance in the British trials race. If he does in context it may be one of his finest achievements in a career which include a 2010 European silver medal over 10,000.

Matt Clowes, went out at qualfying pace in the most recent Valencia marathon and will have one last chance in Kew Gardens. A PB of 2.13.57 leaves him with two and a half minutes to find.

Nick Earl‘s base in Australia will mean the Olympic trials lack the 2.14.38 runner but Robbie Simpson (2.14.56) will be hoping for a major breakthrough. Adam Hickey will hope to finally translate his talent over the cross to the roads.

Finally expect to see an athlete potentially making their debut over the marathon distance. Tom Evans (63.14 half PB) has already expressed his desire for an Olympic tilt though his efforts have so far focused on the 5,000. An attempt at the full distance would not be out of character for the ultra marathon man and could be an interesting curveball should he contest the trials.

Our Team Predictions: Hawkins, Mellor, Connor

Featured image “World Half Marathon Championships 2016” by Sum_of_Marc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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