With Callum Hawkins pre-selected and focussing on the job in hand this summer, just two spots remain for a place on the team for the British men. Sub-2:16 and a top-two finish will do it – though three favourites into two won’t go.
In the absence of Callum, Scott Overall, Tsegai Tewelde and Chris Thompson are the three fastest Brits in the field and look the lads most likely to battle it out.
Chris opened 2017 with a comfortable win and sub-29 clocking at a cold and wet Trafford 10k in early March. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his long and fascinating history of injuries over the years, the road hasn’t run smooth since.
Typically chirpy and just about managing to keep the innuendo about his big engine in check during the pre-race press conference today, smiles disguised the steeliness and ambition to draw another big effort out of his fragile body. This will prove even more difficult after a challenging few weeks hampered by a stricken right plantaris following the Reading Half Marathon.
It’s an art form and a skill to keep yourself in one piece, Chris mused at one point. He then went on to emphasise that prior to his second-place finish in Reading, it wasn’t a question of if he’d break 2:10 in the capital, but by how much.
Unfortunately, that was five weeks ago and uncertainty now reigns. Unable to finish off the good work started at the beginning of the year, the question is whether that work will be enough to sustain Chris to the big run that’s in him come Sunday. His fingers are crossed the troublesome plantaris snaps sooner rather than later so he can get on and draw that big performance out.
Scott Overall, meanwhile, is fresh back – and just-this-morning fresh back at that – from altitude training in Flagstaff. It’s the first time he’s come down from altitude and raced so soon afterwards. There’s an undoubted risk factor involved. Will the experiment work?
There seemed a hint of resignation in Scott’s tone during the press conference that suggested this might just be his last tilt at a major championship. Perhaps the ups and downs of marathon running have started to grind him down. Either that, or it was a horizontal confidence behind his bronzed smile that says everything is in order.
Tsegai Tewelde is in pole position to secure one of those two spots after his 2:12.23 effort last spring. A tactical effort would probably do it. A true run race, on the other hands, could well throw the cat amongst the pigeons – and throw open the door to the likes of Andrew Lemoncello, Robbie Simpson, Jonny Mellor, and Jonny Hay.
The return to the road for Jo Pavey presents the biggest intrigue in the British women’s race for World Championship selection.
While Alyson Dixon, Charlotte Purdue and Tracy Barlow (read about her marathon build-up in her blog for us here) already have the sub-2:36 qualification standard for London 2017, it’s Jo that heads into the race as the fastest Brit on paper – even if that was achieved six years ago.
After a brief dalliance with the 26.2-mile distance in 2011 – a dalliance that saw her clock 2:28 twice and go UK top-10 all-time – Jo returns as a Commonwealth and European medallist on the track. The curtains on her career show little sign of closing.
Despite more illnesses than she would have liked, the lack of preparation race (for that very reason) coupled with relative inexperience over the distance, the smart money remains on Jo this weekend. She just needs to keep the leash tight early on to avoid the late-race delirium that set in on her last London outing.
Failure to do so will open the door to the old hands and young upstarts waiting in the wings. English champion and relative late-bloomer, Alyson Dixon, has been dropping 120-mile weeks in Font Romeu ahead of the weekend. A wily racer and veteran of nine marathons, racing nous and experience could be key.
Susan Partridge was another whose ambition appeared to be to run this weekend like it could be her last. Injuries and time have started to take their toll. Whether it’ll be alright on the night remains to be seen – though some late words of wisdom from her coach, Steve Jones, may be the shot in the arm she needs to go out there and race confidently.
If ex-stars in your corner count for much, then Charlotte Purdue could do worse than having Sonia O’Sullivan as a mentor. Charlotte’s globe-trotting marathon build-up – from a month at altitude in South Africa and a stint in Australia under the eye of coach Nic Bideau to the final few weeks in familiar old Teddington – has seen the quality of her training sessions trump last year’s. And we’re talking better by minutes too. A positive and aggressive approach this Sunday seems likely. Time will tell whether that approach delivers more boom than bust.
Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Virgin Money London Marathon