It is Olympic year and in the early stages of the season we are already seeing some impressive performances all over the world including Semenya’s triple, Van Niekerk becoming the first sub 10/20/44 second runner in history and Schippers already in top class form running 22.25 on a wet track in America. Of course this blog likes to give a big focus to the Brits and I will list here xx British Athletes to look out for this year. The likes of Ennis-Hill, Farah and Rutherford are obvious people to follow of course so this focuses on those who could surprise in Rio or are young talents who could develop further this year. It is not an exhaustive list though so there might be some people that you might think should be mentioned but the truth is by the time we come to trials a lot of the events could be very interesting (unless we get the usual quota of injuries we sadly usually get!). On with the list!
One of the most pleasant surprises in the early months of 2016 has been the form of Discus thrower Jade Lally. The commonwealth Bronze medallist has been one of the more unfortunate British athletes of recent years who has not been selected for major championships when it was possible to do so. She has also been very consistent having thrown between 60 and 61 metres for the previous 5 years but earlier this year, she not only finally passed the 61 metre mark, she flew past it! Two competitions within a week of each other saw Lally throw her longest 9 throws ever, with all of those over 63 metres! Her 64.41m was a new English record before her 65.10m the week after increased it further and is the furthest throw since Meg Ritchie in the 1980’s. Her performances have meant she has already gained the two Olympic qualifying standard needed for automatic nomination for the British Olympic team and barring injury or illness will surely do that at the trials in July. It is perhaps too early to talk about what her chances would be in the Olympics, but it is nice to see an event that usually gets zero coverage have at least someone to bring some attention to the event for the right reasons.
Due to his injuries last year, it was a little bit forgotten some of the talent and potential he showed in 2014, both from his last leg gold winning performance at the Commonwealths to how close he ran Martyn Rooney at the Europeans a few weeks later winning the silver medal. Individually, he could well become Britain’s best quarter-miler but the standard last year showed that even going sub 45 is not going to be enough anymore and sub 44 is the minimum necessary to be in contention for a medal. His promise and return from injury though will be an interesting one to look out for but like many British athletes before him, it may be how well he can avoid injuries which may determine his future level of success.
In the end Sophie Hitchon was not that far away from a medal in Beijing last year as she finished a commendable 4th and extended her British record to 73.86m. After a couple of years where she hadn’t perhaps thrown as far or as consistently as she would have liked she had her best season both in terms of distance and consistency. Winning a medal in Rio will be difficult with the likes of World Record holder Wlodarczyk in the way but that is surely now the goal for Hitchon and her early season form will be interesting to see where she is.
Seren was perhaps one of the bigger surprises last year as she made a big breakthrough in the indoor season, winning bronze at the European Indoor Championships and getting her PB down to 51.48 and had she not done the European U23’s surely would have been selected individually for Beijing (although with UKA who knows quite frankly!). Her indoor form was encouraging too running 51.60 suggesting that getting close to under 51 seconds is possible. With Christine Ohuruogu only usually peaking in time for the major champs, the trials may be a bit more interesting this year if Onuora and Bundy-Davies can be close to top form as Christine will not be at her best because she is always better at the major champs later on. There is somebody else who could possibly feature too….
PERRI SHAKES- DRAYTON
In 2013 Perri Shakes-Drayton was on the brink of becoming one of Britain’s best athletes. After disappointingly just missing out on an Olympic final place in London she came back in 2013 and was arguably the second best 400 metre hurdler in the world that year behind Hejnova. Certainly by the time Moscow came around, she was in a battle with the two Americans for the ‘minor’ medals. However she was cruelly injured during that race (and indeed may have been beforehand) as she struggled badly in the home straight. She has not raced since that day. However this is the year when she is expected to make her comeback and will now only be a 400 metre flat runner. Her PB of 50.50 from 2013 would very likely get her on the team if she can get back close to that kind of form. As she has not yet even run yet, it is unwise to say she can and to be honest if she can just get back to some good enough form to make the Olympic team then that would be a good starting point for the rest of her career. In terms of being one to look out for, her early results will be very interesting. The Olympic standard by the way is 52 seconds and that will surely be the first target.
She has already shown some of her ability when she won bronze at the World Indoor Championships a few weeks ago. Her consistency has improved dramatically and from that base can be pretty confident that 6.80+ and 6.90+ jumps are within her capabilities which at least means she is in within a shout of winning most season competitions. I think the odds are that you will need to jump 7 metres to win a medal in Rio and I suspect most of the athletes realise that. With Spanovic and Britney Reese back to the form that saw her win in Rio, it could well be a big battle just to make the podium, but with her, Shara Proctor and possible Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Jasmine Sawyers, the women’s long jump is the event to follow in British Athletics this year.
I hate when people get called the next ‘insert successful person here’! When Zharnel Hughes began representing Britain, the press continuously called him the ‘next Usain Bolt’. Putting that moniker on anybody is a difficult task as how can they possibly live up to that?! Not that I think Hughes especially cares as I think he knows he is not going to be Bolt but what he can be is a very, very good 200 metre runner. His performances on the Diamond league circuit, his 5th place at the World Championships and his PB (now down to 20.02) is a good indicator for his talent and potential. Potential is just a word though and there are too many factors that determine whether ‘potential’ is reached but training with the likes of Bolt may give him an advantage in his future over other British sprinters.
The second hammer thrower on this list and Nick Miller is definitely one to look out for over the coming years as he is very young for a hammer thrower but is already throwing British record distances as he did last year (77.55m), looks likely to be in Rio and if he can find that kind of distance in Rio, the podium would surely be a possibility. Last year’s European u23 Champion, his next big step may well be finding that form at the major championships. Whilst he qualified well last year to make the World final, he wasn’t able to produce in the actual final itself but that experience may well help when it comes to what will likely be his first Olympics. What is encouraging though is his consistency as he was throwing at least 75 metres in virtually every event (with the exception of the World Championships and the Euro u23’s) and if he can translate that form in the major championships he could be a contender.
This is a big year for Jodie and I think it is fair to say she knows it. It is still however very easy to forget that she will still only be 22 when we get to Rio, only a couple years older than Dina Asher-Smith even though it feels like she has been around forever. Currently in America with the ever-growing ALTIS group, it seems like she has made some big decisions which includes rejecting the relay funding she was originally announced for in order to focus on herself where the goal is to surely reach the potential that she showed in her teenage years. A few years ago her PB of 22.46 would likely have made a global final but recent standards suggest that you may need to run a tenth or two quicker. She has of course been overtaken domestically by Asher-Smith who ran quicker than Jodie’s PB on 5 separate occasions including the new British record. However it seems that Jodie has made some big and mature decisions and after all the injuries she has had it would be wonderful if she could reach the next level. I personally would love to see her and Dina battle it out at the trials this year.
I get that ‘what if’ thinking when it comes to Gemili last year. His 100 metre form was his best ever as he went under 10 seconds twice (once with a big following wind) to become the first Brit to go sub 10 and sub 20 (just needs a sub 44 to join Van Niekerk in the sub 10/20/44 second club!) but of course he got injured during that race he went sub 10 and didn’t race again. His best shot to me is clearly the 200 metres and having run a couple of sub 20’s, he certainly should feel he can at least make the final and perhaps contend for the minor medals (Bolt winning the 200 metres is a certainty). First though, like some others on the list, he just needs to get racing again. For once, he did a few indoor races lowering his PB down to 6.59 although his start still needs work if he wants to be competitive in the 100 metres.
Dina last year became one of Britain’s most well-known track and field athletes. Her transition from World Junior Champion to British record holder over the 100 and 200 metre as well as part of the 4×100 relay record has been remarkable. The transition from junior to senior is often a difficult one but she dealt with it really well and very quickly. I do feel people need to temper their expectations just a tad however. If she runs the times she did last year then that would be amazing but the days of taking several tenths of her PB at a time are unlikely and the competition in the women’s 200 is one of the best in the whole sport but we can look forward to her progress over the coming years. Ultimately we should be excited to finally have a genuine world class female sprinter which we haven’t had since the days of Kathy Cook.
That is all for today then, I may well do another list to profile some more athletes to keep an eye out for but I shall announce that later on. This week is the beginning of the Diamond League with the first event happening in Doha this Friday! Exciting to watch some world class athletics again and Rio is under 4 months away now! Until next time!