Such is the wealth of 400 metres runners in Britain at the moment that it is likely to be one of the most consistently intriguing events of the season.
As the likes of Roger Black, Mark Richardson, Du'Aine Ladejo and David Grindley train on in earnest for their Olympic year, two of the country's most promising one-lap runners will provide a glimpse of the future today as they face each other in the season's opening indoor international in Birmingham.
Guy Bullock, the 1993 European junior 400m champion, and Mark Hylton, the current holder of that title, take to the boards in the Bupa International against Russia with everything to run for.
Both have the potential to earn an Olympic place this summer, although Bullock, a 20-year-old Liverpudlian, is realistic in his assessment of how things stand. "I would like to think I would be going to the Olympics, but both Mark and I have got to knock a few people off their perches first," he said.
But, as Hylton points out, the 400m is notorious for inducing illness and injury, and the odds against all four main contenders making it to the Olympic trials in July in top shape must be long. If there are any openings, these two runners, and the likes of Jamie Baulch, currently training with Colin Jackson in Australia, stand ready to exploit them.
Not that either is immune to the 400m runner's trials. Bullock, a powerful all-round sportsman who excelled at football and rugby as a schoolboy, had most of last season ruined by a hamstring injury and a chest infection. Hylton achieved both his ambitions for last year in winning his junior title and making the British team at the Gothenburg World Championships, but last November he contracted glandular fever and missed a month's training.
Bullock, who has lost a stone in weight recently since following what he describes as a more "event specific" approach to his training, indicated his return to form at the Birmingham New Year Games as he broke 47 seconds in a runaway victory.
Although Bullock no longer shares a coach with Grindley - he switched back to Alan Prestcott from Chris Butler recently - he still trains regularly with the British record holder.
Hylton gave notice of his own return to fitness last week in taking the Scottish indoor title in 47.35sec, one hundredth of a second outside the championship best. The 19-year-old from Windsor has a similar training set-up to Bullock, working with a more established one-lap runner in Richardson, last year's European Cup champion.
With many of Britain's more established athletes still training abroad, this team includes seven new internationals, including Hylton's 17-year- old Windsor club-mate, Lesley Owusu, who also competes at 400m.
Neil Caddy, whose victory over a strong 2,000m field at the Durham cross- country event on 31 December was full of promise, also has his first international run-out.
Meanwhile Judy Oakes, who first competed for Britain before Hylton was born, will make her 73rd appearance for Great Britain - an all-time record.
The 37-year-old shot putter, whose first international appearance was on 31 January 1976, will surpass the mark held by the current British team manager, Verona Elder.
Oakes, who came out of her second retirement to win a second Commonwealth title in 1994, became the first person to exceed an Olympic standard in 1996 when she recorded 18.11 metres on 6 January.
"It's a special milestone in my life because it shows I've supported my sport for a very long time," said Oakes, who is hoping to reach the final at what will be her third Olympics.
"I think it is going to be hard for anyone to beat the record because there are fewer international matches nowadays. Besides, it's taken me 20 years. I don't think anyone else would be crazy enough to want to do that."Reuse content