Sharp, Meadows and Leonard among frontrunners in classic clash at British Champs

With three big contenders for the title and a number of strong challengers, the women’s 800m looks set to be one of the most exciting contests at this weekend’s Sainsbury’s British Championships in Birmingham.

In the absence of Laura Muir and Jess Judd, who have opted for the 1500m, the quest for the national title should go down to a battle between the three other athletes who have achieved the world championship qualifying standard already this season – Lynsey Sharp, Jenny Meadows and Alison Leonard.

Although a place in the top two should be enough to secure automatic qualification for next month’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, all three of the trio will have good reason to believe that they can win the event.

While Sharp is the reigning champion and the current national leader outdoors, having ran 2:00.37 to finish sixth at the New York Diamond League last month, Meadows, who was two places behind in that race, is the only British athlete to have broken two minutes this season, having done so twice indoors.

As for Leonard, who has run 2:00.50 in 2015, there will be confidence gained from having been selected for the European Team Championships in Russia, where she finished eighth. The 25-year-old will be going for her first British title having finished runner-up last year.

Shelayna Oskan-Clarke and Adelle Tracey will also be pushing for a place in the top three. Both have set PBs this season and have run close to the qualifying standard. A top-two finish for Oskan-Clarke could mean making her first world championship team, although Tracey has already been selected for this month’s European Athletics Under-23 Championships in Tallinn and is unlikely to be considered for Beijing.

Selection for either Sharp or Leonard would also mean qualification for their first world championships, while for Meadows, the 2009 world bronze medallist, it would be her fourth.

Emily Dudgeon, a Commonwealth semi-finalist last year, could also feature, while leading juniors such as Molly Long also have an opportunity to make an impression.

AW caught up with Sharp and Meadows earlier in the season while in America for the Eugene and New York Diamond League events, to find out a little more about their quest to make it to Beijing.

For Meadows, things seemed to be getting back on track in 2015 after struggling with injuries for the past three years. The 34-year-old, was in brilliant form during the winter, finishing the indoor season as the world leader with four of the five fastest times in the world. She suffered a virus, though, during the week of the European Indoor Championships and had to withdraw from the final.

Speaking after her race in New York, Meadows admitted the disappointment of that illness had affected her mentally and physically coming into the outdoor season.

“I really felt for my own self esteem that I needed that indoor European gold medal and you know after three years of injuries and illnesses it was really amazing to get back in good shape,” she said. “It really knocked me getting ill. I really just wanted to have a tantrum and say life’s not fair and in training I kind of lost my killer instinct.”

She added: “I almost thought ‘I don’t know if I want to keep doing this or not, I don’t ever believe I’m going to be able to get my moment’.”

Now focused on having a good end to the year, she says she has learnt from the experience and has been trying to take things slowly. “I think the important thing that it’s taught me, is don’t count your eggs before they hatch.

“I felt like the European indoor title was mine to lose and you know there’s a lot of other girls out there on the day wanting to do that. I was in such good shape, I became run down, every session was so good,” she added.

“So it has been a case of trying to hold me back a little bit at the beginning of the outdoor season. Obviously my competitive nature doesn’t want that, but it’s good to do so, I have trust in the plan that we have and it’s worked before, so as long as I peak at the right time it should be good.”

After a brilliant 2014 in which she won European and Commonwealth silver, as well as finishing second in the Diamond League, Sharp is coming through nicely so far this year. Having run a season’s best in each of her races so far this season she looks on track to break two minutes once more.

Although she is yet to win a race this year, the 24-year-old doesn’t seem concerned and having gained her first full winter’s training since 2008, she remains confident that she will peak at the right time once more. Even if she admits it’s been difficult to focus on the worlds when others have been running such fast times.

“It’s just difficult to remain focused on worlds especially when everyone’s season’s different. Some people come out fast, I never really do, so yeah I’m just gradually taking chunks off, going in the right direction,” she said.

“Hopefully I’ll peak at the worlds. Obviously last year I peaked for the Europeans, so that’s what the season is about. It’s all fine and well doing well at the Diamond Leagues, but medals are what counts really. As long as I peak at worlds I’ll take that as a success.”

» The heats of the women’s 800m at the Sainsbury’s British Championships are 3:35pm on Saturday July 4 with the final at 5:14pm on Sunday July 5