Home » Athletes left ‘ashamed to represent’ Great Britain after Olympic selection policy

Athletes left ‘ashamed to represent’ Great Britain after Olympic selection policy

Athletes left ‘ashamed to represent’ Great Britain after Olympic selection policy

Another national champion planning to retire is Phil Norman, who delivered the performance of his life in winning the trials in Manchester on Sunday with a time that was the best by a Briton for 33 years, and the fastest ever by a British steeplechaser on home soil. It was, however, an agonising 0.15sec outside the Olympic qualifying standard that had been set by UKA.

Unless there is a dramatic change of policy, UKA will now also overlook his qualification by world ranking and instead send no steeplechaser to Paris next month.

“I think British Athletics just look at this event as, ‘We’ve got no chance of getting a medal, so what is the point of helping these guys out, what is the point of putting any time and effort into at all’,” said Norman.

Zak Seddon, who also narrowly missed the 3000m steeplechase standard despite a personal best this season that puts him ninth on the British all-time list, told The Telegraph: “It makes no sense. You can be good enough for the Olympics but not for Great Britain. I’d love to talk to the people making these calls. We are the ones running our whole careers and then not going to championships that we have earned the right to go to.”

The stated aim of the UKA selection policy is to maximise medals and top-eight finishes.

Jack Buckner, the chief executive, warned last year that there would be a shift in Olympic and World Championships policy with likely smaller teams and a particular focus on what he called the “big hitters”. UK Athletics announced a £3.7 million loss in their most recent accounts but have denied that their policy is related to finances. 

The Paris selection policy was first published in July 2023 and part of its rationale was to introduce measurable standards that eliminated more discretionary decisions. In what is a truly global sport of more than 200 affiliated nations, the UKA standard is understood to reflect forecasts of what is needed to reach the top eight of an Olympic event.

The British Olympic athletics team will be announced on Friday, with any appeals currently being heard.

‘I’m the best in the country yet I’m losing thousands of pounds trying to qualify for the Games’

By Jeremy Wilson

Alongside the breakthrough brilliance of Phoebe Gill and Louie Hinchliffe at the British Athletics Championships, the most stirring race of an emotionally-charged weekend was perhaps the men’s 3000m steeplechase.

Phil Norman, Zak Seddon, Mark Pearce and William Battershill were all contenders for gold but, within just a few metres, it became clear that they would be team-mates as much as rivals in trying to surpass an external force: the UKA Olympic qualifying standard.

And so they shared the pace, lap after lap, until Norman hit the front with 1200m to go. He had proved the strongest and, in sub-optimal conditions, made his lone charge to finish a career on the Olympic stage of Paris that had begun at the North Devon Club near Barnstaple almost 25 years earlier. Norman powered through the final kilometre, surging to the line in 8min 15.65sec. It was the best by a Briton this century. And it was good enough to lift him into Olympic qualification via his world rankings. 

Except that the UKA had set their standard at 8min 15.50sec and so Norman, who trains alone and is entirely self funded, is now set to end a genuinely inspirational career in the drizzle of Manchester rather than then bright lights of the Stade de France. It was little wonder that he needed a few extra minutes to compose himself before speaking after Sunday’s race.

“It’s hard to explain, from coming through, knowing you have run fast, winning the race, to then see an arbitrary unit on the clock just define your career,” said Norman, who has a two-year-old son and works full-time as a pole tester for Openreach. “Luckily I have had support from my employer, [but] you think, ‘I’m the best in the country, I’ve run the quickest time for like 30 years and yet I’m losing thousands of pounds just to try and qualify for the Games’.

“You are just completely on your own. It’s always been behind the scenes politics which has basically defined my athletics career. I have tried not to let it affect me. Tried to just do my work on the track. There needs to be a big shake-up but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

“I think I owe it my wife and my kid [to retire]. It’s not just my own sacrifice, it’s how much they have to sacrifice for me. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”