Moments before the starter’s gun shattered the hush of the Alexander Stadium and rocket-launched the greatest 100m race ever seen on these shores, James Dasaolu checked his lane number and wondered whether it might be an omen. Lane four. The same as three years ago here when, on a sweltering day, he bulldozed through the 10-second barrier for the first time.
His sixth sense was on to something. Dasaolu made a start of dreams, then drove to the line, only looking up after he had crossed it in 9.93 seconds. He did not see James Ellington or CJ Ujah coming up behind him, but he sure felt their presence.
Ellington finished like a bullet train to come second in 9.96, with the much silkier Ujah just a hundredth of a second further back, in third.
It was the first time that three British men had gone under 10 seconds in the same 100m race. And while the wind speed of three metres a second was a metre over the legal limit – too high for the record-book keepers to dub it official – the gasps around the stadium told you this was not something that comes along very often.
The chasing pack was not far behind either. The 20-year-old Ojie Edoburun – one, certainly, for the future – was fourth in 10.02, the same time as Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, with the former world indoor champion Richard Kilty in fifth, in 10.05, and the 38-year-old Dwain Chambers sixth in 10.11.
“I knew there was going to be a bit of tension on the line,” said Dasaolu. “And if I didn’t finish top two, top three, my dream of going to Rio in the 100m would be in jeopardy. I had to make sure I had a good start and my race would come together.”
So it did. But the bigger surprise was the sight of 30-year-old Ellington, who is more of a specialist 200m runner, creating such sweet music over the shorter distance. “It’s something I always believed I was capable of doing,” he said, “I was down at 40-50m and I thought I’d blown it, but I trusted in my ability and came through strong.”
Trust is something that is in short supply in athletics and, when Ellington was asked about his improvement this year, he did not flinch, pointing to the stresses and niggles in his personal life and the lack of serious training until he was in his mid-20s. “I’m annoyed with the commentators when they say, ‘Oh, he’s 30 now’,” he said.
“If you actually look at our most successful athletes they are between the ages of 28 and 35. Up until the age of 26, up until the 2012 Olympics, I only trained three days a week. Now I’m in my third or fourth year of professional training, I am starting to come into good form.”
And he had a feisty message for anyone who doubted him. “Anyone thinks I’m dirty, they’re having a laugh,” he insisted. “I’m outspoken about dirty athletes and I’m totally against them. I’m sure I’ve been in races where people have beaten me and they’ve been dirty. I’m outspoken on Twitter, so if anyone tries to chat that madness with me they’re going to have a problem.”
Ellington was fast getting into his stride now, just like he had been on the track. “It’s annoying, because, as British athletes, we get tested day in, day out. We get world junior champions, world junior finalists, we get to a senior level and suddenly we can’t make the final. Why is that?
“I think we’ve some of the most talented sprinters in the world, but we can only control what we’re doing and not the rest of the world.”
With only the top two selected automatically for Rio, Ujah will have to wait for another fortnight for the selectors to confirm his place, but after this race it is surely just a formality.
A few minutes earlier, the women’s 100m final was just as dramatic, but for different reasons, as the pre-race favourite, Desiree Henry, finished a shock third behind Asha Philip and Eltham teenager Daryll Neita.
Philip made an explosive start and established distance over the rest of the field by halfway, before striding clear to win in 11.17. Henry, who has run 11.06 this season, tried to close the gap but only succeeded in tying up before being pipped to the line by Neita.
“It feels like a whole weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Philip. “No one can understand what it means, it hurts so much bad.”
The 19-year-old Neita, meanwhile, was revelling in every moment. “It’s just the most amazing feeling ever,” she said.
“I came fourth last year at the European juniors and it was really disappointing. I think it just made me really hungry for this year – my first year as a senior. I didn’t want to leave anything in the bank.
“I did start crying when I saw I had finished second. I couldn’t do anything else.”
Afterwards, Henry was crying too. But for very different reasons.
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