Jo Pavey has admitted that “never in her wildest dreams” did she think she would become the first British track athlete to compete at five Olympic Games after she was named in the athletics team for Rio on Wednesday.
The decision to take Pavey, 42, to contest the 10,000m at the expense of her 24-year-old rival Kate Avery was one of the most controversial among the 80-strong squad for Rio.
There was also heartache for Anyika Onuora, who missed out on the final 400m spot in favour of Christine Ohuruogu, despite beating the former Olympic and world champion to a European medal last week.
As was expected, London 2012 champions Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford were all included in the team, which saw Chijindu Ujah given the final 100m spot over Richard Kilty.Among those who were also awarded a discretionary spot after failing to earn automatic selection were Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (200m), Elliot Giles (800m) and Andy Vernon (10,000m).
The selectors opted not to fill the final women’s 800m position with Alison Leonard, who has run the qualifying time six times and finished third at the Olympic trials, omitted.
Illness and injury looked to have ended Pavey’s hopes of making it to Rio when she finished well down the 10,000m field at the national trials in May. However, she bounced back at the European Championships last week, running the fastest time by a British woman this year which, crucially, was 37 seconds quicker than Avery has achieved this season and seven seconds faster than the younger athlete has ever run.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Pavey told The Telegraph. “When you’re a young girl dreaming of going to the Olympics, you never think you could be going to five.
“Standing on that start line and looking up at the flame is really emotional.
“Never in my wildest dreams a few years back did I think I would be competing at the Olympics at my age.
|100m||Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Daryll Neita|
|200m||Dina Asher-Smith, Jodie Williams|
|400m||Christine Ohuruogu, Emily Diamond, Seren Bundy-Davies|
|800m||Lynsey Sharp, Shelayna Oskan-Clarke|
|1,500m||Laura Muir, Laura Weightman|
|5,000m||Eilish McColgan, Stephanie Twell, Laura Whittle|
|10,000m||Jo Pavey, Beth Potter, Jessica Andrews|
|3,000m steeplechase||Lennie Waite|
|100m hurdles||Tiffany Porter, Cindy Ofili|
|400m hurdles||Eilidh Doyle|
|High Jump||Morgan Lake|
|Pole Vault||Holly Bradshaw|
|Long Jump||Lorraine Ugen, Shara Proctor, Jazmin Sawyers|
|Discus Throw||Jade Lally|
|Hammer Throw||Sophie Hitchon|
|Heptathlon||Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Jessica Ennis-Hill|
|Marathon||Sonia Samuels, Alyson Dixon|
|4x100m relay||Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Daryll Neita, Dina Asher-Smith, Bianca Williams, Ashleigh Nelson, Louise Bloor|
|4x400m relay||Christine Ohuruogu, Emily Diamond, Seren Bundy-Davies, Eilidh Doyle, Anyika Onuora, Margaret Adeoye, Kelly Massey|
When London 2012 was announced in 2005 I thought I’d be retired by then and wouldn’t even be able to compete at a home Games so competing at the Olympics after that is just surreal.”
Last month Pavey admitted her hopes of making it to Rio were slim, but she says she was determined to give it one last shot at the European Championships last week.
“It was a race against time and things weren’t going well with my health but all I could do was keep plugging away,” she said.
“Week by week I was getting fitter but I thought I’d run out of time.
“I was thrilled to represent the country at the European Championships and knew it was a big ask to gain Olympic selection so I just decided to go from the gun.
“I just had to make myself as selectable as I could.”
Ohuruogu can count herself fortunate to have made the team after losing out in her 400m head-to-head with bronze medal-winner Onuora at the European Championships last week.
The former Olympic and world champion had pleaded with the selectors to take into account her ability to peak on the biggest stage and Neil Black, team leader, confirmed that was the crucial factor.
“It was obviously one of the toughest decisions from the selection meeting,” he said. “Probably, what won out in the end was Christine’s focus on preparation. The fact that at this time of the season she’s rarely running any faster than she is now.
“But we really understand the focus that enabled her to really peak effectively in the past and we have no reason to believe she won’t be able to now.”
Onuora will still travel to Rio, but only as part of the 4x400m relay team.
Meanwhile, Leonard described her omission as an “insult” and said she had been made to “feel mediocre”.
“I accept I will never win an Olympic medal. I just don’t think that a global medal is the only goal worth pursuing,” she wrote on the website Eightlane.
“Since when has being an Olympian not been an inspiring and lofty enough ambition?
“To leave a space empty on an Olympic team when several athletes have the qualifying standard is an insult to the effort that athletes put in to the sport.
“For me to be told that the space will be left empty despite being third in the trial, despite have six qualifying times in the qualifying period, despite having made significant steps forward in sports psychology in the past two years, makes me feel I am mediocre. I am an also-ran.”
Nearly 40% of parents of girls report their daughters being inspired to take up a sport after watching professionals in action.
England 6-Russia )