For Helen Clitheroe, the unlikely Thirtysomething golden girl of British athletics in 2011, the door to Olympic selection slammed cruelly shut in Helsinki yesterday. As for Jenny Meadows, another Lancastrian stalwart of the sport, having missed her opportunity to sup at the last-chance saloon of the European Championships, she has been left outside with a begging bowl, relying on the mercy of the selectors.
Winner of the European indoor 3,000m title at the age of 37 last year, Clitheroe has been suffering from a foot injury since the 2012 indoor season and her hopes of making the home team for the London Olympics came to grief in the 5,000m final in the Finnish capital yesterday. Needing an A standard Olympic qualifying time of 15min 20sec, the Preston Harrier finished almost half a minute shy, crossing the line down in 16th place in 15min 49.13sec.
"I'd set myself a massive target after stepping back on the track after a nightmare few months," Clitheroe reflected. "I had plantar fasciitis, which is something I have still been managing coming into this. It is frustrating but I'm not the only athlete to have a disappointing 2012."
The two automatic places in the women's 5,000m were claimed by Jo Pavey and Barbara Parker at the trials meeting in Birmingham last weekend, and the final discretionary place now looks to be between Steph Twell and Julia Bleasdale. Twell, who ran in the Olympic 1500m heats as an 18-year-old in 2008, has an A standard clocking from earlier in the season but decided not to risk a foot problem after warming up for the final in Helsinki yesterday. Bleasdale – like Pavey, already in the qualifying frame for the 10,000m – finished fourth with a new personal best of 15:12.77 and could be offered the chance to contest both events at the Games.
As for Meadows, she will have to rely on her past reputation as a world-class 800m runner, having withdrawn from the field for the semi-finals of her event after aggravating a long-term Achilles problem on the flight out to Finland. The 31-year-old Wiganer has not raced yet in 2012 but insists she is "incredibly fit" thanks to a punishing training regime that has featured the use of an anti-gravity treadmill and a hyperbaric chamber.
The selectors have a discretionary place open to them and Meadows says she will lodge an appeal if her past record as a world championship medal winner outdoors and in does not prove sufficient to claim it, in tandem with the A standard qualifying times she recorded in 2011. "I would appeal," she said. "You've got to do everything. It's the Olympic Games. It's not a hobby. It's a profession. It's literally my life.
"I've put myself through the unbelievable stress and strenuous training for just one reason, and that's to compete in Stratford. I would be absolutely devastated to miss out. When I pulled out [head coach] Charles van Commenee was surprised there were no tears but I said I've got none left.
"I guess I would definitely find some, but knowing my gutsy personality and determination I would be out to prove myself as the best British athlete by the end of the season and say, 'Look what I could have done'."
The women's selection scenario is as clear as mud. Lynsey Sharp, winner at the trials, finished runner-up in her semi-final and needs an A standard 1min 59.90sec in tonight's final.
In the men's 100m final yesterday Harry Aikines-Aryeetey missed the A standard of 10.18sec, clocking 10.31sec in fourth. Christophe Lemaitre retained his title in 10.09sec, pipping his French team-mate Jimmy Vicaut by 0.03sec.