We highlight 10 events worth keeping an eye on at this weekend’s Aviva UK Indoor Trials and Championships in Sheffield
This weekend’s UK National Indoor Championships in Sheffield doubles as the trials for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul next month, and breakthrough performances from the likes of Holly Bleasdale and Robbie Grabarz shows that Britain will head there with some genuine medal chances.
The British victory at the five-way Aviva Glasgow International indicates that the indoor season will be more than just a footnote in the build-up to the Olympics. Jessica Ennis, Hannah England and Dwain Chambers are among the other major names due to compete this weekend, as athletes chase selection for the World Indoors on March 9-11.
Here we pick out the 10 events we are most looking forward to watching this weekend.
After a few down years, this event in Britain appears to be back on track as the standard is reapproaching its dizzy heights of 2008 where four men broke 2.30m. Already this year two Brits have surpassed that mark and both will be in action in Sheffield.
The favourite is Robbie Grabarz, who cleared a PB of 2.34m in Wuppertal last month to go to No.3 on the UK all-time list. Days later, former UK indoor champion Samson Oni sailed over 2.31m to join Grabarz as an Olympic qualifier.
Also due to compete in Sheffield are St Lucia’s world finalist Darvin Edwards and former Commonwealth silver medallist Ben Challenger.
Three British women have this year already achieved UKA’s 7.30 qualifying standard for the World Indoors, but with just two places on the team available, this event will be a genuine trial and a hotly-contested one at that.
Former world indoor silver medallist Jeanette Kwakye opened her season with an impressive win in Glasgow, but her UK-leading mark only lasted 24 hours when former world youth champion Asha Philip smashed her PB with a 7.24 run. In that race, Philip comfortably beat training partner and European Indoor fourth-placer Jodie Williams, who boasts a 7.21 PB.
Also in the running are 2004 Olympic 200m finalist Abi Oyepitan and former UK champion Laura Turner. And look out for Aviva International 200m winner Margaret Adeoye, who could once again be the surprise package.
In the absence of Michael Rimmer and European indoor finalist Andrew Osagie, the men’s 800m is all about Joe Thomas vs the clock. The Welshman has notched up three run-away victories this year, all with personal bests and huge margins of victory. Should that trend continue, Thomas could once again threaten the 1:47 barrier and even get close to the world-leading mark (1:47.14 on a regular track).
Should anyone come close to challenging Thomas, it is likely to be former UK indoor champion Ed Aston or Guy Learmonth, the second-fastest British junior of all-time over 800m indoors. Another athlete looking to take on the clock is Olympian Anthony Whiteman, who is hoping to better his own UK M40 record and challenge the European indoor M40 record of 1:52.44.
World silver medallist Hannah England had a slight blip in her first race of the year when she was beaten in a sprint finish by unheralded German Denise Krebs. This weekend England hopes to make no such mistakes and she steps up in distance to the 3000m. The Oxford athlete has only twice before contested the 3000m, but she boasts an indoor PB of 8:56.72, which makes her the favourite.
If anyone is going to cause a Kreb-esque surprise though, it could be Gemma Steel. The European Cross-Country silver medallist is better known for her exploits on mud and grass, but she has an eye on qualifying for this year’s Olympics on the track. Steel has never before competed indoors and has only twice raced over 3000m. But her vast improvement over the winter means she will be one of England’s toughest opponents in Sheffield.
This event has been hit by the withdrawal of world bronze medallist Andy Turner, but despite that it will still be one worth watching. British junior 110m hurdles record-holder Andy Pozzi has made a sensational transition to the senior hurdles this winter and tops the UK lists with 7.62.
UKA has stipulated a tougher qualifying standard of 7.65 for this event, compared to the IAAF’s guideline of 7.74, but Pozzi has already achieved that and looks set to go even quicker. Lawrence Clarke opened his season with a 7.68 PB and could well join Pozzi on the plane to Istanbul. Similarly, Gianni Frankis, Julian Adeniran and Nick Gayle are all on the brink of qualifying too.
Holly Bleasdale’s rapid rise is fast becoming one of the big talking points of 2012. The 20-year-old from Blackburn first picked up a pole in 2007. Three years later she won bronze at the 2010 World Junior Championships, and last year she broke the UK record with 4.70m and won the European Under-23 title.
Her progression has continued this year and three weeks ago she went to No.2 on the world indoor all-time list with 4.87m. She has since dropped to No.3 on that list, but has been experimenting in training with longer poles and could well go higher before the indoor season is out. This week in Poland she took on world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva, both clearing 4.68m but the Russian winning on countback.
Bleasdale will defend her UK indoor title in Sheffield this weekend and for the first time this year she will compete in front of a British crowd. The extra support could be just the ingredient needed to go higher.
The men’s short sprint is always one of the most hotly-contested events of the UK Indoor Championships and this year is no different. UKA has upped the World Indoors qualifying standard from 6.67 to 6.60 – a mark that no British man has achieved so far this year, but five of the entrants boats PBs below that mark.
Unfortunately, current UK leader Richard Kilty – who made a huge stride forward last weekend with a 6.61 PB – does not intend on having a full indoor season and will not be in Sheffield. But world indoor champion Dwain Chambers will be there, looking to win his fifth successive title.
Lining up against him will be former UK 100m champion Simeon Williamson, the only British sprinter to defeat Chambers at a UK Championships since 2008. Also entered are Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Mark Lewis-Francis, while the likes of Greg Cackett and Andrew Robertson are fast improving and could grab a top-three spot.
This is one of the many events that is not as competitive as it usually is outdoors, but there is a tasty head-to-head shaping up. Shana Cox, one of the new additions to the GB team, leads the UK lists this year with 53.08. The former American is a proven indoor runner and holds the US indoor 500m record.
In Sheffield she will face 2007 world silver medallist Nicola Sanders. The former European indoor champion has struggled ever since to regain her form from five years ago, but she is said to have enjoyed a solid winter and this will be her first indoor race since the 2007 European Indoors, where she won gold in 50.02 – going to No.5 on the world indoor all-time list.
Traditionally one of Britain’s strongest events indoors, this year’s UK Indoor Championships 400m final looks set to be another exciting race. Defending champion Nigel Levine, European indoor bronze medallist Richard Buck, and former winner Rob Tobin are all entered. But some of the more exciting entrants hail from the other side of the Atlantic.
European silver medallist Michael Bingham switched to represent Great Britain several years ago. He has not competed indoors since 2009, but he has a great track record on the boards and in 2009 won the NCAA indoor title in 45.69 – the fourth-fastest time ever by a Briton indoors.
The other interesting contender from Stateside is Thomas Phillips. The 22-year-old is a 400m hurdles specialist and was one of Britain’s many sub-50 hurdlers last year, but just missed out on making the team for the European Under-23 Championships. He has started this year in great form, smashing his 400m PB with a 47.08 clocking.
Shara Proctor has represented Great Britain for just over a year but already the former Anguillan has worked her way up to No.3 on the UK all-time indoor long jump list. Her 6.60m in Moscow last weekend is just seven centimetres shy of her indoor PB and she could well better that in Sheffield. She is already in possession of the qualifying standard, thanks to her 6.81m jump outdoors last year, but a win in Sheffield should guarantee her spot on the team for Istanbul.
One of her rivals will be Sheffield’s hometown girl Jessica Ennis. The European heptathlon champion will be gearing up to defend her world indoor pentathlon title by competing in four events this weekend, of which the long jump is one. Also on her schedule are the shot, high jump and 60m hurdles, the latter two being her best chance of notching up a victory in front of a home crowd.
» The Aviva UK Indoor Championships will be shown on Channel 4 from 2-3.55pm on Sunday. For startlists and results, click here. See next week’s Athletics Weekly for full coverage of the UK Indoor Championships.