UK Athletics Trials: Redemption for Chambers?


In a weekend packed with sport, James Gray highlights the Olympic trials for London 2012.

Royal Ascot, the rugby Tests in the southern hemisphere, Australia playing Ireland in the cricket, oh and the Euro quarter finals…there is so much sport this weekend, I could hardly blame you for missing the fact that this weekend sees the United Kingdom’s leading athletes competing for 3 Olympic places for each event.

For some athletes, this is a relaxed rehearsal for the big occasion. For others, it is a chance to spring a surprise and impress the selectors. The selection criteria are not straight forward.

Essentially, if you finish in the first two, and have already achieve the ‘A’ standard – a height, distance or time set by the governing body as a benchmark – then you are guaranteed a place at the games: in the 400m hurdles, Jack Green and world champion Dai Greene finished in the first two, so will go to the Games. After that, the selectors may award one discretionary place to another athlete. If you win the event and don’t have the ‘A’ standard, then you can probably consider yourself unlucky not to be selected. These discretionary places allow some of the bigger names to drop out with niggling injuries, such as Phillips Idowu (triple jump) and Jenny Meadows (800m), have done, on the assumption they will be selected on class.

Once you understand that, the event becomes pretty exciting. Even more so this year, as you watch athletes compete for the chance to fulfill a lifetime dream, to compete at the Olympics in your own backyard. For most athletes, this is also an opportunity to prove that they can perform under pressure, even if the trials only replicate a tiny amount of the pressure of the Olympics

The most controversial figure by far at this years trials is by far 100m runner Dwain Chambers, who recently had his lifetime Olympic ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Somewhat disappointingly British sprinting is in decline, and he is still one of the best sprinters in Britain, despite having been on the scene for over a decade (with a break in the middle). The real question is should he be allowed to compete in a British jersey?

When I interviewed Olympic hopeful Andrew Lemoncello back in April, he said that people like Chambers should be criminalised, and certainly not allowed to run at the Olympics.

In 2003, Chambers tested positive for THG – a banned substance – and UK Athletics and the BOA handed him a two-year athletics ban, and a lifetime ban from the Olympics.

Wait what? He gets a two year ban, but also a lifetime ban? Surely that is cruel and unusual punishment? Under this punishment, the BOA were genuinely claiming that if Chambers came back and started running 9.70, they would still not select him for the Olympics. Had they handed him a lifetime ban from athletics, or a two year ban from athletics, including the Olympics, then I find it highly unlikely that the ban would have been overturned. It was the indecision and inconsistency in the decision-making that left the door open for Chambers to sneak back in.

He has not attained the ‘A’ standard this year, but having won the trials, it will be very difficult to make him sit in the stands. He is Britain’s only true class sprinter, and he has served his time. He has even been stripped of his Olympic gold medal from the 4x100m: London 2012 gives him a second chance. The relief and emotion overflowed after the race, but frankly, can you blame him?

The trials conclude tomorrow, and are definitely worth a watch if you want to scout out Britain’s Olympic hopefuls, or even if you just want to watch people’s dreams being completed and broken.


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