I watched the British World Championship Trials on television. It was a most depressing experience. It was doubly depressing because the television pundits seemed to be watching another, rose-tinted meeting entirely rather than the one that was appearing on my screen. Did Colin Jackson really say that Tyson Gay (9.77), Asafa Powell (9.88) and Usain Bolt (9.86) would now be looking over their shoulders because Simeon Williamson had clocked 10.05 into a 1.8mps wind? Sure it was a great run and sure it was worth a sub-10 clocking in more positive conditions but will they be as apprehensive of Williamson as they will be of the other four who have already achieved that clocking along with themselves? I think not and to give him his due neither does Simeon.
Every TV interview began with the words, “so, you’re off to Berlin,” as if it were some sort of prize holiday. Very sadly that will, in many instances, be the case.
It was a British league meeting masquerading as a World Championship Trial and the atmosphere appeared to match it. The competitors seemed to exude no sense of urgency; the spectators hardly warranted the epithet of a crowd. The weather didn’t help and neither did the extraordinary timetable.
The only podium contender on show on the form displayed in Birmingham was the ebullient Heptathlete Jessica Ellis. Christine Ohuruogu and Phillips Idowu both won their events but neither inspired confidence the latter confining himself to taking just one jump and shaking hands afterwards with fellow competitors. For someone who may have to be the first jumper to exceed 18 metres in eleven years to win gold in Berlin he seemed casually over-confident.
Ohuruogu lies 22nd on the 2009 world ranking list and though her trade mark is to come good swiftly at major championships you can be sure that Sanya Richards has at last learnt the lessons of Osaka and Beijing. The American has the four fastest times in the world this year, all below 50 seconds and she has seven performances faster than the Olympic champion’s current 2009 best of 51.14 secs.
Olympic silver medallist Germaine Mason duly won the high jump but was 7 centimetres short of the qualifying height. Currently the British high jumpers are 11 centimetres down on the world’s leading height.
In the men’s events most of the winning performances were first achieved (in the equivalent AAA championships) in the 70s whilst in the 10000 metres and long jump you have to go back a decade further. In the 5000 metres you have to return to another era entirely when the race equivalent was 3 miles to find that in 1957 Derek Ibbotson ran faster, in rain and on soft cinders, at the White City. Where was Brendan Foster with his usual pertinent trenchant comments on such dismal endurance performances?
It may be said of course that the middle-distance events at Birmingham were, because of a deterring wind, tactical. But these were the World Championship trials for God sake, where qualifying times had to be achieved.
The women competitors showed a sense of urgency as if they knew what the meeting was supposed to be about. Reputations were made and reputations were dented but come August 23 there is little doubt that our women competitors will have continued their current ascendency over the men.
The TV commentaries were full of stories of athletes either currently injured or coming back from injury. With so many athletes absent the meeting was a litany of disaster and an indictment of a decade of sporting quangos’ control of our sport.
I also spent a day and a half at the English Schools Championships in Sheffield with England’s greatest young talent on show. There were some truly amazing performances but if history is any criteria these are young men and women whose names we shall not see in a few years time. Why? Because there seems to be no system to ensure that such talent continues to thrive in the sport or even to continue within it. The millions futilely spent on attempting to gain short term medal glory so beloved of UK Sport and our politicians would achieve much more if it was invested in the long-term future of the young stars on show in Sheffield and those who won so brilliantly at the recent World Youth Championships.
The two day Grand Prix meeting at London’s Crystal Palace may reverse this doomsday scenario and the sun will suddenly blaze down on our Berlin prospects. Our Beijing medallists may sweep into majestic form, there will be open top bus parades and everyone will be vindicated. I hope so but I’ll not hold my breath.