Mo Farah’s Olympic dominance added a certain sparkle to Great Britain and NI’s credentials over track’s longest two distances, but it is one which has provided many rewards over the years.
The sport may have moved on since George Hutson’s 15.07 was enough to win him bronze in the 5000 in 1912, but as it has GB has kept the pace. Gordon Pirie and Derek Ibbotson’s were 2 and 3 in Melbourne in 1956, Ian Stewart with the bronze in 1972, before 40 years later Mo won Britain’s first gold, repeating the feat 4 years later. In the 10,000 before Mo, James Wilson and Brendan Foster won bronzes with Mike McLeod in Los Angeles 84 Britain’s sole male silver.
As soon as the opportunity arose, British women made their mark, Wendy Sly winning 3000 silver in Los Angeles ’84 and Yvonne Murray the bronze in ’88. In that same Seoul Olympics Liz McColgan won the first silver up for grabs in the Olympic debut women’s 10,000m. No medals have come since Seoul, after which the 3,000 became 5,000 and both sexes were competing on an even keel.
Hoping to follow in these footsteps, twelve places, four disciplines, and another Olympics with medal interests for British track fans.
5000 Metres (Men)
World Athletics couldn’t have set the bar much higher to qualify for the 29th Olympics, with 13.13.50 almost ten seconds quicker than the 2019 World Champs. As it stands only two men have got within the standard, but there are a few more who will be hoping to make the cut.
The fastest on paper is Andrew Butchart, who 13.06.21 was run at the Anniversary Games in July 2019 and makes him the third fastest Brit of all time. Having undergone surgery on his Achilles in April his post-COVID debut came in December in Albi, France running a 28.52 road 10k. With 8 months to get back to his best, the Rio 2016 finalist, should make the plane to Tokyo.
2020, however, has very much been the year of Marc Scott. His 13.08.70 indoors in Boston in February set the standard, before runnning 13.20 in the Podium 5K in August, as well as showing his range with a 60.39 second place in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon. The man in form and 4th all time Brit, barring exceptional circumstances the Yorkshireman should be on the plane to Tokyo and will go there with final ambitions.
For the rest the race may come down to who can reach the qualifying time. Sam Atkin has 5 seconds to find, though he has already reached the 10,000 standard. He may throw his hand to giving himself the choice and chase the standard once more, with Payton Jordan Invitational on 7th May 2021 looking a realistic chance.
Ben Connor is just 6 seconds away from qualification though has made his intentions clear at the Marathon where he not only has the qualifying standard but also looks well positioned to make the team.
Former European U23 Cross Country champ Jonathan Davies continues to compete but will need an improvement of 10 seconds from his current personal best. British Champs silver medallist Jack Rowe made a real breakthrough with his performance in Sport City, but such is the standard the Aldershot, Farnham and District athlete will be looking for a 24 second improvement. Emile Cairess will hope for a similar improvement to springboard himself into Olympic contention.
Our Team Predictions: Andrew Butchart, Marc Scott, Sam Atkin
5000 Metres (Womens)
Getting to an Olympics is hard, but made all the more hard if your event is the women’s 5,000.
15.10.00 is the mark required but achieving it is far from a guarantee of selection. 4 women have so far got the qualifying mark, Laura Weightman, Laura Muir, Eilish McColgan and Melissa Courtney-Bryant. For scheduling reasons we’ve already discussed in our predictions for the 1500m, McColgan seems the most likely to take the berth.
McColgan, the Rio and Doha finalist will aim to make it four consecutive Major Championships finals, her 14.46 pb putting her fourth on the British all-time list. Aiming to join her will be 4 athletes within 10 seconds of the standard.
Reebok Boston Track Club star Amy Eloise-Neale has already come within a whisker of the qualifying standard within 6 weeks of the qualifying window opening in May 2019. Her 15.11.11 remains her PB but she has been hamstrung by a lack of 5,000m opportunities in the USA. Things look more promising in that respect early in 2021 and the athlete originally of Wakefield AC will aim to finally claim her space.
Steph Twell is next on the list though looks more likely to contest the 10,000 if she steps down from the Marathon. Like the Marathon, over 25 laps of the track she already has the standard. Another athlete precocious in her youth, Jess Judd is coming off the back of her maiden British Champs 5,000 win and will be looking for a fast field to shave off the final 6.5 seconds. Her dominant win in SportCity included a sub 2.12 last 800 and questions may come down to what races she and her father can find.
Though within 10 and 15 seconds respectively of the standard, Rosie Clarke and Sarah Inglis will likely focus on the Steeple and Marathon, events in which both athletes are just outside the standard.
Finally Jenny Nesbitt, Verity Ockenden and Amelia Quirk will all hope for breakthroughs in 2021.
Our Team Predictions: McColgan, Neale, Judd
10,000 Metres (Men)
Only one man holds the 10,000 qualifying standard and it’s not the 4 time Olympic champion Mo Farah. Sam Atkin‘s 27.26.58 in California was not bad for someone only entering the race as a pacemaker. 4th on the all-time list and almost 1.5 seconds within the standard, the performance was done on the back of chasing the 5,000 standard the day before and suggests there is significant potential to improve.
Despite Atkin’s efforts Farah will still consider himself team GB’s top dog and with 10 global titles it’s had to make a compelling argument against. Sir Mo’s hour world record shows he’s still a force on the track but he will be facing stronger competition than ever before. In Joshua Cheptegui Uganda has a world champion and in Jacob Kiplimo (the World Half Marathon Champ) he will be pushed every step of the way. Outside the Ugandans a whole host of Kenyans have impressed on the road but if experience has taught us anything it’s not to write off Farah. In a tactical race where his peers think he is past his best, the Brit may yet punish them with a finishing kick.
Behind Atkin and Farah the 27.28 standard is one only 5 athletes in British history have ever managed, though Jake Smith will hope to carry over his half marathon form back to the track. His 60.31 in Poland has set himself in world class company over that distance but he will know significant improvements are required over the shorter distance. A different type of event to the road, many have struggled to make the transition but having time trialed a solo 28.00 in July he will be confident of making that jump.
The best of the rest remains Marc Scott who seems certain to contest the 5,000 and Ben Connor who will be taking a spot in the Marathon team. Nick Goolab will have faint hopes of making the breakthrough and Ross Millington may yet step back down after his debut marathon attempt in London. If he does he will have to take 28 seconds off his 2016 personal best ran prior to representing GB in Rio.
Our Team Predictions: Farah, Atkin, Smith (Farah to win bronze)
10,000 Metres (Women)
31.25 is the qualifying standard for Tokyo and two women have met that standard, both doing so in one of my favourite domestic meets, the Night of the 10,000 at Parliament Hill. In 2019 Steph Twell and Eilish McColgan ran to 6th and 7th on the Brit all-time list in 31.08 and 31.16 respectively. Both have interests elsewhere but I for one would love to see both contest the 10,000. Twell will have to choose between the 10,000 and the marathon but McColgan could forseeably run both the 5,000 and 10,000, though I think we will see her focus on one.
Northern Arizona Elite’s Alice Wright will hope to get back to her 2019 best after a long injury lay off and Payton Jordan Invitational could provide the location for another Olympic qualifying hunt. With almost zero 10,000 events taking place in 2020 it’s a difficult one to call but improvements over the shorter distances from Amelia Quirk and Verity Ockenden could lead these two to step up in distance. Both athletes have performed well in longer format cross country races over the years and may use the slightly weaker 10,000 field as a better chance of an Olympic berth.
Like the 5,000 Sarah Inglis has displayed her credentials at the 10,000 and needs to find around 46 seconds from her 2019 best. With a strong performance in the Marathon Project in Arizona the Scottish athlete will have to decide which event she will commit to. Other athletes pondering the same question include Wales’s Charlotte Arter who’s 32.15 from 2018 remains her personal best but she has performed well over both the 5k and half marathon on the road in the intervening period.
Our Team Predictions: McColgan, Twell, Wright