Asides

*Jessica Ennis-Hill probably looked more nervous on the start-line for the 100m hurdles yesterday afternoon than she did for the start of the Olympic heptathlon last year and such apprehension was understandable as the London Anniversary Games was the acid test to see whether her nagging Achilles tendon would stand up to the strains of top-class competition. Ennis-Hill was never going to replicate her UK record form in her first hurdles race since the Olympic heptathlon twelve months ago but a 13.08 debut off the back of very little hurdles work and negligible speed work marked a sound opener and it was promising she came away unscathed after six physically taxing efforts in deteriorating conditions in the long jump.

*The most important result will be the outcome of how the Achilles tendon responds post-competition and if it reacts well, Ennis-Hill will be a contender to regain the title she first won in 2009 despite a far from ideal build-up. To put her performances into context, she was fourth in the 100m hurdles in 13.08 and only 0.13 behind 12.47 performer and Olympic bronze medallist Kellie Wells and her time was more importantly 0.24 faster than Tatyana Chernova’s hurdles PB. Her midweek javelin PB of 48.33m is also in excess of what her Russian rival has achieved this year too. Granted, a two-day heptathlon demands much more on the body and the nature of the injury might make her somewhat fallible in the high jump but let’s hope she does make the trip to Moscow as fit as she can be as the championships are already missing more than a few world stars.

*If Ennis-Hill misses the World Championships, Perri Shakes-Drayton and Christine Ohuruogu will carry the hopes of the British women next month based on the form they showed in the Olympic Stadium. Shakes-Drayton, who has been a perennial top-three fixture on the Diamond League circuit this year, took another runner-up finish to Zuzana Hejnova from Czech Republic in the 400m hurdles on Friday night and even though she lost her rhythm over the final flight of barriers after an unusually aggressive first 300m which left the door open for Hejnova to win her eighth race of the season, Shakes-Drayton was still rewarded with a PB of 53.67. A slight change in pacing for Moscow could see her rewarded with her first global outdoor medal and a time close to 53-seconds.

*Ohuruogu has been flirting with new tactics in the 400m this year and the 2008 Olympic champion struck the perfect balance between starting purposefully yet keeping enough back to attack in the home-straight. She was rewarded with her fastest ever non-championships time of 50.00 which is an ominous warning for her rivals as Ohuruogu always changes up a gear for the major championships. Amantle Montsho will be her main threat despite a defeat to Ohuruogu in Birmingham although Antonina Krivoshapka, who Ohuruogu will probably like on her outside in the world final given her propensity to blaze away, won’t get many better chances at claiming an elusive global title.

Solid return to big-time for Ennis-Hill but not sure about Worlds

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You could pretty much be sure nearly all of the world’s leading long-distance runners in years gone by would give the World Cross-Country Championships their due regard. In recent years though, the championships has assumed a much lesser significance and the fact the championships are now held biannually and Bydgoszcz being the only city to express an interest in hosting this year’s edition speaks volumes of its declining importance. But perhaps this downhill trend could be arrested?

*The event has traditionally been held towards the end of March but perhaps it’s time to change the timing of the event to an earlier date? The European Cross-Country Championships being held midway through December might account for the dwindling European participation (although I should add I don’t have much sympathy for those who bemoan the East African dominance) but a more pertinent issue is the track season encroaching on the World Cross-Country Championships. A sizeable contingent of our leading cross-country exponents have prioritised the increasingly globally-attended track races in California in April and May (although you could argue there’s no reason why they can’t do both!) in order to attack the World Championships qualifying standards and expect this trend to remain as selectors ideally prefer multiple A standards. Whereas the Golden League, the centrepoint of the commercial track circuit, started in late June or July, its successor the Diamond League now starts in early May in Doha which puts the World Cross further on the periphery. Perhaps holding it a month earlier would be a more conducive time-slot as it would then be in sync with all of the top cross-country races on the continent which are held in January and early February? 

*Is there any logical reason why the women still only run 8km at the World Cross-Country Championships while the men run 12km? The marathon was introduced to the major championships programme in 1982 at the European Championships yet, for some reason, cross-country seems impervious to this change. I would love to see this aberration addressed and while this won’t be popular among the purists who bemoan how the National men’s race has been shortened, perhaps reducing the men’s race to 8km could also help to draw a greater cross-section of athletes?

*Tougher courses, rather than those resembling glorified track races, surely make for more exciting spectacles? Let’s hope for more testing courses such as Ostend in 2001 and Edinburgh in 2008 in the future as opposed to the manicured lawns of Marrakech in 1998 and Punta Umbria in 2011 to ensure the event retains its identity and reputation as one of the hardest races to win. 

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*Asha Philip produced one of the best performances of the weekend setting a stadium record and lifetime best of 7.15 to win the 60m but the trajectory of her 2012 season serves as a cautionary tale to those making any sort of predictions for the summer. After a breakthrough indoor campaign, injuries compromised the rest of the year to the extent she only raced five times outdoors over 100m. However, let’s hope she remains injury free as her PB of 11.37 set in the year she won the world youth title in 2007 isn’t close to representative of her ability.

*It was also pleasing to see James Dasaolu win his first senior title nearly four years after coming to prominence domestically with a 10.09 100m PB and his winning time of 6.58 shows reigning champion Dwain Chambers would have needed to be close to his best had he not pulled out with injury. Dasaolu’s another athlete who’s struggled to stay injury free but the 25-year-old enjoyed his best ever outdoor season last year and his performances on the boards in 2013 suggests his winter training went largely interrupted too.

*Eilidh Child’s progress in the 400m hurdles has stalled somewhat after improving from 56.84 to 55.32 in 2009. Since then, she’s only gone below 55-seconds once but the Scotswoman looks set to rewrite her PB of 54.96 if her flat form is anything to go by. The 400m indoors is an event which can look unflattering on the clock but her times in the semi-final (52.06) and final (52.13) were both faster than her outdoor PB of 52.28. Maybe she could have gone even faster if her main rival Perri Shakes-Drayton wasn’t a late withdrawal?

*Despite the absence of high-profile performers such as Phillips Idowu and Greg Rutherford, the horizontal jumps were looking in surprisingly rude health in Sheffield as many of the lesser lights made an impact. Kola Adedoyin (16.50m) and Michael Puplampu (16.43m) were second and third in the triple jump behind Tosin Oke from Nigeria, adding 25cm and 24cm respectively to their PBs. At 23, Puplampu is ineligible for the European Under-23 Championships but his training partner can look forward to challenging for medals if he builds on this showing.

*In the long jump, Matthew Burton produced a PB of 7.94m to beat joint UK record-holder Chris Tomlinson. At 25, Burton isn’t exactly a newcomer to the sport but he seems an athlete on the up based on his indoor form. However, while the 8m-barrier is a realistic target, qualification for the major championships might remain just a pipe-dream. The preposterous World Championships ‘A’ standard of 8.25m is largely beyond the capabilities of all but a select group of athletes globally and even the UKA standard for the European Indoor Championships, an event often used as a developmental championships for emerging athletes, stands at a rather intimidating 8.15m. Hopefully the selectors will consider factors beyond qualifying times and distances when they name the team. 

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