Jenny Meadows was struggling to come to terms with the mixed emotions of being crowned European Indoor 800 metres champion and omitted from the British Olympic team for a home Games on the same day last night.
After the most prolonged British Olympic selection debate since Sebastian Coe was overlooked for the 1,500m at the 1988 Games in Seoul, though, the Wigan athlete known as the "Pocket Rocket" made one thing clear. She would not be appealing against the selectors' decision to pick only the emerging young Scotswoman Lynsey Sharp for the women's 800m in London.
"To be honest, I'm stunned that there will be only one competitor in the women's 800," Meadows told The Independent from the car park at Manchester United's training complex at Carrington yesterday afternoon. "The scenario they've gone for would mean deselecting one athlete and I don't want to be the person to do that. Lynsey and her family and coaching team will be ecstatic and I couldn't deprive her of that. I've been in the situation in the past when I've not got picked and I've been absolutely devastated. I would never want to take her sweets away from her."
Meadows has been the British trailblazer on the international stage in the women's 800m in recent years, winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009, a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in 2010 and a silver at the European Indoor Championships in Paris last year that – by the most ironic of timing – was upgraded to gold yesterday when Yevgenia Zinurova, the race winner, was one of three Russian athletes suspended for doping violations. The 31-year-old, however, has been unable to race this year because of an Achilles tendon problem and – despite being close to a comeback – she is one of five contenders who have achieved the Olympic A standard time of 1min 59.90sec on multiple occasions in the past two years but who have been overlooked in favour of Sharp.
Such are the selection criteria stipulated by the International Association of Athletics Federations, countries can pick three athletes in each event but only if they all have A standards. They can instead plump for an athlete with a lesser B standard but that precludes any others. Unlike Meadows, Jemma Simpson, Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson, Sharp has not broken two minutes for 800m but the 21-year-old Edinburgh athlete – the daughter of Cameron Sharp, who ran for Britain in the 200m at the 1980 Olympics and who suffered serious brain damage in a car accident in 1991 – is the woman in form. She won the trials race in Birmingham two weeks ago and produced a storming finish to win a silver medal in the European Championships in Helsinki last Friday, clocking a personal best of 2min 00.52sec.
Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, said that Monday's team selection meeting had lasted six hours, and two hours of that had been taken up by the heated debate over the women's 800m. "After all of the deliberation, it was decided that the most important thing was to have the right performance at the right time," he said. "Lots of people had the right performances at the wrong time. Lynsey Sharp has done very good business recently. She performed at the trials and beat everybody and did very well at the European Championships. We decided to go with the best athlete on current form.
"We thought it was difficult because none of these athletes took control of their own destiny. Not one athlete did what they were supposed to do. It was difficult with Jenny. She has a proven track record. She's an absolutely world-class athlete. However, she has not raced this year. She had every intention of competing in Helsinki last week but, after travelling, her Achilles reacted badly and she was not able to compete. That was a decisive factor."
Meadows had said she would lodge an appeal if she was not selected but said: "That would have been if they had selected the other girls with the A standard, because you cannot say that their fitness and form is great. I never imagined they would go for just one athlete with the B standard but they have gone with the woman in form, Lynsey hasn't put a foot wrong. I wish her the best of luck for London.
"It's a bittersweet day. I've heard the news that I'm European Indoor champion because Zinurova has tested positive. But it's sport, isn't it? It's ups and downs. I'll keep going. My personal aim is to finish the season as British No 1. There are going to be a lot of events happening after the Olympics."
Okoro announced on Twitter that she was "quitting" but she has been selected for the 4x400m relay squad and Van Commenee, who gave her the news in person, hopes she will change her mind. "In the heat of the moment, when you are told you can't compete in your favourite event, it is not easy to digest the news," he said. "I want to give it some time and see what happens over the next few days."
At least one athlete intends to lodge an appeal, sprinter Richard Kilty, overlooked for the third spot in the 200m and also for a place in the 4x100m relay. On Twitter he branded the relay coach, Tony Lester, " a disgrace".