British Olympic marathon and race walks trials: Who, what and when?

4 weeks ago
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Ben Connor, Dewi Griffiths, Steph Davis and Lily Partridge lead the entries for the 26.2-mile showdown at Kew Gardens on March 26 with Tom Bosworth heading the 20km walks line-up

Get ready to set your wake-up alarm early on Friday March 26. The Müller British Athletics Marathon and 20km Walk Trials kick off at dawn, but it will definitely be worth getting up for as athletes chase selection for the Tokyo Games.

Race walkers set off together at 6am at Kew Gardens in Richmond, south-west London, with the marathon runners away at 8am. After the disappointment of the British trials for the European Indoors not being streamed, too, there is good news as the races will be streamed on the British Athletics website and possibly even BBC with experts like Mara Yamauchi and Tim Hutchings among the commentators.

Just as well, because no spectators will be allowed due to the pandemic. However, no one is complaining too hard. It’s simply great news the event is happening at all after the coronavirus-related problems of recent months.

It is the first time for 40 years that a British Olympic marathon trial has been staged as a standalone race in a similar style to the US Olympic trials. The last one was Milton Keynes in 1980 and since then the London Marathon itself has acted as the trial event.

READ MORE: Olympic hopes ready to bloom at Kew Gardens

Marathon runners will be targeting the Olympic qualifying times of 2:11:30 (men) and 2:29:30 (women) with the first two finishers guaranteed selection as long as they have the qualifying time.

Selection is complicated, though, by the fact Callum Hawkins is pre-selected in the men’s team, whereas some athletes with qualifying standards are not racing the trials. These include Jonny Mellor, the British No.1 in 2020, who is not running due to injury. It means Mellor could still be picked for Tokyo if only one – or none – of the athletes at the trials break the standard.

The same is the case in the women’s race with Charlie Purdue and Jess Piasecki missing the trials but Purdue comfortably inside the qualifying standard in London in April in 2019 and Piasecki breaking the mark by a large margin in December 2019.

Due to the fact the Tokyo Games should have been last year, the qualification windows to achieve standard in the marathon have been from January 1, 2019, to April 5, 2020, and September 1, 2020, to March 29 this year.

Both the 20km walk and marathon will be mixed sex races too with men and women setting off together. This will inevitably lead to a few runners being lapped but it is not expected to be a big issue.

Women’s contenders

Steph Davis and Lily Partridge lead the entries following the withdrawal of several big-name Olympic hopefuls.

Partridge looks in shape after running 32:33 for 10,000m in Newport this month, which was also probably done during a heavy training period. With a family steeped in running tradition, she carries stacks of experience, is the British half-marathon champion and her best over 26.2 miles from 2018 shows she’s capable of beating the qualifying standard to make what will be her first Olympics.

Lily Partridge (Mark Shearman)

Davis, meanwhile, is the fastest on paper with a best of 2:27:40 from Valencia in December 2019 and is one of the rising stars of domestic distance running. The Clapham Chasers athlete has been checking out the course in Richmond in recent weeks with her coach Phil Kissi as well but, like many runners, comes into the race with no recent form as her last race was more than 12 months ago at the Vitality Big Half.

Despite the withdrawals the women’s race is stronger in depth than the men’s too. Natasha Cockram and Naomi Mitchell were the top two Brits at the London Marathon in October and will hope for further improvements at the trials.

Mitchell was a modest club runner for years but was a surprising leader of the British female field in London in October before Cockram ran her down in the latter stages.

READ MORE: Naomi Mitchell’s eye-catching marathon progress

Cockram ran 2:33:19 that day in poor weather but her best of 2:30:49 is the Welsh record and she is seemingly improving in every marathon after initially struggling with the transition from super-talented teenage runner to senior.

Sarah Inglis, who is featured in depth in the March issue of AW magazine, is another strong contender and ran sub-2:30 recently, whereas Tracy Barlow and Tish Jones both know what it takes to qualify for major championships.

Pic: London Marathon Events

Charlotte Arter, meanwhile, is an interesting debutante. One of Britain’s best distance runners in recent years, she has run sub-70min over the half-marathon although she dropped out of a recent 10,000m in Newport and may not be 100% fit.

The trials environment is tailor-made for surprises as well. Look out for Annabel Gummow, for example, who excelled in her teenage years and ran for Britain in the World and European cross country championships but is now 27 and hoping to make her mark in her debut marathon.

Men’s contenders

Ben Connor was second Brit home in the Virgin Money London Marathon in October and is rumoured to have gone well in training lately. The Derby runner also has the qualifying standard so doesn’t need to break it at the trials, which means he could run tactically to simply finish in the top two.

Dewi Griffiths (below) has the best PB, though, with a sub-2:10 clocking to his name from 2017. The Welshman is also said to have wintered well after a previous period of injury problems.

Pic: Mark Shearman

Look out too for fellow Welshman and namesake Josh Griffiths, plus the versatile ultra-running specialist Tom Evans.

Mo Aadan is an interesting debutante, however, with a 62:30 half-marathon best, which certainly suggests the Thames Valley Harrier is capable of the qualifying time.

Then there is Chris Thompson, an athlete who has graced the pages of AW since the mid-1990s and who will be sentimental favourite for many. At his best he is a 2:11 marathoner and 27:27 10,000m runner but he will be 40 in April and this is surely his last dance when it comes to making global championships.

Who is missing?

Callum Hawkins might be pre-selected but AW can reveal he is still running in the trials … as a pacemaker!

His brother, Derek, a 2:12 man at his best will not run, though. Neither will Jonny Mellor, who ran 2:10 twice last year, after an attack of gout led to ankle problems in recent weeks, as exclusively revealed by AW recently.

Jess Piasecki, the Stockport runner who is No.3 on the UK all-time rankings with 2:25:28 when winning the Florence Marathon in 2019, is one of several disappointing absentees from the women’s field. In fact, that Florence race 16 months ago is the last time she has raced, although most of the field have barely raced in the past year due to the pandemic.

Charlotte Purdue also dropped out of the trials race with only just over a week to go following reports that she has struggled with injury this winter. Like Piasecki she has a 2:25 PB to her name and sits just behind Piasecki on the UK all-time rankings in fourth place.

Other absentees include 2:26 runner Steph Twell, who is now focusing on 10,000m instead, plus 2:31 runner Jenny Spink and 2:32 runner Hayley Carruthers. US-based Brit Alice Wright and 2008 Olympian Kate Reed were also pencilled into early entry lists and set to enjoy marathon debuts but will not be on the start line.

Bosworth leads race walks entries

Tom Bosworth is the big name in the 20km race walks trials but he will face tough competition to win the race from the in-form Callum Wilkinson.

Bosworth was sixth in the Olympic Games 20km five years ago in Rio and has a best of 79:38 compared to the men’s qualifying standard of 81:00. However, Wilkinson is in great shape after improving his UK 10,000m record this month in Newport.

With Kew Gardens set to open to the public from late morning, there is pressure to get the races underway, so the race walkers will be setting off together at 6am.

Tom Bosworth (Mark Shearman)

They will tackle a one-mile loop that is smaller than the marathon course later in the morning and the fields also include Cameron Corbishley, Dominic and Daniel King, whereas the women’s field includes Beth Davies, Gemma Bridge, Heather Lewis and Erika Kelly as they aim for the Tokyo standard of 91:00.

Here are the complete marathon fields

Women (athlete, club, PB)

Steph Davis, Clapham Chasers, 2:27:40
Lily Partridge, Aldershot, 2:29:24
Sarah Inglis, Lothian, 2:29:41
Tracy Barlow, Thames Valley, 2:30:42
Natasha Cockram, Mickey Morris RT, 2:30:49
Tish Jones, Belgrave, 2:31:00
Naomi Mitchell, Reading, 2:33:23
Rebecca Gentry, Unattached, 2:37:01
Claire Grima, Hercules Wimbledon, 2:40:38
Rosie Edwards, Rotherham, 2:40:49
Samantha Harrison, Charnwood, 2:51:33
Charlotte Taylor-Green, Bristol & West, 2:36:54
Johanna O’Regan, Riverside, 2:41:31
Clara Evans, Cardiff, 2:46:03
Charlotte Arter, Cardiff, Debut
Becky Briggs, City of Hull, Debut
Annabel Gummow, Winchester, Debut

Sarah Inglis (Pic: Bobby Gavin)

Men (athlete, club, PB)

Dewi Griffiths, Swansea, 2:09:49
Chris Thompson, Aldershot, 2:11:19
Ben Connor, Derby, 2:11:20
Josh Griffiths, Swansea, 2:13:11
Matt Clowes, Cardiff, 2:13:57
Andrew Davies, Stockport, 2:14:36
Robbie Simpson, Deeside Runners, 2:14:56
Nick Torry, Serpentine, 2:15:04
Adam Hickey, Southend, 2:16:56
Paul Martelletti, Victoria Park & TH, 2:16:49
Paul Navesey, City of Portsmouth, 2:17:16
Josh Lunn, Cardiff, 2:17:59
Ian Leitch, Brighton Phoenix, 2:18:33
Tom Evans, Lewes, 2:26:04
Mo Aadan, Thames Valley, Debut
Frank Baddick, Newham, Debut
Nigel Martin, Sale, Debut

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