The golden stars of London 2012 were never going to be in doubt but UK Athletics showed no sign of nostalgia when it announced the names of athletes who would be funded next season.
Olympic champions like Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford proved, unsurprisingly it has to be said, safe amid the somewhat cut-throat nature of who receives the National Lottery funds dished out by UK Sport.
UK Sport’s criteria have shifted recently, with financial backing only going to athletes who have genuine medal potential, and UKA has been made to follow suit. It means some established names boasting major championship medals have been left to finance and fend for themselves going into a year which includes the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.
After UKA announced its latest world-class performance programme, we look at some of the winners and losers going into the 2014 season...
Women’s 4x100 metre relay squad
It was only last year that Britain’s female sprinters failed even to qualify for the event at the Olympics and this season they had no funding. Despite that, the team of Dina Asher-Smith, Hayley Jones, Annabelle Lewis and Ashleigh Nelson won a surprise bronze medal on the final day of the World Championships.
Their improved pace was thanks to the work of American coach Raina Reider, who also works with the triple jumper Christian Taylor and hurdler Tiffany Porter among others, and who was tasked with getting a relay team together capable of winning major championship medals. The irony is that the aforementioned line-up are not even necessarily the best British sprinters out there, with others having failed to make it to Reider’s planned relay get-together. One suspects that, with renewed money and interest within UK Athletics, things will change for the better.
In some ways, it was a surprise to see the British long jumper among the 22 athletes on the Olympic podium programme of funding. He had failed to earn selection for the World Championships, the UKA selectors instead preferring Greg Rutherford as Olympic champion, leaving Tomlinson smarting back at home. Despite the slight, he is still deemed by Neil Black and the UKA board as having medal potential. Black explained: “Chris is basically doing jumps that are competitive enough to win medals in World Championships and Olympic Games going forward. We’re still looking to the future.”
As much as the current stars – the likes of Farah, Ennis-Hill and Rutherford – are deemed integral to major championship plans, youngsters and planning for the future are just as important for Black and the rest of UKA. “We’re really looking towards future performances, looking to 2020 and beyond,” he said.
Of the Olympic podium list of candidates, Adam Gemili and Katarina Johnson-Thompson are among the leading lights while, among the podium potential picks, hopes are high for the sprinters Jodie Williams and Delano Williams, who recently joined up with Usain Bolt’s training group in Kingston, Jamaica.
The most high-profile absentee is the triple jumper Phillips Idowu, a former World, European and Commonwealth Games champion, as well as an Olympic silver medallist in 2008. Idowu has opted to take time out from the sport and his extra-curricular activities have ranged from a spell on MasterChef to being sentenced for drink-driving recently. No announcement has been made on the athlete’s long-term future from either UKA or his own camp but, two months shy of his 35th birthday, it seems increasingly unlikely he will come back.
Black revealed he had been in regular contact with Idowu’s camp but was tight-lipped on the athlete’s plans. “He indicated he didn’t want to be selected for Moscow this year. We have selected athletes with the highest chance of medals in 2016 and 2020. As you can see, Phillips is not included in that group of athletes.” As for Idowu’s next move, Black added: “He knows that the ball is in his court, that I’m around in a friendly and comfortable way... when he wants to talk about it. I think it’s really important you just let people make their own decisions.”
The ageing athletes
Casting your eye over the selections, what is increasingly noticeable is that the average age has diminished somewhat. Past familiar faces on the funding list have gone, effectively deemed too old to compete. Among those are Jo Pavey, Yamile Aldama and Dwain Chambers. It was not long ago that Aldama, prior to injury, was being talked about as a London 2012 medallist but, at 41, she is not deemed a realistic bet for the next Olympics in 2016. The 40-year-old Pavey, with a European 10,000m silver medal to her name has also been left without funding, likewise Chambers. The sprinter, who reached the semi-finals of the 100m in Moscow, had been hopeful of at least being included in the relay squad on funding following his part in the quartet that finished third at the Worlds before being disqualified for a botched handover.
Former World Championship medallists
A notable trio missing from the list are Andy Turner, Lisa Dobriskey and Jenny Meadows, all of whom have won major championship medals, with Black making it clear that past performance is no longer a precursor for funding. Turner was the most recent recipient of a major medal, with bronze in the 110m hurdles at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. But he has disappeared off the radar this season after an injury-ravaged year and has had his funding cut for the second time in his career, highlighting how cut-throat the nature of finance can be. His reaction to the news on Twitter was: “Remember athletes just because you don’t get funding when you think you should, just prove them wrong. I did.”
Like Turner, both Dobriskey, a 1500m silver medallist at the Worlds in the past, and Meadows, who boasts an 800m bronze, have suffered injury problems and they too have been told they must raise their own finances next season. When suggested it was harsh on the trio, Black added: “I’m aware it can look like that. The fundamental thing is these guys have been busting their guts for years, striving against the odds. They will have to make their own decisions. I can’t believe this is going to stop them from looking forward.”