February 28, 2021

British Athletics Championships: Five events to watch

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Ojie Edoburun, Abigail Irozuru, Cindy Ofili and Jake Wightman
Ojie Edoburun, Abigail Irozuru, Cindy Ofili and Jake Wightman are among those taking part in the British Championships

This year is the start of a bright new look for the British Athletics Championships.

Rather than the usual red of Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium track, national titles will be sorted on a freshly laid blue surface at Manchester’s Regional Arena.

While a new colour scheme and host city are in place, plenty of other things are missing.

Olympic qualification – the real prize for many athletes – is off the table after Tokyo 2020 was postponed by a year.

Several big names, such as Mo Farah, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Laura Muir, are absent. Spectators will be there only in spirit, some channelling their support via fundraising cardboard cutouts in the stands, as the event takes place behind closed doors.

But, the competition remains intense regardless with a host of intriguing contests over the course of two days.

Men’s discus (Friday 15:10 BST)

Lawrence Okoye
Lawrence Okoye made a surprise return to discus at last year’s London Diamond League event

What a comeback story this could be.

Lawrence Okoye had the world at his feet in 2012. Aged 20, he had just appeared in the Olympic discus final. He had only recently switched to athletics after playing age-grade rugby union for Premiership sides London Irish and Wasps. He also had a place to study law at Oxford University on hold. In the end he didn’t choose academia, athletics or a rugby return.

Instead he struck out into American football, joining the San Francisco 49ers.

But his NFL dream never materialised and now he is back in the throwing circle.

His effort of 65.15m is the best by a Briton this year. However, he is up against Nick Percy, who beat him when they met at the British Championships last year.

Women’s long jump (Friday, 19:15)

Abigail Irozuru and Jazmin Sawyers
Abigail Irozuru and Jazmin Sawyers both competed at last year’s World Championships in Doha

The championships’ move up the M6 suits Sale Harriers’ Abigail Irozuru, who is defending her title in her home city.

She jumped a personal best of 6.86m to win in Birmingham a year ago. Rio 2016 finalist Jazmin Sawyers landed her own 6.86m personal best at the 2018 Championships, missing out on the title after Lorraine Ugen’s championship record leap.

With Ugen absent, it could be a straight shootout between Irozuru and Sawyers, who was 2cm better than her rival when they competed in Finland in August.

However, in-form Rebecca Chapman may also have a say. The 27-year-old jumped 6.51m last month to put her within 6cm of Irozuru and Sawyers’ season’s bests.

Women’s 100m hurdles final (Friday, 20:00)

Tiffany Porter and Cindy Ofili
Tiffany Porter (left) celebrates with her sister Cindy Ofili after victory in the 2016 championships

It will be a top-level family affair over the hurdles as Cindy Ofili – fourth in the Rio 2016 Olympic final – and older sister Tiffany Porter – seventh in that same race – meet.

The pair memorably tied up a one-two in consecutive British Championships in 2015 and 2016. That first win came a fortnight after Ofili had followed her sister’s lead in transferring nationalities from the United States to Great Britain, where their mother was born.

Both are in the world’s top 10 for this strange and shortened season.

Also look out for Niamh Emerson. The 21-year-old was a junior world heptathlon champion in 2018, before a knee injury cut short her first season in the senior ranks. Her personal best of 13.76 seconds will not trouble the podium but her multi-eventing potential is hugely exciting.

Men’s 100m final (Friday, 20:50)

“Why am I crying on TV?”

That was Ojie Edoburun’s reaction to his victory ahead of favourites Adam Gemili and Zharnel Hughes at last year’s championships.

However, the 24-year-old has plenty of competition if he wants to retain his crown.

Tommy Ramdhan is the fastest in the field this year with a time of 10.33.

Elsewhere, look out for Danny Talbot, part of Great Britain’s world-conquering 4x100m relay team in 2017 and on his way back after an injury-ravaged couple of years, and 18-year-old prospect Owain Lloyd Hughes.

Men’s 800m final (Saturday, 14:50)

Jake Wightman
Jake Wightman (second right) follows home Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Timothy Cheruiyot, European and world champion respectively, in the 1500m in Monaco in August

Jake Wightman overtook a clutch of British middle-distance legends in the all-time list last month, leapfrogging the likes of Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe with a startling 1500m time in Monaco.

Wightman is competing over two laps in Manchester. Teenage sensation Max Burgin, who was briefly the fastest man in the world this year after running 1:44.75 in August, is missing after pulling out with a late injury.

However, Daniel Rowden, who went one-thousandth of a second faster than Burgin to stand fifth in the 2020 rankings, is part of the field.

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