Andy Vernon: Return of the people’s champion is long overdue

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Andy Vernon: Return of the people’s champion is long overdue

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Following something of an up and down couple of years, the original people’s champion of the grassroots running scene is on his way back

Andy has been usurped as the go-to grassroots hero of late.

Both Andrew Butchart and Callum Hawkins have made huge strides in closing the gaping British distance running chasm to Mo Farah. They’ve offered a legitimate alternative to a future that might have looked a little bleak once Farah hangs up his track spikes next summer.

It used to be a chasm that had Andy (and Chris Thompson on occasion) as its only genuine middleman. The future at least looks a little brighter.

But it’s more than two-and-a-half years since Andy drew level with Tim Hutchings and fired himself into the UK 5,000m all-time top-10.

He made the Olympics in the summer – but this was success enough.

Given the disrupted build-up that saw him on the back foot as far back as this time last year, making it to his first Olympics, especially in light of what went down the year before, was reward enough.

But Andy didn’t do himself justice in Rio. Though he ran a season’s best, he finished seven from the back in the 10,000m final, and over a minute behind the winner he’d been just half-a-second behind two years before at the European Championships in Zurich.

‘His 27.42 over 10,000m in 2014 was his last run of real note – but the signs of a revival are stirring.’

His Rio selection itself was somewhat questionable given the lack of qualifying time and failure to finish in the qualification places in the trials. But who would argue against it? It was the least the selectors could do after his farcical omission – and subsequent slanging match with Farah on Twitter – from the world champs team in Beijing the year before.

His 27.42 over 10,000m in 2014, the year he bagged that silver at the European Championships, was his last run of real note – but the signs of a revival are stirring.

After beginning his winter campaign with the fastest leg in the less than salubrious setting of Bedford Aerodrome in September, Andy has been putting in the miles in preparation for cross country since. It was off the back of a full winter programme in 2013 that he went on to run that UK all-time top-10 time the following year.

Victory in the opening British Cross Challenge event at Milton Keynes last week, where he headed off a strong domestic field with ease, provided further evidence of his return to form.

Injury-free and focused on the road ahead, adding a second senior European cross country medal to the bronze snatched in Belgrade three years ago looks to be the goal. Here’s to the return of the forgotten man.

Words by Christopher Rainsford
Image from Andy Vernon

This article appears in the sixth edition of Left Spike from November 2016