British milers get slap in the face

Robotic adherence to strict selection criteria means Britain has no one in the men’s 1500m at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg


The European Indoor Championships has traditionally been used to blood up-and-coming athletes. It is an ideal place to learn your trade ahead of more important outdoor and global championships in future.

Seb Coe won his first international title at the European Indoors in San Sebastian in 1977, as did Linford Christie, who took a surprise 200m gold at the 1986 event in Madrid. Even Mo Farah made his senior GB debut at the European Indoors in 2005 – he finished sixth in the 3000m before going on to win Euro Indoor gold in 2009 and 2011.

So there were plenty of raised eyebrows when British Athletics failed to name any male 1500m runners in its team for next month’s European Indoors in Gothenburg. Paula Radcliffe, who has been part of the BBC commentary team this winter, tweeted that the decision was “absolutely ridiculous“.

Jon Brown, the UK 10,000m record-holder prior to Mo Farah, added: “Eriksson should be on his hands and knees trying to get Chris O’Hare to compete for GB at Euro indoors.”

Meanwhile in an unusual display of insurgence among the ranks, international miler James Brewer went further by posting a photograph of UKA head coach Peter Eriksson and a sarcastic interpretation of the Olympic motto.

The victims of the non-selection remained fairly quiet, with one declining an interview with Athletics Weekly due to fears they would be blacklisted if they spoke out of term. They included Chris O’Hare, Chris Warburton (pictured above) and Charlie Grice in particular, with 3000m runner Lee Emanuel also having fair reason to be upset.

O’Hare was apparently not considered because the US-based athlete failed to alert selectors to his availability before their Monday night selection meeting finished. Never mind the fact he went No.2 on the UK all-time lists behind Peter Elliott with a scorching mile of 3:52.98 at the Millrose Games.

Warburton, meanwhile, failed to finish his heat at Britain’s Euro Trials in Sheffield after a collision with another athlete in his heat, but he has beaten UKA’s qualifying standard for Gothenburg twice this winter, including a 3:41.20 PB at the British Athletics Grand Prix at the NIA last weekend.

Similarly, Grice, who is only 19, ran 3:41.54 at the NIA to beat the 3:42.00 standard after finishing third in a slow trials race.

O’Hare will instead race the US collegiate NCAA Indoor Championships, which is often similar standard to the European Indoor Championships anyway. But O’Hare was apparently interested in racing in Gothenburg and, writing in the Herald, experienced athletics scribe Doug Gillon says the athlete was also felt snubbed when left out of last summer’s European Championships.

Indeed, O’Hare’s father told the Herald that last summer his son felt “cruelly overlooked, and let down by the UK governing body.”

Warburton, however, has perhaps most cause for complaint as the quickest 1500m man in the UK this year. Also, in a cruel twist of fate, he was picked for the 2009 European Indoors but was then forced to withdraw with injury and his father subsequently wrote a full-page opinion piece in AW criticising UKA’s medical support for non-funded athletes.

Explaining the Gothenburg selections, Eriksson said: “None of the 1500m guys are top-six potential. The first page and the first sentence on the selection criteria is that we will be selecting only top-six potential. We follow the criteria that was determined quite a while ago.”

Radcliffe and Brewer aside, the UKA selectors have been lambasted on Twitter and online forums for a selection policy that is too elite. We have seen this before, with former head coach Charles van Commenee pioneering the “raise the bar” selection strategy, but what has irked people here is that this is merely the European Indoors – surely an ideal stepping stone championship for developing athletes?

Worse, there have been accusations that the selectors are aloof, anti-distance running or simply don’t care. While I personally don’t agree with the omission of 1500m men from the Gothenburg team, this last accusation is unfair. UKA performance director Neil Black is a former miler, after all, and both Black and Eriksson took the trouble to go to the Euro Cross trials and championships in Liverpool and Budapest before Christmas. Also, they did at least pick Lauren Howarth for Gothenburg – she won the 3000m trial but does not have the qualifying standard.

Finally, it is ironic that there will be no British milers in Gothenburg despite this being the 50th anniversary year of the British Milers’ Club. As recently as a decade ago there was a BMC representative on the selection panel, too. In fact, there were ‘honorary selectors‘ with expert knowledge covering all disciplines.

Currently, though, there seems to be such a heavy reliance on the “criteria” that British Athletics may as well let a computer pick the team. Would a successful football manager ever choose a team based on statistics such as passes, tackles, goals, assists and suchlike, or do they instead use common sense, instinct and flair?

Last year the British selectors used common sense to pick Lynsey Sharp as the sole 800m runner at the London Olympics. Ultimately, it didn’t work out brilliantly, but I totally supported the decision at the time.

On this occasion, though, I see no benefit in sending a British team to Gothenburg minus any 1500m men and surely, of all the events on the programme, the metric mile is worth taking a selection gamble on.

Most 1500m finals at the European Indoors are slow, tactical affairs won in the mid-3:40s and medals can be nicked, as Mike East showed in 2002 when he won Britain’s most recent 1500m medal at these championships with a time of 3:50.52 for bronze behind winner Rui Silva’s 3:49.93.

2 Responses to “British milers get slap in the face”

  1. Frank Messina says:

    100% agreement. O'Hare should have been selected, and Warburton and Grice too. I would have added Tom Farrell on 3000m. Eriksson has started on the same course of Van Commenee. Sheer blindness.

  2. John Jeffrey says:

    This is not a good start for Eriksson you would think his background would give him an understanding of progression!

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