Athletes left ‘ashamed to represent’ Great Britain after Olympic selection policy

by Admin
Athletes left ‘ashamed to represent’ Great Britain after Olympic selection policy

Jade Lally is due an Olympic invite according to her world ranking but missed the UK’s qualifying standard by 5cm – Getty Images/J Kruger

Devastated British athletes have accused the national governing body of ‘killing’ the sport with an Olympic selection policy that will leave Britain turning down available places on the sport’s biggest stage.

Around 10 potential Team GB athletes are set to see places for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris go to competitors from other countries who are lower than them in their world rankings due to UK Athletics’ policy of only considering invitations based on world rankings if its own qualifying standard is met.

The Telegraph can reveal that at least three athletes are planning to instantly retire after being listed as “qualified” by World Athletics but knowing that they have narrowly missed their federation’s deeply controversial standards in events that will otherwise have no Team GB representative.

They include Jade Lally, who is due an Olympic invite according to her world ranking, but missed the UK’s qualifying standard by just 5cm with a discus throw this year of 63.15m that no other British woman has bettered since 1983.

“I have to retire because of British athletics,” Lally told the Telegraph. “I’m proud to be British … but I’m ashamed to represent British Athletics. If you are a British athlete, and have already missed out on a championship, I would 100 per cent encourage anybody to switch to another country if that is an option. I feel like I have wasted a career trying to prove a federation wrong.”

Amelia Campbell, who regained the British shot-put title on Sunday and is also currently listed on World Athletics’ ‘Road to Paris’ website as “qualified by world rankings”, missed UKA’s qualifying standard by just 64cm. Like Lally, she was not notified of any selection by Tuesday’s midday deadline and now wants the British Olympic Association and World Athletics to intervene. “They [UKA] are killing the sport in the UK,” said Campbell. “I should be a two-time Olympian. Instead I’m retiring. I can’t get over the heartbreak any more. I’m honestly devastated.”

British shot-put champion Amelia Campbell is listed by World Athletics as qualified for the Olympics on world rankings but will not be selected by UK Athletics – Getty Images/J Kruger

Another national champion planning to retire is Phil Norman, who delivered the performance of his life in winning the trials in Manchester on Sunday with a time that was the best by a Briton for 33 years, and the fastest ever by a British steeplechaser on home soil. It was, however, an agonising 0.15sec outside the Olympic qualifying standard that had been set by UKA.

Unless there is a dramatic change of policy, UKA will now also overlook his qualification by world ranking and instead send no steeplechaser to Paris next month.

“I think British Athletics just look at this event as, ‘We’ve got no chance of getting a medal, so what is the point of helping these guys out, what is the point of putting any time and effort into at all’,” said Norman.

Zak Seddon, who also narrowly missed the 3000m steeplechase standard despite a personal best this season that puts him ninth on the British all-time list, told The Telegraph: “It makes no sense. You can be good enough for the Olympics but not for Great Britain. I’d love to talk to the people making these calls. We are the ones running our whole careers and then not going to championships that we have earned the right to go to.”

The stated aim of the UKA selection policy is to maximise medals and top-eight finishes.

Jack Buckner, the chief executive, warned last year that there would be a shift in Olympic and World Championships policy with likely smaller teams and a particular focus on what he called the “big hitters”. UK Athletics announced a £3.7 million loss in their most recent accounts but have denied that their policy is related to finances.

The Paris selection policy was first published in July 2023 and part of its rationale was to introduce measurable standards that eliminated more discretionary decisions. In what is a truly global sport of more than 200 affiliated nations, the UKA standard is understood to reflect forecasts of what is needed to reach the top eight of an Olympic event.

The British Olympic athletics team will be announced on Friday, with any appeals currently being heard.

‘I’m the best in the country yet I’m losing thousands of pounds trying to qualify for the Games’

By Jeremy Wilson

Alongside the breakthrough brilliance of Phoebe Gill and Louie Hinchliffe at the British Athletics Championships, the most stirring race of an emotionally-charged weekend was perhaps the men’s 3000m steeplechase.

Phil Norman, Zak Seddon, Mark Pearce and William Battershill were all contenders for gold but, within just a few metres, it became clear that they would be team-mates as much as rivals in trying to surpass an external force: the UKA Olympic qualifying standard.

And so they shared the pace, lap after lap, until Norman hit the front with 1200m to go. He had proved the strongest and, in sub-optimal conditions, made his lone charge to finish a career on the Olympic stage of Paris that had begun at the North Devon Club near Barnstaple almost 25 years earlier. Norman powered through the final kilometre, surging to the line in 8min 15.65sec. It was the best by a Briton this century. And it was good enough to lift him into Olympic qualification via his world rankings.

Except that the UKA had set their standard at 8min 15.50sec and so Norman, who trains alone and is entirely self funded, is now set to end a genuinely inspirational career in the drizzle of Manchester rather than then bright lights of the Stade de France. It was little wonder that he needed a few extra minutes to compose himself before speaking after Sunday’s race.

“It’s hard to explain, from coming through, knowing you have run fast, winning the race, to then see an arbitrary unit on the clock just define your career,” said Norman, who has a two-year-old son and works full-time as a pole tester for Openreach. “Luckily I have had support from my employer, [but] you think, ‘I’m the best in the country, I’ve run the quickest time for like 30 years and yet I’m losing thousands of pounds just to try and qualify for the Games’.

“You are just completely on your own. It’s always been behind the scenes politics which has basically defined my athletics career. I have tried not to let it affect me. Tried to just do my work on the track. There needs to be a big shake-up but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

“I think I owe it my wife and my kid [to retire]. It’s not just my own sacrifice, it’s how much they have to sacrifice for me. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”

Phil Norman reacts as he misses UK Athletics’ Olympic qualifying time by 0.15sec – Getty Images/Stephen Pond

Two other athletes who also had a painful sense of history repeating itself were the throwers Amelia Campbell and Jade Lally. They are also deemed Olympic ‘qualified’ by World Athletics but are set to have their invites turned down to leave Team GB again sadly underrepresented in the field events.

Campbell was also overlooked for Tokyo in the shot-put. Lally is still scarred from also missing selection for London 2012 after Britain preferred to not field a representative in the women’s discus even after she had achieved the sufficient qualifying distance. “It blows my mind,” she says.

Like Hannah Nuttall (women’s 5000m), Anna Purchase (hammer), Joshua Zeller (men’s 110m hurdles), Jake Norris and Kenneth Ikeji (both hammer), Campbell and Lally are currently listed as ‘qualified’ for the Olympics by World Athletics via their world ranking.

“It’s a joke that they think it is OK to do this to people,” said Campbell, who contrasted the selection policy with the Olympics’ historic ideals. “What’s the incentive for kids to stay in the sport? If we weren’t high enough in the rankings I could live with that. [But] there will be a lot of girls at the Olympics not as good as me. The Olympics only come around every four years – they are the pinnacle of our sport. I can’t put myself through it any more for no reward.”

‘We know athletics is dying as a sport’

Purchase, who is 16th in the world rankings but missed the UKA standard by just 57cm in the hammer throw, had said that the stress of needing one hammer throw over 72.36m – something she had achieved in 2023 but not during the 12-month qualification period – reached the point where it was “causing me to tighten” and disrupt her rhythm. Yet only two other Britons have even thrown further than Purchase has achieved this year.

Lally’s discus throw of 63.15m is actually 13 places better in the world this year than the 64.95m mark set by Lawrence Okoyo, a ‘podium potential’ funded athlete on the men’s side. And yet his throw met the UKA standard by 5cm and she missed it by the same margin.

“By all means put in a ‘B’ standard but you have to make it reflect the standard of the world; it’s so ridiculously high,” said Lally, a former Commonwealth bronze medallist whose best throw this year would have finished seventh at the Tokyo Games.

“I’m an average person with a full-time job. I have a child. I’m not saying I’m the greatest in the world but just the title, ‘three-time Olympian’, from the point of view of trying to sell myself, inspiring the next generation, going to local athletics clubs, and saying to people, ‘If you work really hard, you can go to the Olympics’, would mean something.

“Instead you have British Athletics saying, ‘No. You don’t get to go.’ What power does that give me to inspire people? We know that athletics is dying anyway as a sport. It [retiring] is not because I don’t mentally have it. I’m not injured. It’s just, ‘What’s the point?’ And I’m not the only one. It’s crazy.”

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