Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele is the star of the show on the first night of the British Olympic Trials
The Aviva 2012 Trials is arguably one of the most important domestic athletics competitions in recent history for British athletes, but on the first night of action at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium the top performances came from a handful of leading African athletes.
Months of meticulous planning has gone into the Aviva 2012 Trials – the event where British athletes try to secure their place on the team for the London 2012 Games. But Ethiopian athletes have not had the benefit of being a part of such a slick operation and confusion has reigned over their selection policy for the Olympics.
Initially it was understood that the 10,000m at the FBK Games in Hengelo would be the official trial race for Ethiopian athletes and as such, a large contingent – including Haile Gebrselassie – travelled to the Dutch city in an attempt to prove their worth, and Tariku Bekele won on his debut at the distance.
But since then it transpired that the Ethiopian federation were yet to make up their mind. Further, they reversed their decision to pre-select Kenenisa Bekele – the reigning Olympic champion in the event – after he had suffered a series of defeats on the international circuit.
And so it was that the men’s 10,000m at the Aviva 2012 Trials became another selection opportunity for Ethiopian athletes, with both Bekele brothers headlining the field as guest runners.
With a 27:00 clocking as the goal, Tariku did the tough work in the opening stages and led the field through half way in 13:32.06. Half a lap later, Kenenisa took up the running and the brothers continued to exchange the lead over the next few kilometres.
The pace slipped slightly in the second half and the Bekele brothers went through the bell neck-and-neck with Commonwealth champion Moses Kipsiro. As the kicking began, it was still anyone’s game for much of the last lap, but in the home straight it was Kenenisa Bekele who had the edge.
He didn’t quite look like the all-conquering athlete who dominated the distance running scene between 2003 and 2009, but he was plenty strong enough to out-sprint the best that his home country had to offer, and with a 55.61-second last lap he finished a comfortable winner in an all-comers’ record of 27:02.59, breaking the mark set 17 years ago by Burundi’s Aloÿs Nizigama.
More significantly, though, he has surely done enough to book his place on the Ethiopian team for the London 2012 Games, where he will likely come up against Britain’s Mo Farah.
Tariku was second with 27:03.24, closely followed by two Ethiopian team-mates – Gebre Gebremariam (27:03.58) and Sileshi Sihine (27:03.65). Kipsiro was fifth with a personal best of 27:04.48.
The top British finisher was Mike Skinner, who ran 29:40.78 to finish less than a second ahead of Matt Clowes (29:41.61).
The evening kicked off with the first round of a handful of track events. Teenage sprint sensation Adam Gemili, competing in his first 100m race since his 10.08 European age-18 best, posted the fastest time of the men’s 100m heats, winning his race in 10.27 (0.4m/s).
Dwain Chambers was second-fastest with his 10.34 (0.3m/s), while the likes of James Dasaolu (10.45), Simeon Williamson (10.45), Harry Aikines-Aryeetey (10.47), Christian Malcolm (10.48), Marlon Devonish (10.50) and Mark Lewis-Francis (10.62) all made it safely through to tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Abi Oyepitan looked the most impressive in the first round of the women’s 100m, winning her heat in 11.57 into a -1.1m/s headwind. Ashleigh Nelson (11.55), Anyika Onuora (11.48w) and Montell Douglas (11.55) also progressed, as did Asha Philip (11.60) and Jodie Williams (11.70), both of whom were making their first notable appearance of the season after a low-key build-up to the Trials.
Undoubtedly the most competitive event in the country, the men’s 400m hurdles, saw some brutal heats where just the winners were guaranteed a spot in the final. Most of the main protagonists safely made it through – including, of course, world champion Dai Greene. The respective heat winners were Nathan Woodward (50.34), Rhys Williams (50.54), Greene (50.80), Jack Green (51.50) and Rick Yates (51.81). They will be joined in the final by Benjamin Sumner, Richard Davenport and Tom Burton.
European under-23 finalist and sub-50 runner Nial Flannery had a bad race and finished third in his heat outside 53 seconds, while Tom Phillips – another sub-50 runner – was even more unfortunate in his heat. He led into the penultimate hurdle but clipped it and lost his momentum. He held on for second, but his time of 51.85 missed the cut-off for the final by just 0.04.
Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu made easy work of her qualification in the 400m, winning her heat by more than a second in 52.14. Two false starts and further technical problems affected the second heat, but Lee McConnell (53.21) and Nicola Sanders (53.65) made it safely through. Shana Cox took the final heat in 53.54.
World 5000m champion Mo Farah looked impressive in the heats of the 1500m. After two slow opening laps, Farah moved up a few gears to stretch out his legs, winning his heat in 3:47.50 and striking his ‘Mobot’ pose as he crossed the finish line. Among those lining up against him in the final are Andy Baddeley, Ross Murray, David Bishop, Chris O’Hare, and Tom Lancashire.
Even with the absence of former world bronze medallist Jenny Meadows, the women’s 800m final is shaping up to be a cracker. UK leader Marilyn Okoro posted the fastest time of the day with 2:04.42, but the biggest talking point was the performance of 17-year-old Jessica Judd, who won her heat in 2:05.04, leading from gun to tape and beating 1:59 runner Emma Jackson. Jemma Simpson also made it through, winning a tactical heat in 2:08.32.