June 20, 2018

Tough British Athletics European U20/ U23 Selection

It has now been just over a week since the English National U20/ U23 track and field championships which were held at Bedford. Throughout this event there were some brilliant performances, along with many athletes who were chasing potential selection for the respective age group European championships in Eskilstuna, Sweden (U20), and Tallinn, Estonia (U23). As I had previously mentioned, the criteria to make the teams was made seemingly very clear by the selection criteria which was released at the beginning of the year. However, despite many athletes believing that they had done enough to make the team, it has now become apparent that after the British Athletics meeting yesterday, the criteria has been somewhat ignorantly ignored.

Before talking about the negative, tough selection policy which the British athletics team have taken, there are some great athletes with certain potential to perform and gain from the experience in Tallinn. The GB teams which have been selected for the men’s and women’s are as follows for both U20 and U23:

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Some notable names of those who may challenge for the medals in distance events include the likes of Kyle Langford who was a World Youth bronze medalist over 800m in 2013. Joining Langford once more as she did in the World Junior championships in Eugene last year is Bobby Clay. She has been dominant all year over 1500m front running very fast times at both BMC and National championship races to prove her form and potentially challenge for a medal against the rest of the best in Europe.

On the U23 side of things, the UK 800m senior leader of Theo Blundell leads the 800m contenders alongside the fast finishing Jamie Webb, both proving themselves to be very strong 1:47 runners, but may need to lower their PBs even further to challenge for the podium spots. Jonathan Davies is definitely another one of the strongest athletes selected to compete for the GB side. After running a very fast 13:43 5,000m in Belgium, alongside some strong 1500m races, putting him in a great pace for these championships. As with Bobby Clay being the strong women’s 1500m leader in the U20, Melissa Courtney has too shown her class this year alongside Rhianwedd Price, both re-writing their 1500m personal bests down to 4:09.74 – at the recent BMC Grand Prix – and 4:09.56 respectively.

It must also be said that there are some very strong and capable runners who would have made the U23 teams, yet have decided to pass on this opportunity in the attempt to pursuit the senior World Championships later this year in Beijing. Namely, Laura Muir, the stand out performer of the GB distance running scene this year after front running to the Dimond League victory in Rome, running a time of 4:00.37 despite still being an U23. Also the likes of the young star Jessica Judd who also ran 4:09 at the BMC wont be travelling, as will not Charlie Grice, one of the nations top 1500m runners who looks likely to make the senior team instead.

However, although there is such strength shown in the teams which have been selected, there have been some equally good athletes who have completely missed out on selection despite making all the necessary marks. This has been seen across all disciplines, but specifically in the distance events.

Athletes with Qualifying mark and top 3 finish:
– Spencer Thomas – 800m (U20)
– Mhairi Hendry – 800m (U20)
– Carys McAulay – 800m (U20)
– Kathryn Gillespie – 1500m (U20)
– Matt Bergin – 5000m (U23)
– Michael Callegari – 5000m (U23)
– Jennifer Nesbitt – 5000m (U23)

This list does go on if you include those who only just missed out no the top three places at the trials such as Robbie Fitzgibbon and Richard Charles. From what I believe, this selection process is just being made tougher and tougher. With the selection policy states that you must achieve a qualifying time which is seen to a competitive level for the rest of Europe in that age category, the athletes can do no more than achieve this level. In particular, the 5000m runners of Michael Callegari and Matt Bergin both achieved the standard and finished 2nd and 3rd in the trial, placing them in the perfect position to both be selected after showing championship ability in the trial. However, neither have been selected despite not being injured or lacking in any requirement which was set out by British Athletics in their selection policy.

Callegari also boats a 3:44 1500m PB showing his excellent speed as well as endurance
Callegari also boats a 3:44 1500m PB showing his excellent speed as well as endurance

Personally, I believe this to be unbelievably harsh and bad for the sport. The idea of setting a qualification time is to let athletes know the level which they must be at the be competitive on a European level, so for many to reach this and still not be selected despite being the best option to fill the spaces on the teams seems completely unreasonable. Another factor which seems not to have been considered is the highly valuable experience which the athletes will gain from going to these events. If British Athletics are looking to progress on a senior level in Olympic and World Championship events, then there must be a strong and structured system which the athletes believe in and trust to aid them to reach their full potential.

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European Championships selection policy
European Championships selection policy

The final considerations to be made for the athletes to fill the three allowed spots on the team in each event is the championship style of racing. This was experienced in the trials and would be in the actual event. Firstly, athletes such as Richard Charles may have had a bad day, a one off bad race which led to them not making the top three despite having the qualification time. This is something which should certainly be considered, especially in Charles’ case as he is currently the 2nd faster UK athlete over 800m, showing him to be a potential medalist on paper. Another factor is the actual result in the European championships themselves as these races don’t usually turn out to be the usual fast races. As we have experienced in many races, championship races become a pedestrian race for the fist part and a flat pout sprint over the last lap. For those like Callegari who have shown their speed over 1500m, this style of racing would suit them, even if their PB is not the most competitive in the field, if not the experience they would gain being such a valuable thing.

Unfortunately, the athletes do not have the right to appeal the decisions which have been made, but this should not be the end for many of the athletes who have not made the team. There is still a long part of the track season remaining which gives those unfortunate ones the ability to prove their talent and come back next year even stronger.

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