Long shots and medal ambitions for Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics

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An 80-strong Great Britain athletics team returned from Rio five years ago with seven medals.

However, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford, and Sophie Hitchon, who won individual medals that year, will not be competing in Tokyo.

Who are Great Britain’s top hopes and long shots to finish on the podium in their absence?

Hannah England, a 2012 Olympian and former world silver medalist in the 1500m, weighs in on who she thinks will win in Japan.

For the Tokyo Olympics, Team GB has chosen a 72-strong athletics squad.

Main expectations

Dina Asher-Smith
Asher-Smith recorded a victory over 21-year-old Sha’Carri Richardson on a rainy afternoon in Gateshead earlier this year

I am even more confident in Dina Asher-Smith’s chances now than I was in October 2019. At that point she had just won 100m silver and a 200m gold at the World Championships. The Olympics, before their postponement, were only 10 months away. But she looks just as good now as she did then, and she has hardly raced. She is still getting back into the groove and getting faster.

She spent a lot of last year doing strength work and you can see it in the way she is pressing hard all the way to the line. Her speed endurance seems to be better and she is not over-raced.

The Americans – led by Sha’Carri Richardson – and Jamaicans – with world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – are all real threats to her over 100m. Richardson especially is making a habit of going fast with three sub-10.8-second times this season. Gabrielle Thomas ran a 21.61-second 200m in the US trials and has made a big jump up in technique and physique.

But the Olympics will come down to who can get stronger and stronger through the rounds, rather than just one-off times. Some of her rivals have shown that; Dina certainly has.

Laura Muir has accumulated so much experience now. She was in the last Olympic 1500m final, she has been in another four World Championships finals. With Sifan Hassan winning in such an astonishing way in Doha in 2019, it was easy to forget how good Laura was. She ran her third-fastest 1500m ever in that final, despite tearing a calf muscle three months before.

Her time would have won any Olympic final, certainly this century. It was a good two seconds quicker than Kelly Holmes ran to win gold in 2004. She’s the fourth-fastest woman in the world this year.

There is a scheduling quirk that might work in her favour as well. The Tokyo programme makes it very hard to do both 1500m and 5,000m. Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay and world champion Hassan might opt for the longer distance with a little less unpredictability, clearing Muir’s way a bit.

Holly Bradshaw’s 4.90m at the British Championships was special, breaking the British pole vault record in the process. If she can reproduce that with a clean card, she will be right in the mix. She has come on leaps and bounds since she was a young, promising athlete – physically, but more mentally. She’s mature and composed and I think that massively increases the odds of her reproducing her best on her day. If she does, she will get a medal. If anyone falters, it could be gold or silver.

Contenders

Katarina Johnson-Thompson
World champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson has been hampered by an Achilles tendon injury so far this season

Without her current injury, world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson would be one of our main medal hopes.

She has the talent and the track record to win but we are betting blind at the moment. An Achilles tendon problem affects you so much and the technical demands of heptathlon’s seven events are so high that it makes it very hard to make a judgement.

Hopefully she can do a few more Diamond League events between now and the Olympics to show that she is back to somewhere near her best, but we just haven’t seen enough of her so far.

Josh Kerr could be the beneficiary of world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot being overlooked by Kenyan selectors, while Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen has been doing 1500m and 5,000m, and will have to pick between them given the schedule.

Kerr is the second-fastest in the world this year after running a superb 3:31.55 personal best in June. He’s come up through the US collegiate system and that really brings on your race-craft. You are constantly coming up against different, high-quality opposition bringing different tactics to the table. You can see that in Josh – he seems ready for anything.

Sisters Tiffany Porter and Cindy Sember are both threats in the 100m hurdles. Before the British trials I would have said Sember was the more likely but Porter came up with such a commanding win in the final in Manchester. Both have championships pedigree, and both have shown excellent form at times this season.

Zharnel Hughes was sixth in the 100m final in Doha and, before his disqualification for a false start in the final, he looked really good at the British Championships. He comes from coach Glen Mills’ group in Jamaica, which always brought the best out of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake when it mattered.

Marathon runner Callum Hawkins was fourth in Doha and that counts for a lot. Marathon running in major championships, without the pacemakers, is very different from the big-city races. Hawkins will be prioritising the Olympics; it is a big chance for him. Some of his rivals may have half an eye on a race and a payday elsewhere.

Long shots

Elliot Giles
Giles, far right, edged out Oliver Dustin and Daniel Rowden, who are also Tokyo-bound, to claim the British title

Elliot Giles only has to find a slight improvement in the 800m to get in among those medals. If he can get into the final he can look along the start line and there probably won’t be anyone who he hasn’t beaten at some point. The world 800m champion Donavan Brazier didn’t make it. In his absence, his fellow American Clayton Murphy and the Polish European Indoor champion Patryk Dobek are among the men who will make life hard for Giles.

In the 110m hurdles, Andrew Pozzi has won world and European titles indoors and posted some excellent times in 2020. Defending champion Omar McLeod won’t be there after failing to qualify from the Jamaican trials, which may open the door slightly for Pozzi.

Adam Gemili was fourth at the 2019 World Championships and the last Olympics over 200m. He isn’t even in the top 100 for times this year, but he has a real knack of peaking just at the right time.




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