A look at the athletes most likely to help Britain achieve their target of eight medals at the London 2012 Olympics
UKA’s head coach Charles van Commenee says that he will quit his job if British athletes fail to reach their target of eight medals – including at least one gold – at the London 2012 Olympics.
The last time Britain won at least eight medals at a global championships was at the 1993 World Championships with an all-star team that included Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson. Meanwhile the team’s last haul of eight medals at the Olympics came at the 1988 Games, but none of those included a gold.
During the past five global championships, the medal haul of British athletes has been steadily creeping up (see table below). While Britain finished an impressive third on the medals table at the 2004 Games – helped in no small part by Kelly Holmes’ middle-distance double – they only won five medals in total and appeared in 15 event finals.
Last year, meanwhile, Britain took seven medals at the World Championships. And as recently as 2009, there were 20 event finals at the World Championships featuring a British athlete.
This year’s 77-strong squad faces a tough task, albeit not a completely unrealistic one. Over the past 20 years, the host nations of each Olympic Games have, on average, won one medal more than they did at the previous year’s World Championships. Should that trend continue, the British team should be capable of hitting their target.
Whether they actually achieve it, however, is another thing entirely. The fine line between winning gold and missing out on a medal was illustrated earlier this year at the World Indoor Championships, where world 5000m champion Mo Farah finished fourth in the 3000m.
Some last-minute injuries to the British team will have also dented the chances of some of the country’s top medal hopes. The likes of Phillips Idowu, Goldie Sayers and Paula Radcliffe are all operating at less than full fitness as they head to the biggest competition of their life.
But for every doubtful athlete, there may well be a few surprise performers. Who, for example, would have predicted that Hannah England would come away from last year’s World Championships with a silver medal in the 1500m?
Britain heads to London with at least eight genuine medal hopes, with a further 10 athletes in contention of grabbing a place on the podium.
Here we list those eight prospects – and the 10 close behind – based on how successful they are expected to be.
Farah may be the world champion over 5000m, but he says his main focus for the Games is the longer distance. He was beaten in this event at last year’s World Championships, but Ibrahim Jeylan – the winner on that occasion – will not be at the Olympics. No one has broken 27 minutes for the distance this year, and although defending champion Kenenisa Bekele will be competing, his 27:02.59 performance in Birmingham won’t give Farah any sleepless nights.
Britain’s top combined eventer has been beaten in her past two global championship appearances. Russia’s Tatyana Chernova took gold at the World Championships in Daegu last year, while Ukraine’s Nataliya Dobrynska set a world record to defeat Ennis at this year’s World Indoor Championships. But since then, Ennis has been in superb form and smashed the British heptathlon record with a world-leading 6906 in Gotzis. More significantly, rivals Chernova and Dobrynska have been in inconsistent form, although both have shown in the past that they can switch it on when it matters and should not be written off. Nevertheless, Ennis’s strong form this year makes her the favourite.
Up until his run at the Paris Diamond League, the world champion had not looked like a medal contender this year. But his 47.84 PB to finish second to world leader Javier Culson in the French capital puts Greene right back in the frame to challenge for top honours. Puerto Rico’s Culson, however, has been unbeaten this year and has broken 48 seconds in his past three races. Will the home crowd be able to spur Greene on to victory? Or will Culson be unbeatable in his quest for gold, having taken silver at the past two World Championships? You get the feeling that Culson has already shown his deck, while Greene may yet have something extra to give.
This is the event where Farah holds the world title, but it also looks set to be one of the highest-quality and most competitive athletics events at the Games. Farah is unbeaten over the distance this year, but only one of those four races was against the quality of opposition he is likely to face in London. His 12:56.98 in Eugene was his most impressive win, beating Kenya’s Isiah Koech, USA’s Galen Rupp and Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele. But Farah wasn’t present at the Paris Diamond League 5000m, which proved to be the greatest depth race of all-time with six men under 12:50 – five of whom will be at the Olympics.
The 400m runner was Britain’s sole Olympic gold medallist in athletics four years ago. Since then she has struggled slightly with injury and last year suffered the misfortune of false-starting in the heats at the World Championships. But with all that behind her, the East London sprinter looks to be heading to London in the form of her life, following a 50.42 season’s best to win the London Diamond League, beating world champion Amantle Montsho. Ohuruogu always produces her best form when it matters most, and should she raise her game in London by a similar ratio to her improvements at previous major championships, she could be looking at a time of 49.4 or quicker. That should certainly put her in the mix alongside Montsho and USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross.
After disappointment at the World Championships last year, the hype surrounding the European bronze medallists appeared to calm down somewhat. But a victory at the London Diamond League with a personal best of 53.77 – the second-fastest time in the world this year – has put the 23-year-old in the spotlight as a medal contender. In London she defeated reigning Olympic champion Melaine Walker and European champion Irina Davydova. But world champion Lashinda Demus and 2010 European champion Natalya Antyukh are both capable of breaking 53 seconds and should not be discounted.
The European champion has been one of the British revelations of this season. The 24-year-old had never previously participated in a global senior championships, but after jumping an indoor PB of 2.34m, he finished sixth at the World Indoors. He has been in even better form during the outdoor season, setting a PB of 2.36m, winning the European title, and finishing no lower than second in all of his competitions. Such consistency could well be rewarded with a medal.
This is perhaps the most open of all the relay events, and one in which Britain has a strong tradition. USA are of course the favourites, while the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belgium will all field strong teams too. But Britain has four men under 45.25 this year, as well as the likes of hurdles specialist Dai Greene and Jack Green to call upon. The 4x400m is also exactly the kind of event where a home crowd can really make a difference as host-nation athletes are roared on all the way around each lap.
The javelin thrower enjoyed the biggest win of her life at the recent London Diamond League, where she broke the British record with 66.17m to defeat world record-holder Barbora Spotakova, European champion Vira Rebryk and world leader Sunette Viljoen. But during that competition Sayers suffered an injury which may harm her chances. Either way she will not want to finish fourth again, as she did in Beijing four years ago.
No one – apart from the man himself – is truly aware of the triple jumper’s current fitness. Injury has prevented him from having a full competitive summer campaign, but unless he fails to make it to the runway he can never be written off. He was carrying a niggling injury in Daegu last year but still managed to produce the second-best mark of his career to take silver.
Another slightly injured British triple jumper, Aldama had a great start to her year by winning world indoor gold. But she suffered a shoulder injury in her first competition of the summer, which has since hampered her form. Still, at 39 years old, no one in the women’s triple jump will be more experienced – and that can count for a lot.
The young Briton became the fourth-highest pole vaulter in history with her 4.87m indoors earlier this year, and confirmed she was no one-hit wonder by taking bronze at the World Indoors. Her 4.71m victory at the UK Championships was the turning point of her summer season and she recently finished third in Monaco, where world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva failed to record a height.
The UK record-holder appeared to be in medal contention at last year’s World Championships before she clipped a barrier in the closing stages of the 100m hurdles. She had been in similar form this summer, up until a worrying performance at the London Diamond League where a back injury flared up. If fit, Porter should once again be competitive among the world’s best.
One of just two British athletes to head to London at the top of the world rankings for their event, Rutherford equalled the UK record of 8.35m at the start of this summer. He broke eight metre in five of his other competitions, but then picked up cramp in Madrid – where he finished eighth with a windy 7.81m – and later withdrew from the London Diamond League.
The former Anguillan has this year broken the British long jump records indoors and out. She took bronze at the World Indoors with 6.89m and won the UK outdoor title with a national record of 6.95m. But in London she will be up against a trio of seven-metre jumpers from America, as well as several strong East Europeans.
Britain has never before had a medallist in the discus at the Olympic Games, but if there is one man capable of ending that drought, then it is Lawrence Okoye. He broke his own national record this year with 68.24m and has been far more consistent than last season. But his recent 12th-place finish at the European Championships put something of a question mark over his big-meet mentality.
In recent years the medals in this event at global championships have been shared between USA, Russia and Jamaica. Those three nations are again expected to be out in front in London, but Britain are the world indoor champions and should any of the big teams slip up, the host nation will be poised to capitalise.
Although he hasn’t jumped quite as far as Rutherford this year, Chris Tomlinson looks like he could be hitting top form at exactly the right moment. He jumped 8.26m – the fourth-best mark of his career – to finish second at the recent London Diamond League, then finished third in Monaco. In his third Olympics, he will be keen to improve on his fifth place from 2004.