The eyes of athletics fans will be drawn to Kew Gardens next Friday, when the marathon and race-walking trials for the Olympics take place.
After a year of severe disruption, athletes will be looking to secure their place in the Team GB squad for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
Several of Britain’s leading runners will be in action as they attempt to qualify for the games, with Clapham-based Steph Davis joined by the likes of Lily Partridge and Charlotte Purdue in the women’s marathon field.
The likes of Dewi Griffiths and Chris Thompson will compete in the men’s event, with Tom Bosworth highlighting the 20km race walk trials.
The course is designed to be fast to boost the chances of athletes achieving the set qualification times, with race director Tom Bedford the man tasked with organising what will be a highly unique event.
Last November, Kew Gardens saw off competition from sites in other cities such as Manchester to hold the trials and Bedford believes that the gardens are the best venue in south west London to hold the event.
However, with the event only being allowed under elite sport guidelines due to the current lockdown, he admitted there will be nerves amongst the athletes ahead of the event.
He said: “With Kew Gardens we obviously had the experience of running Richmond Run Fest, and obviously it’s much more contained than Richmond Park or Bushy Park so we can make sure everyone stays safe.
“There will be only 200 people across a 300-acre site so the event will be pretty Covid-safe. Everyone will have to take a lateral flow test before entering the site or the race.
“This is classed as an elite sport event, but many of these athletes don’t run marathons full-time. Many of them have other jobs, some of them as doctors.
“They will be taking extra precautions in the days before the event, as a positive lateral flow test means their Olympic hopes are gone.”
The trials will be the first event of its kind in 40 years in Britain, with qualification times for the Olympics and World Athletics Championships usually achieved at global marathon events.
With global travel restrictions in place, this event provides an opportunity for athletes to secure the qualification time for Tokyo, and Bedford is excited to see how the US-style trials pan out.
He said: “Usually athletes and their coaches target the London Marathon or a European marathon as a place to get the qualifying time but many have understandably not done that this year.
“Many people have wanted a US-style trial system for a while. The London Marathon does a great job at holding the trials every four years but it will certainly be interesting to see how much attention this event generates.”
One of the reasons why Kew Gardens was chosen to host the trials was the success of the Richmond Run Fest, which started in 2013.
A socially-distanced event was held in September, whilst another is planned for May, and Bedford is hopeful that an unrestricted event will take place this coming September.
He said: “We held a socially-distanced event last September, which is the largest mass-participation sporting event in the country since the pandemic struck.
“By September we’ll have the experience of putting on three previous events during lockdown and hopefully hold this event that does so much good.
“We’re so looking forward to that and welcoming back runners. I’m hoping the weather will improve so we can get back into parks and get fitter as a nation!”
You can find out more about the Olympic trials and Richmond Run Fest here.