The world's fastest man will be running at Crystal Palace tonight. So will the world's fastest woman, the world's fastest miler and most of the main contenders for the World Championship titles that will be on the line in Edmonton in two weeks' time. No one, however, will have a greater incentive at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix than Hayley Yelling. For her, the object of the exercise tonight is not to get to Edmonton in gold-medal shape, or even to get there in eye-catching form. It is simply to get there.
The same is true, of course, for Darren Campbell, Iwan Thomas and Daniel Caines. They all need to produce qualifying times or evidence of fitness to claim last-minute places in the Great Britain team. But then they have all been to a major championships before. Unlike Hayley Yelling.
Last year she missed the 5,000m qualifying time for the Sydney Olympics by 1.27sec, running 15min 36.27sec at the European Cup in Gateshead. Last Sunday she ran 15:23.28 at the World Championship trials in Birmingham. "I could not believe it," she said, recalling her reaction as she crossed the line and glanced at the trackside clock. "I thought, 'Oh no! I've done it again'." The qualifying time for Edmonton has been raised to 15min 22sec. In 12 months Yelling has improved by 13 seconds, yet still the 27-year-old maths teacher remains fractionally short of the global championship standard. "Short by 1.28 seconds," she said. "So close and yet so far."
Not that Edmonton is completely beyond her reach. The 5,000m tonight is her last chance to make up for lost time. The selection deadline is 23 July: tomorrow.
Those in the sold-out 17,000 Crystal Palace crowd who saw her spirited chase against the clock in Birmingham will be yelling for Yelling to beat it tonight. It was, by some distance, the most gutsy performance of the AAA Championships.
Yelling – a native of Yeovil but a resident of Marlow, where she works at Sir William Borlase School – finished second in the race, seven seconds behind Jo Pavey. But it was Yelling who made the race, going all out from the front with nine laps to go. She might not have beaten Pavey, a finalist in Sydney, but she did take the scalp of Kathy Butler. The European Cup 3,000m winner finished 10 seconds behind her.
The question is how much such a sterling effort has taken out of Yelling. "My legs feel all right at the moment," she reported after a Friday- morning training run. "It depends how they feel on the day. If they are all right I am sure that I can get that second and a bit. I am a bit scared of going off too quick, because it's a really good race and everyone will just be so much quicker than I am. I am just scared, to be honest. It's such a world-class field."
Indeed it is, even without Deratu Tulu. The Ethiopian who won the Olympic 10,000m title in Sydney and who emerged victorious from the élite women's field at the London Marathon in April has been barred from competing by her government. She has been ordered to attend a training camp in Addis Ababa before heading to Edmon- ton, instead of carrying through her declared intention to attack Jiang Bo's world- record time of 14min 28.09sec.
There is still likely to be a record attempt, though. The target time Paula Radcliffe has in mind is quicker than her own British record, 14:43.54, and faster than Leah Malot's Commonwealth record, 14:39.83. "Oh, no!" Yelling exclaimed, when informed of Radcliffe's high-speed plan. "You've really made me feel quite ill."
That might not be a bad thing, judging by the World Cross Country Championships in March. Yelling was suffering from a cold in Ostend yet she still managed to finish a highly creditable 32nd in the main 8km race. She was the third British finisher, behind the victorious Radcliffe and the 17th-placed Liz Yelling, her sister-in-law.
Liz happens to be a Bedford and County clubmate and sometime training partner of Radcliffe, and it would appear that the improvement of the two Yellings – and of Jo Pavey – is positive proof of a Paula Radcliffe effect on Britain's distance-running women.
"Paula is so far out in front," Hayley said. "But there are loads of us behind her who are pretty closely matched. We're trying to bridge the gap a little bit." Bridging it by 1.28sec tonight would be another step in the world class direction on Hayley Yelling's part.
"It would be brilliant to make the team for a major championship," she said. "Absolutely brilliant. I'm trying not to get my hopes up after what happened last year. But I'll be giving it a good go."
Nobody, not even Maurice Greene, will be giving it more of a go at the Palace tonight.Reuse content