Great Britain to send ‘best-prepared athletics team’ to Rio Olympics

• Jo Pavey to be first British track athlete to compete at five Olympic Games
• ‘There’s a real blend of experience and exciting new talent,’ says Neil Black

Great Britain is sending “the best prepared and arguably strongest team” in the country’s Olympic Games history to Rio, according to the British Athletics’ performance director, Neil Black. The bold claim came after an 80-strong track and field squad, including Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Jo Pavey, was announced.

There are no major surprises,with Pavey arguably the standout name, given the 42-year-old mother of two is set to become the first British track athlete to compete at five Olympics. A combination of illness and injury looked to have wrecked the 10,000m runner’s hopes of travelling to Brazil but recent improvements in form, culminating in her producing a time of 31min 34.61sec at the European Championships in Amsterdam last week – inside the Olympic qualifying standard – sealed her place.

With selectors having given Pavey the nod over her younger rival for the 10,000m spot, Kate Avery, Black lauded the veteran as proof there are “no limitations” when it comes to running at a later stage in life. “Jo shows that you can have a family and still be involved at the highest level,” he said. “She also shows that it’s possible to keep on running purely for health and fitness. That’s a message her selection should send to everyone.”

Team GB won six athletics medals at London 2012, four golds, one silver and one bronze, and all the athletes responsible for that haul – Farah, Ennis-Hill, Rutherford, Christine Ohuruogu and Robbie Grabarz are included in the squad. It is their presence allied to that of exciting prospects such as Chris Baker, Elliot Giles, Dina Asher-Smith and Jazmin Sawyers, that is fuelling Black’s belief that Britain will shine once the athletics commence at Rio’s Olympic Stadium on 12 August.

“I’m very excited by this group of athletes and what I think they can achieve in Rio. There’s a real blend of experience and exciting new talent,” Black said. “All the previous global medallists are on target to perform at their best at the Games, or we understand what is needed for them to be on target, and then there is a group of athletes who have been more competitive this year than in the past. And then there are the relay teams – we feel more and more confident that they are genuine medal contenders.

“You could see in Amsterdam that there is still work to do but we truly feel we have put together a team capable of winning a large number of medals.”

UK Sport will announce on Thursday how many medals it expects Team GB as a whole to win in Rio, with the target expected to between 47 and 79, an increase from the 40 to 70 target that was set before London 2012, when Britain went on to win 65 medals – 29 golds, 17 silver and 19 bronze. British Athletics has refused to outline how many medals it is targeting in Rio but Black feels sure, at the very least, the six secured on home soil four years ago can be matched. “The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport, so it will be tough but we’re going to compete and we expect to win medals,” he said.

“We don’t talk about our target but we expect to make a strong contribution to Team GB’s overall target. We certainly don’t expect to do worse than in London.”

Among those expected to challenge for a medal is Ennis-Hill, who along with Farah and Rutherford won gold on “Super Saturday” four summers ago and has gone on to also secure gold at last year’s world championships in Beijing.

“Everything’s coming together now and I’m feeling good,” she said. “Training over the past few weeks has been going really well and there’s still some time left before Rio to put some work in as well.

“London was an incredible experience and the two journeys to London and Rio have been completely different. If I was able to defend my title in Rio it will certainly be one of my greatest achievements.”

Black has described some of the squad selections as “tough decisions”, most notably picking Ohuruogu over Anyika Onuora for the final individual 400m spot. The latter beat the former to a bronze medal at the European Championships and overall has been performing better in 2016. The selectors decided Ohuruogu’s pedigree counted for more. “Christine was really anxious and it was brilliant to see a global multi-medallist being so delighted at being selected,” Black said.

Many of Britain’s athletes will go to a holding camp in Belo Horizonte and one issue management may have to deal with during the team’s stay in Brazil is the long-standing tension between Farah and his fellow 10,000m runner Andy Vernon. Black is adamant there will be no problems between the pair.

“They’re fine,” he said. “They’ve put their challenges behind them and have been a pleasure to work with over the past year or so. Both guys are focusing on Rio, focusing on competing and I don’t envisage any problems.”


Sachin Nakrani

The GuardianTramp

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