More than 500 athletes will represent over 100 clubs during three days of intense competition as the Aviva National Championships and Team GB Olympic Selection trials get under way at the Alexander Stadium on Friday evening.
Here, athletics correspondent Brian Dick identifies the Midlands competitors who have hopes, realistic or otherwise, of using the event to book their seats on the plane to Beijing or to attain domestic success.
* Friday July 11
The festivities begin at 6pm with the 100 metres heats. With Darlaston Dart Mark Lewis-Francis out for the season after undergoing surgery on an Achilles injury, the region’s hopes will rest on the experienced shoulders of Coventry Godiva Marlon Devonish.
Devonish will be looking to add yet another domestic sprint double to the one he claimed last year but despite his position as the pre-eminent runner in the country it will be Dwain Chambers and Tyrone Edgar, who is enjoying his breakthrough season, who will hog the headlines this evening. Expect all the main contenders to come through the phoney war without so much as a scratch.
The women’s 100m also gets under way as does the women’s triple jump. Chances of a home win in either are slim especially after Ashia Hansen’s retirement this week.
Christine Ohuruogu and Nicola Sanders get their bids for 400m glory off and running while in the men’s events Birchfield bright young things, Jordan McGrath and Robert Davis, are away at the World Juniors in Poland.
One highlight could be the appearance of Hannah England, the Birmingham University student who shattered her lifetime best and raced to the top of the domestic 1500m rankings last month with victory in the American collegiate championships. Her heats are the last event of the evening.
* Saturday July 12
The blue riband event, the 100m, reaches its finale with Devonish, Chambers, Edgar and probably Craig Pickering and Simeon Williamson all vying to finish in the top two to make the trip to China.
Williamson, the European Under-23 gold medallist, is the outsider and still needs to run the 10.21 seconds qualifying time, which his main rivals have already done.
Devonish comes in as the reigning champion and although he has yet to go under 10.1 seconds this season he really can claim to be a championship performer unlike many others who delude themselves into thinking they grow stronger with successive races.
Chambers and Edgar are the men to beat, however. Edgar ran 10.06 in Geneva at the end of May and only a fortnight ago was supplanted by Chambers as the country’s fastest man after the reformed drugs cheat came second in Sofia in 10.05secs.
If Chambers finishes in the top two it will only cloud the selection issue, at least until next Wednesday when he learns the result of his appeal against the British Olympic Association by-law that bans athletes convicted of drugs offences from taking part in the Olympics.
The women’s final also takes place with Emma Ania, Jeanette Kwakye and Laura Turner likely to occupy the medal positions.
There is also an intriguing long jump competition in which Nathan Morgan, and to a lesser likelihood Jonathan Moore, will try to surpass the 8.20m A Standard. Morgan, a former Commonwealth champion and British record holder has trouble getting over 8m with his run up problems these days but having beaten favourite Chris Tomlinson twice recently, he may win the title if not a trip to the Far East.
It would be a major surprise if Birchfield’s Chris Baillie, a Commonwealth silver medal winner in 2006, was able to get back to that level and run the 13.55secs he needs to put pressure on Sale’s Andy Turner, while over the 400m barriers Dale Garland begins his outside bid to make the Games.
Hannah England is in a much better position, however. The 4:06.19 she produced in Des Moines was well inside the required standard and if she can see off Lisa Dobriskey and Susan Scott, the 21-year-old could have something truly memorable with which to remember the best season of her career.
Hammer thrower Zoe Derham is also hopeful of making the journey. The 27-year-old has been the British No 1 for the last two years and last weekend beat the 67m qualifying mark by 33cm.
However, that was only the B standard and unless she can set a massive PB and achieve 69.50m she will have to rely on the kindness of the selectors to reach Beijing. She should, at least, have the consolation of a second straight national crown.
Harriers Louise Butterworth should win a medal in the pole vault and youngster Eden Francis may get something out of the shot put.
Genuine Olympic medal prospect Kelly Sotherton also takes part in this event as well as the high jump while world champion Ohuruogu should take on Sanders, the woman she beat into silver in Osaka, in the one lap final.
* Sunday July 13
Sotherton continues her preparations in the javelin, her weakest event and the one that has probably cost her silver medals at more than one major championships, and the long jump in which she is considerably stronger and could even turn out to be her best individual event when she retires from the heptathlon.
Amy Harris, whose year has been blighted by injury, also takes to the long jump runway looking to re-establish herself as a hot prospect while Royal Sutton Coldfield’s Laura Kenney, European Under 23 champion last year, will not get the Beijing qualifying time but could end up with a podium finish. Coventry’s Tina Brown will hope to do likewise in the 3000m Steeplechase.
The final race of the day will see Devonish try to retain his 200m crown with the strongest challenge coming from rising force Alex Nelson of Stoke.
These are the only two to have attained the 20.59secs A standard but neither can compare with Michael Johnson’s world record of 19.32 secs or even Usain Bolt’s world best of 2008 19.83secs.
Mark Edwards has a very real hope of making a first Olympics in the shot. He has already reached the A standard, once or twice depending to whom you listen, and victory with another 20m plus throw will bolster his case.
Hall Green high jumper Tom Parsons, though, has a lot more to do. He needs to add 1cm to his lifetime best of 2.29m to qualify and then beat Martyn Bernard, Samson Oni and Germaine Mason.
One man who has enjoyed the benefit of the selector’s generosity in the past is Garland who made the World Championships with the B Standard in 2007. He will, however, have to set a massive new PB if he is to make the team for the 400m hurdles and withstand the thrusts of upwardly mobile youngsters David Greene and rankings leader Rick Yates, who is close to the lower qualifying mark of 49.50secs.
Birmingham-based triple jumper Nathan Douglas must try to crack the hegemony of world indoor champion Phillips Idowu and go over 17.10m for the first time this season if he is to be sure of selection.
Of national significance will be the performance of Dream Mile winner Andy Baddeley in the 1500m and a fascinating women’s 800 in which three competitors have already run the qualifying time and another three could.
*?Tickets for the Aviva National Championships at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham this weekend are available 08000 556 056 or at www.ukathletics.net. Quote TME50 when booking your tickets.