Birchfield Harrier Mark Edwards fears ‘grey areas’ in selection policy could again rob him of the chance to fulfil his dream of representing his country at the Olympic Games.
The 33-year-old shot putter is ranked British No?1 going into this weekend’s national championship and Beijing trials, which start at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham on Friday, and needs to finish no worse than second for a chance to win a place on the plane to Beijing next month.
On paper Edwards is in the perfect position. He has not been out of the top two in the country for the last couple of years and has exceeded the Olympic qualifying distance of 20.30 metres twice this season.
While there is no dispute surrounding the personal best 20.88m he managed in California last month, it has become accepted practice that competitors must manage the A standard more than once and while Edwards has done that - at Nottingham in April when he threw 20.70m, he is concerned UK Athletics will not accept that result because it was not a ‘sanctioned’ event as stipulated in the criteria.
That leaves Edwards, who actually works for UKA as a throws coach with the paralympic squad, facing the prospect of yet another rejection and a repeat of the agony he suffered when he narrowly missed the Sydney games eight years ago.
“There was two of us who had got the required 19.70m in 2000, me and Mark Proctor, and they decided to take him so I am a little bit wary of the whole set up,” Edwards said. “I was gutted but back then I didn’t realise I had the right to appeal. I know if I finish in the top two on Sunday and still don’t make it that’s exactly what I’ll do this time round.”
That could leave the sport facing yet another controversial hearing to decide who should go to China and who shouldn’t but, unlike Dwain Chambers, who has taken the British Olympic Association to court in a bid to overturn the lifetime ban for drugs cheats, Edwards has done everything by the book.
However, experience has taught him to expect the worst and while he doesn’t want to prejudge the outcome of any case he may bring, it is safe to say his confidence in the process is not particularly high. A successful appeal would, after all, require a climb down on the part of the same selectors who may have opted not to take him in the first place.
Compounding the situation is the fact his main rival, Carl Myerscough, is also banned from taking part in an Olympics having been suspended for two years for testing positive for anabolic steroids in 1999. That leaves Edwards as the only eligible man to have attained the qualifying standard.
“I don’t have a problem with Carl,” he said. “He could throw a world record on Sunday and it wouldn’t bother me as long as I finish in the first two. Under the IAAF rules we have all signed up to he has served his ban and now he’s competing again. The BOA can do what they like about that.”
Edwards could have made life slightly easier for himself last month when he turned down the chance to throw in the European Cup, which Great Britain won in Annecy, because he did not want to miss his daughter’s first birthday.
In a decent field five of the eight competitors went over 20m, it could have been the perfect opportunity to press home his Beijing claims.
“It might have been but I don’t want to be one of those fathers whose daughter gets to 16 before he knows it,” he said. “I am not on lottery funding, I pay for everything myself so I was not contractually obliged to go. I have other priorities as well now.”
Of course Edwards could settle any argument by winning the national title at the Alexander Stadium, his home venue, by throwing further than 20.30m.
That, however, is something he has found difficult to do in recent weeks. His two competitions since his American PB have yielded two under par performances. In the last month, at events in France and Croatia, he has not even made it past 19m and he concedes the stress of a full time job and a young family combined with his attempts to reach a first Olympics has left him feeling the strain.
“I’ve had a couple of weeks off because the weight of it all was just getting too much,” he said. “But I feel loads better now. I’m much more confident, I’ve just beaten all my best scores in the tests we do and I’m ready to go.”