March 26 event to be held on fast, flat course in an area of London renowned for its running heritage and tradition
British Olympic marathon contenders will battle for places in the team for Tokyo on a flat, fast course at Kew Gardens in Richmond, south-west London, next spring.
The trials races will take place on Friday morning of March 26 as part of the Richmond Runfest weekend. The course is a 5.5km loop, does not have any significant elevations, is sheltered from the wind and is believed to be fast enough for athletes to hit the Olympic qualifying marks of 2:11:30 (men) and 2:29:30 (women).
Usually British athletes find themselves battling for major championship selection in the Virgin Money London Marathon. But after the coronavirus-hit 2020 season a decision has been made to stage a domestic dust-up of Olympic hopes at the world-famous botanical gardens and its surrounding roads.
With the expectation that the coronavirus is going to be prevalent through the winter, the Olympic marathon trials event will be staged in a similar fashion to the recent London Marathon with athletes held in a bio-bubble and small fields of around 30 men and 30 women in two separate races.
There are also obvious comparisons with the standalone US Olympic marathon trials that have taken place in recent years in Atlanta (2020), Los Angeles (2016), Houston (2012) and New York (2011) with the latter, in the city’s Central Park, on a similar multi-lap course to the one planned for Kew Gardens.
AW understands that Dorney Lake in Buckinghamshire and various motor racing and horse racing courses were considered but one of the appeals of Kew Gardens is that it can be incorporated into an already-established event – with the Richmond Marathon scheduled for March 27 and AIR 10km on March 28.
In a statement, UKA said: “The venue was selected due to its ability to minimise issues that may arise as a result of the current pandemic. Following lengthy consultations across a host of stakeholders, the need to stage a race that could continue to be deemed viable under the potential of tightening Covid restrictions was a priority.”
British Athletics will tap into the expertise of former London Marathon race director David Bedford as technical director, with Tom Bedford as race director at an event that will also double as the British marathon championships for 2021.
Among the likely contenders are Charlotte Purdue and Chris Thompson, both of whom have run at Richmond Runfest in the past (pictured below), plus Jonny Mellor and Ben Connor, who both broke the Olympic qualifying standard in London this month.
Jess Piasecki, Steph Twell, Lily Partridge and Steph Davis will hope to return to form to challenge Natasha Cockram and Naomi Mitchell – the latter two being the top Brits in London last month. Added to this entries could include Dewi Griffiths, Tish Jones and Derek Hawkins (Callum Hawkins is the only British marathoner who is pre-selected for Tokyo).
Tom Bedford, who is also race director of the Richmond Runfest, believes the area has a strong claim to be the unofficial home of endurance running in Britain too. “Iten in Kenya is ‘the home of champions’,” he says, “but the Borough of Richmond has the rightful claim to be the home of British distance running. My old man (Dave Bedford, former world 10,000m record-holder) used to train in the area despite being a north London boy.
“With Bushy Park, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common it’s the best for hilly running and lots of different types of training all in one place. All the top agents have based themselves there like Kim McDonald and now Ricky Simms with PACE. Mo Farah is one of the many top athletes who went to St Mary’s.
“Chris Brasher (London Marathon co-founder) lived there and they created the London Marathon in one of the pubs just off Richmond Park. Paul Sinton-Hewitt invented parkrun there at Bushy Park. It’s a real epicentre for the sport and the greenest borough in London too.”
Shortly after London 2012, Bedford set up the Richmond Running Festival in order to keep the Olympic legacy going in the area. A launch event saw Farah doing interviews and since then the event has grown over the past seven years.
“Like London Marathon, the idea was formed over a beer,” says Bedford. “We thought that we could create an Olympic legacy for Richmond. Last year, before Covid, we had 10,000 finishers raising £2.5 million. It’s significantly grown from a one-day event to a weekend event.”
This coming spring it is set to stage an Olympic trials too.
» The British Championships and Olympic trials race are invitation-only but runners can still enter the Richmond Marathon and Air 10km at richmondrunfest.co.uk