Race goes down to the wire to meet the Olympic standard

Barnsley pole vaulter Luke Cutts needs to convince selectors in Birmingham this weekend.

Barnsley pole vaulter Luke Cutts needs to convince selectors in Birmingham this weekend.

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Middle distance runner Lee Emanuel’s hopes of qualifying for a first Olympic Games hang on a knife edge ahead of this weekend’s British Championships and Olympic Trials.

Tension will be running high at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium as Britain’s top athletes look to finalise their preparations for Rio, while others vye for the remaining spots in the squad.

Emmanuel, of Sheffield and Dearne Athletics Club, requires a season’s best performance and a top-two finish in the 1,500m to give the British selectors a headache ahead of Monday’s squad announcement.

The 29-year-old has yet to post an Olympic A qualifying standard time but his fastest time of the year missed out by just nine tenths of a second.

Scotland’s Chris O’Hare is currently the only British 1,500m runner with a time under the required 3.36.20 mark but will face stiff competition in Birmingham from Emanuel and younger hopefuls Jake Wightman and Charlie Grice.

Leeds Beckett University student Laura Weightman has no time pressures in Birmingham having already secured two A standard times in the women’s 1,500m. But the 24-year-old, who is coached by Olympic medallist Steve Cram, needs a top-two finish to ensure an automatic place in Rio and not leave it in the hands of the selections.

Barnsley’s Luke Cutts will bid to twist the arm of the selectors by clearing the pole vault qualifying standard for a first time outdoors in 2016.

Cutts has cleared the 5.65m mark twice indoors but has fallen well short outdoors to leave his place hanging in the balance.

A best clearance of 5.70m indoors put the 28-year-old clear on top of the British standings but he has yet to surmount higher than 5.30m during the outdoor season.

Athletes are required to have two qualifying standards and finish inside the top-two at the Olympic trials to book an automatic spot on the plane to Brazil in August. Should Cutts fail to meet the criteria, his future would be left at the discretion of the selectors who may opt to side with Loughborough-based Steve Lewis who finished fifth at London 2012.

Pudsey and Bramley athlete Alexandra Bell is a surprise contender for qualification in the women’s 800m after smashing her personal best in May.

Seven athletes have the A standard already to their name in what could prove to be the most hotly contested race to Rio.

The event drew criticism in selection four years ago when veteran runners Jenny Meadows and Marilyn Okoro were omitted in favour of European medallist Lynsey Sharp, who leads the standings this time around by more than a second.

The sprint events draw the closest attention and Rotherham’s Louise Bloor will make her first appearance of the summer as she tries to secure a relay berth.

Bloor has had an injury setback since winning the indoor championships in February but has accepted a place in Sunday’s 200m heats.

Dina Asher-Smith hot-footed to a national record in the 100m last year in becoming the first British woman under the 11-second barrier and will be favourite to win the event again despite fellow youngster Desiree Henry topping the rankings.

Adam Gemili has opted against battling for one of the automatic 100m spots and will only compete in the 200m. Anguillan-convert Zharnel Hughes and young star Nethaneel Mitcheel-Blake have also done so, leaving the 100m open for Chijindu Ujah and James Dasaolu who have both dipped under ten seconds.

Olympic champion Greg Rutherford and reigning high jump champion Isobel Pooley have also pulled out of the competition due to fitness concerns.

Rutherford said: “I’m really disappointed not to be competing in Birmingham but for me defending the Olympic title is my main focus for 2016.  

“We have decided not to take any risks, finish my training camp here in Arizona and focus on making sure I am in the best position possible to compete at the European Championships and win gold in Rio.”

However, Rutherford drew criticism from 1992 Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie.

“Every athlete who wants to make Rio should have to take part in the UK Champs this weekend. The date was set one year ago. No show, no go,” Christie tweeted.

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