The indoor season has long been the phoney war of track and field, particularly in Olympic year. The winner of the women's 800m at the 2008 World Indoor Championships, anyone? That would be Tamsyn Lewis of Australia. Come the Beijing Olympics that summer, she failed to make it to the final.
"It's not the beginning and end of all things," Charles van Commenee, the head coach of the British team, said yesterday, explaining why he was not setting his squad a medal target for the 2012 World Indoor Championships, which take place in Istanbul from 9 to 11 March. Still, five months out from the be-all and end-all of the London Olympic Games, the morale of the British track-and-field troops will be boosted by the presence of our one reigning Olympic champion, Christine Ohuruogu, plus that of Mo Farah for the global skirmish by the banks of the Bosphorus.
Farah has chosen to accept a place in the 39-strong team after reflecting on the disappointment of his defeat to Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge in the two-mile race at the Aviva Grand Prix meeting in Birmingham. The world 5,000m champion had been at a loss to explain his "heavy legs" on Saturday but Van Commenee dismissed the suggestion that there might be any cause for concern. "No, not at all," he insisted. "It's quite normal for athletes to get beaten. It's quite healthy as well – certainly five months before the Olympics. There is no reason to be concerned.
"There is this assumption that Mo is unbeatable but that assumption is only in Britain. I don't think that in Kenya or Ethiopia people take the same view. It will happen every now and again – as we saw in the 10,000m at the World Championships in Daegu."
Farah is back at his training group's altitude training camp in Albuquerque, preparing for the 3,000m in Istanbul. The event is likely to give him the chance to turn the tables on Kipchoge, who finished seventh in the 5,000m final in Daegu but was the world 5,000m champion as a teenager in 2003 and took Olympic silver at the distance in Beijing.
The inclusion of Ohuruogu in the British squad announced yesterday came as something of a surprise. The Olympic 400m champion has never competed over her specialist distance indoors, though she has run the odd 60m and 200m race as an early-year sharpening exercise – indeed, she raced in the 60m heats and semi-finals at the Birmingham Indoor Games three weeks ago. She will not be contesting the individual 400m in Istanbul but will be part of a 4x400m relay squad looking to bond into a potential Olympic medal-winning unit.
"This is a really good opportunity to have the group together and also see how far off we are from the three nations that usually dominate the event: the US, Russia and Jamaica," Van Commenee said. "We want to be closer and it's also important to have the athletes together who want to do the damage half a year from now."
Van Commenee has set a target of eight medals for the home Olympics and the women's 4x400m team are fringe contenders for a place on the podium. They finished fourth at the World Championships last summer – behind the US, Jamaica and Russia – and three members of the quartet who ran in the final in Daegu will be travelling to Istanbul: Ohuruogu, Nicola Sanders and Perri Shakes-Drayton.
Ohuruogu does not have the happiest memories of Daegu, having false-started in the first-round heats of the individual 400m in South Korea. "I expect Christine will use that experience to her advantage, as extra fuel," Van Commenee said. "Mentally, she's a very strong person."
At the last World Indoors, in Doha two years ago, the British team won four medals, two of them gold. Jessica Ennis (pentathlon) and Dwain Chambers (60m) defend the titles they won in Qatar. Ennis has been in sparkling form in the indoor season and could prove too much for Tatyana Chernova, the Russian who beat her in the heptathlon in Daegu.
Holly Bleasdale should be another strong medal contender and the 20-year-old pole-vaulter is likely to be involved in another gripping Anglo-Russian tussle: with Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva, whom she faces at a meeting in Stockholm tomorrow.
Van Commenee, however, is unconcerned about the possible Great British medal tally. "I've seen enough in this indoor season to be confident and optimistic for the summer," he said. "The number of medals we win in Istanbul won't change that for me."
Golden shots: High hopes in Istanbul
Jessica Ennis, pentathlon
Yet to contest a multi-events competition in 2012 but No 1 in the world rankings in the 60m hurdles.
Holly Bleasdale, pole vault
Ranked No 2 to Jenn Suhr of the US.
Mo Farah, 3,000m
Yet to run a 3,000m in 2012 but world champion 5,000m pedigree.
Also in the British team:
Men 60m, Dwain Chambers, Andy Robertson (subject to achieving qualifying standard); 400m, Nigel Levine, Richard Buck; 800m, Joe Thomas, Andrew Osagie; 1500m, Lewis Moses, James Brewer; 60m hurdles, Andy Pozzi; high jump, Samson Oni, Robbie Grabarz; pole vault, Steve Lewis, Andrew Sutcliffe (subject to achieving qualifying standard); long jump, J J Jegede; 4x400m relay, Levine, Buck, Conrad Williams, Michael Bingham, James Forman, Luke Lennon Ford.
Women 60m, Asha Philip, Jodie Williams; 400m, Shana Cox, Nadine Okyere; 800m, Marilyn Okoro; 3,000m, Helen Clitheroe; 60m hurdles, Tiffany Porter; pole vault, Katie Byres; long jump, Shara Proctor; triple jump, Yamile Aldama; 4x400m relay, Cox, Okyere, Nicola Sanders, Christine Ohuruogu, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Laura Langowski.
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