There are 1,114 days to go now before London opens its doors to the Olympic Games. For British athletics, that is three years and 18 days in which to find someone to play a starring role in the blue riband event of the track and field programme in 2012: the men's 100m final. Any kind of a role would represent progress. In Athens in 2004 and in Beijing last summer there were no British speed merchants going for gold in the final – or for silver or bronze, for that matter.
You have to go back to the Sydney Games of 2000 to find the last British representation in a men's Olympic 100m final. A young whipper-snapper by the name of Dwain Chambers finished just outside the medals in fourth. Darren Campbell was sixth.
Nine years on, Chambers is still the best in Britain – the favourite for the men's 100m at the Aviva World Trials and UK Championships at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham this weekend. In the race to become a home contender for 2012, however, the Belgrave Harrier is strictly a non-runner. Twelve months ago Chambers was victorious at the Olympic trials in Birmingham, clocking 10 seconds flat, but then failed to win his trial case in the High Court to overturn the British Olympic Association bye-law which precludes reinstated doping offenders from representing Team GB in the Olympics.
All of which leaves another Londoner in pole position in the fast lane leading to 2012. Simeon Williamson is not exactly a familiar name to the wider Great British sporting public – thanks to the controversy that has continued to surround Chambers three years on from his reinstatement after serving his two-year drugs ban. For the past two years, though, the 23-year-old Enfield resident has been shaping up as the most likely lad to emerge from Chambers' shadow as a British force with which to be reckoned on the world sprinting stage.
Winner of the European Under-23 title in 2007, the powerfully built Williamson looked on the cusp of a breakthrough last July when he pushed Chambers all the way to the line at the Olympic trials. He finished 0.03sec behind in 10.03sec. Only three British men have recorded faster legal times for the 100m: Linford Christie (9.87sec), Chambers (9.97) and Jason Gardener (9.98).
Membership of the sub-10 second club and a place in the Beijing final appeared to be beckoning Williamson, but sadly it was not to be. Hampered by an ankle problem in his final preparations for the Games, he failed to get beyond the quarter-finals – a huge disappointment for the hugely-talented Highgate Harrier, who trains with Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic 400m champion, under the guidance of former international sprint hurdler Lloyd Cowan at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in north London.
Still, having spent two months working with former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell in Jamaica last winter (and having finished fourth behind the victorious Chambers in the 60m final at the European Indoor Championships in Turin in March) Williamson has his eyes on the 10-seconds barrier again as he prepares for another crack at Chambers at the Birmingham trials for next month's World Championships in Berlin.
"It was on the cards last year and with my performances this year it's back on the cards again," he said yesterday, on a visit to the Alexander Stadium. "I would like to do it before the World Champs, just to get that feeling in my legs. When you get to the World Championships then that's what you're going to have to do to make the final. It's going to have to come if I want to achieve what I want to achieve."
If it happened to come in Birmingham this weekend it would be a momentous occasion. No British sprinter has broken 10 seconds on British soil without illegal wind assistance. In fact, no British sprinter has achieved the feat validly anywhere since Chambers clocked 9.99sec for fourth place in the World Championships final in Edmonton in August 2001 (Chambers also broke 10 seconds in 2002, but with steroid assistance).
"British sprinting did go on a downward spiral after the whole Dwain [drugs] incident but we are getting better now," Williamson said. "Everyone's trying to make an impression now – just to get a name out there in the public and show the world that we are a force to be reckoned with before 2012 comes round."
It would take a sub-10 second time to do that, although with sub-9.8 second performers to contend with in Usain Bolt, Powell and Tyson Gay, and with another in Justin Gatlin getting ready to return from a drugs ban next summer (without a further Olympic bar standing in the way of the American), there would still be considerable ground to make up in the medal contention stakes. Williamson, though, does have a promising pedigree.
He happens to be a second cousin of Germaine Mason, the former Jamaica international high jumper who switched allegiance to Britain three years ago (thanks to his London-born father) and soared to silver medal-winning heights in Beijing. It was because of Mason that Williamson spent last November and December training with Powell in Jamaica. His cousin shares the same coach as Powell, Stephen Francis.
"It wasn't part of a grand plan, to see how the Jamaican sprinters train," Williamson said. "It was just something that happened after Germaine said in casual conversation, 'How about you coming out to Jamaica to train?' I've seen the benefits of going out there. I trained in the morning and in the evening there and I've done that since I've come back. It's helped me a lot."
It has probably also helped that Williamson has inherited the genes of his 79-year-old grandmother. Pearline Williamson hit the headlines 12 months ago when she chased and caught a twenty-something mugger on the streets of Edmonton, north London. "I told her not to do that again because it's dangerous," her fleet-footed grandson said. "I told her if someone snatches her purse again just to call the police."
Brits on the blocks: 100m contenders for 2012
Age: 23. Personal best: 10.03sec. Season's best: 10.09.
Joint second in British and European rankings behind Dwain Chambers. Fourth in Oslo Golden League.
Age: 20. Personal best: 10.10. Season's best: 10.17.
World youth champion in 2005 and world junior champion in 2006. Held back by injury in last two years.
Age: 21. Personal best: 10.09. Season's best: 10.09.
Broke 10.10 in Geneva last month but misses the World Championship trials with a hamstring injury.
Age: 27. Personal best: 10.06. Season's best: 10.11.
Olympic semi-finalist and European Cup winner in 2008.
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