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Key Races This Weekend

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Jo Mersh in action in Athens in 2004
Mersh - favouring Okoro for 800m


10 July 2009

The Aviva UK Championships & World Trials is an event that always gets the athletics community talking. The annual championships regularly throw up a surprise or two and are notoriously difficult to predict.

Nonetheless, we have asked four British athletics legends to do just that. Liz McColgan, Jamie Baulch, Jo Mersh (Fenn) and Paula Dunn were put on the spot and below they give their verdicts on some of the most open events of the weekend.

Women’s 1500m Final
There are several live contenders, including Olympic 1500m fourth-placer Lisa Dobriskey, Olympic semi-finallist Susan Scott, World junior champion Stephanie Twell, 2008 NCAA champion Hannah England, Charlene Thomas, who sits second on this year’s Power of Ten rankings, World junior bronze medallist Emma Pallant and 2007 UK champion Katrina Wootton.

One of the UK’s greatest ever distance runners, former World 10,000m champion Liz McColgan plumps for Hannah England to take the glory. “She is in the best shape, especially after her sub 2 minute 800m.” she says after England’s fine recent breakthrough over the shorter distance at the European Team Championships.

Liz’s verdict:
1. Hannah England
2. Stephanie Twell
3. Charlene Thomas

Men’s 400m
Olympic finalist Martyn Rooney would have been clear favourite at the start of the year, but his season start has been delayed by injury and he will miss the trials. In his absence, Michael Bingham, Robert Tobin and Conrad Williams have set new PBs, whilst Tim Benjamin has returned to prominence by winning at the European Team Championships.

Former World Indoor Champion Jamie Baulch won the AAAs in 1999, but his most memorable race at the national championships came in 1996. A titanic battle saw Baulch finish 4th despite clocking a world-class 44.72secs in a race won by Roger Black.

He sees another closely contested race this weekend. He said: “Tim is so, so talented. I still don’t think he has fulfilled his potential yet. If there are no injuries then he is the man to beat. One person who many people might not have thought about is Matt Elias. I saw him training this week and he looked great.

“He has ran some awesome relay legs and has loads of talent. Richard Strachan ran a blinder at the Super8 competition in Cardiff, he’s not setting the world alight yet, but he kicked some ass that night. Rob Tobin will be thereabouts too. He’s consistent.”

Jamie’s verdict:
1. Tim Benjamin
2. Michael Bingham
3. Matt Elias

Women’s 100m

Suddenly emerging from the shadow of the men’s sprint, the women’s 100m has become one of the most competitive events in the UK. Jeanette Kwayke has blazed a trail, winning World indoor silver over 60m last year before going on to finish 6th in the Olympic 100m final. Hot on her heels though is Montell Douglas who broke the 27 year old UK record last year.

Last year’s bronze medallist Laura Turner, five-times winner Joice Maduaka and World junior silver medallist Ashlee Nelson could also contend. Another one to look out for is 200m specialist Emily Freeman who tops the Power of Ten 100m rankings and recently enjoyed victory at the European Team Championships in Leiria.

Four-times AAAs gold medallist Paula Dunn sees a tight contest. Of some of the premier contenders, she said: “Freeman is proving herself and all round sprinter, I feel she will be a fierce competitor. Douglas is rounding in to good form now and is the current UK record holder, so would expect her to raise her game.

“Kwayke is an excellent championship performer and has the ability to produce her best runs when it matters. Turner always rises to the challenge. However, it will be very close and the result depends upon who is physically and mentally prepared.”

Paula’s verdict:
1.Jeanette  Kwayke
2. Emily Freeman
3. Montell Douglas

Women’s 800m

The women’s 800m has become one of the most fiercely competitive events in the UK in recent years with the closely matched Marilyn Okoro and Jenny Meadows now being joined by Jemma Simpson as athletes capable of challenging for medals at international level.

Jo Mersh (formerly Jo Fenn) is a former World Indoor bronze medallist and twice won silver at the AAAs over 800m. She says: “I think Marylin first, with Jemma and Jenny close behind. It will be really tactical as Maz will not want to take it out.

“Maz is fastest on paper, but was beaten last week by Simpson and earlier in the season by Meadows. Maz will not want to take any chances. All three will have to run tactically well.  Jemma can run it different ways, she has great speed and is in the shape of her life Jenny will want to sit on it all and try and be in contention with 100m to go.

“I see a close close finish, with Maz and Jemma but Maz to edge it. Jenny will be third with about three athletes running PBs. It will be the race of the weekend. I think there could be a dark horse in Claire Gibson, as she has impressed me this year.”

Jo’s verdict:
1. Marilyn Okoro
2. Jemma Simpson
3. Jenny Meadows