(25-Mar) -- For the first time in 41 years, Great Britain will hold a stand-alone trials race to select up to four members of their marathon team for an Olympic Games. The Müller British Athletics Marathon and 20km Walk Trials will be held tomorrow behind closed doors in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew in southwest London, and the top-2 men and top-2 women in each discipline --provided they possess the Tokyo Olympic qualifying standard at the conclusion of the race-- will earn berths on Team GB for this summer's Olympics.
PHOTO: Lily Partridge setting her marathon personal best of 2:29:24 at the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
The last time the British held a stand-alone trials was in 1980 in Milton Keynes. From 1984 through 2016, British athletes had the opportunity to qualify for the Team GB marathon squad via the Virgin Money London Marathon, but that was a race within-the-race and, depending on the year, only one athlete per gender could qualify. That system did produce some exciting results, however, like when 36 year-old optician Tracey Morris ran her way onto the Olympic team in 2004 when she finished tenth in London in 2:33:52 (she had never broken 3:39 for a marathon before that day). She joined Paula Radcliffe and Liz Yelling at the Athens Olympics and finished a more-than-credible 29th in very hot conditions (Yelling finished 25th and Radcliffe was unable to finish).
"I'm absolutely delighted," said Morris after her race in London, but before she was formally selected for the team. "I don't know if I've got a place on the team for Athens, but I hope so. It all went very well."
While that kind of Cinderella story isn't likely to play out tomorrow on the special 13-lap course designed by Dave and Tom Bedford, the race is an intriguing one. Only one man, Ben Connor, and one woman, Stephanie Davis, have the Olympic qualifying standards of 2:11:30 and 2:29:30, respectively, going into the race. That means that everyone else must achieve the standard during the race in order to be eligible for automatic selection.
A total of 15 men and 17 women are entered. The fastest men are Dewi Griffiths (2:09:49 lifetime best), Chris Thompson (2:11:19), Connor (2:11:20), and Joshua Griffiths (2:13:11), while the fastest women are Davis (2:27:40), Lily Partridge (2:29:24), Sarah Inglis (2:29:41), Tracy Barlow (2:30:42), and Natasha Cockram (2:30:50). A few athletes will be making their marathon debuts, including Mohamud Aadan (half-marathon best of 1:02:31) and Charlotte Arter (1:09:41).
So, who are the favorites?
"I believe, and looking at recent form and from what I hear through the grapevine, that it would be difficult for anyone to stop Ben Connor winning," Dave Bedford said in a brief video interview on the Richmond Runfest Twitter account. "I think Chris Thompson and Dewi Griffiths will be fighting it out for that all-important second place. On the women's side, Steph Davis looks almost a shoo-in for me. Lily Partridge, without a doubt, must stand a good chance, and Natasha Cockram I can see being a really good third."
Unlike the USA trials, where the entire six-athlete team is selected on the day, tomorrow's British Trials may not automatically select any athletes if none of the top-2 men or top-2 women leave the finish area with the standard. So, it is possible for athletes who already possess the Tokyo Olympic qualifying marks to be selected by British Athletics over those who compete tomorrow.
On the men's side, Callum Hawkins has already been pre-selected by British Athletics based on his 2019 World Athletics Championships performance where he finished fourth in 2:10:57. He will run tomorrow, but only as a pacemaker. Johnny Mellor ran under the standard twice in 2020 (2:10:05 in Seville and 2:10:38 in London). Mellor had planned to run at the Trials, but was forced to scratch with an ankle injury caused by gout. On the women's side, Jess Piasecki (2:25:29), Charlotte Purdue (2:25:38), and Steph Twell (2:26:40) all have the qualify standard from 2019 races after the original qualifying period opened on January 1 of that year. As such, Mellor, Piasecki, Purdue or Twell could still be selected for Tokyo.
Because of the Olympic qualifying standards, athletes have to keep their eyes on the clock as well as on each other. Bedford thinks that a solid, but not overly fast, pace is likely.
"I would guess 2:27:30 for the women and 2:11:15 for men," Dave Bedford said. The weather should be good: cloudy and 11C/52F.
GRAPHIC: The marathon course for tomorrow's Müller British Athletics Marathon and 20km Walk Trials (courtesy of British Athletics)
Tomorrow's race will have live global streaming via several platforms. The 20km walks begin at 6:00 a.m. local time (2:00 a.m. EDT), and the marathon begins 8:00 a.m. local time (4:00 a.m. EDT). The marathon will be shown in Britain via the BBC Sport website and BBC iPlayer. International viewers can watch at either of these links:
Streaming: British Athletics and YouTube.
Live split tracking will be available : here.