Brilliant British performances highlight two excellent days of track at Muller Anniversary Games, by Alex Mill

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Muir_Laura-Stockholm14.jpgLaura Muir, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Muller Anniversary Games were the last major athletics event prior to the Olympics. With fine performances for two days, Alex Mill picked four examples of brilliant GBR athletes showing their stuff prior to Rio. Here is how Alex viewed the performances. Alex Mill will be providing us his thoughts on the British performances in Rio during the ten days of Athletics of the 2016 Olympic Games.

An already excellent two days of athletics were made even more amazing by the number of brilliant British performances we saw just two weeks out from the start of the Olympic Games.

Lighting up the London Olympic stadium were sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, distance stars and relays runners that all look set to shine in the GB vest next month as they chase the medals target of nine. While for some athletes it will be their first games experience, for others there is a chance for redemption, improvement or even repeat success.

Though there were many great moments that filled me with national pride and optimism over the weekend here are my four key takeaways from the event.

  1. Laura Muir launches herself into gold medal contention with new British record.

It's a tough ask for anyone to step on to the track and follow up a world record performance just five minutes earlier, but Muir made sure the British crowd were not left disappointed on Friday night.

This weekend the Scottish athlete became the British record holder in the 1500m as she ran 3:57.47 to break Kelly Holmes' 12 year-old record that was set in her famous Olympic win in Athens. Though she has a long way to go until she matches Holmes' career achievements, Muir is incredibly well placed to now go for a medal in Rio after fifth at last year's world championships. With WR holder Genzebe Dibaba yet to show any real form outdoors, the competition is wide open.

Speaking after the race, Muir was understandably ecstatic: "I'm just so over the moon, it's not just any record it's Kelly Holmes' Olympic gold medal record, so to break that is quite special. I was confident already going into Rio but to take a Diamond League victory on home soil going into the Olympics, that couldn't have made my confidence any higher."

"Sorry Kelly." she added.

In her usual all or nothing style, the Scottish sensation lead from the front from the start of the race and just kept going, pushing the pace and her rivals in one of the fastest races of 2016. Faced with the ominous task of holding off world medallist Siffan Hassan in the last lap, Muir did so spectacularly. As her rival looked to go past her in the final 200m Muir produced a ferocious kick that Hassan could not respond to. Staying strong, powering away from her opponent, Muir pushed through to the line to break Holmes' national record.

Despite being only 23, Muir admitted this would be one of the biggest moments of her career. Nevertheless with her first Olympics within touching distance she knows what the bigger goal is: "Medals are something you keep forever, records are made to be broken. A medal and winning races is what I'm in it for."

  1. Shelayna Oskan-Clarke a serious rival to Lynsey Sharp and the rest of the world

Like Muir, Oskan-Clarke finished fifth in Beijing last year, though she might not be quite in the same shape as her compatriot, after winning the Diamond League 800m in 1:59.48 she's in far better form than she was this time last year. In London, she out-kicked Lynsey Sharp and Molly Ludlow in the home strait, both of whom ran 1:57 in Monaco, to take victory and dip under two minutes for the first time this year.

Coached by Brighton Phoenix coach John Bigg, she has been pushed in training by some of Britain's best junior male middle distance runners and the results were clear to see as she looked strong and relaxed in the closing stages.

Back in 2015 no one expected her to do so well, now she heads into Rio as the British champion and a rank outsider for a medal. Speaking after the race Oskan-Clarke said she was looking for more in Rio, especially if it comes down to a sprint finish: "I'd love to make the final, I always say I'd like to do better than I did the year before, that's the aim at least, so I just want to be at my best."

"My last bit of the race is obviously quite good so I just have to focus on keeping my form, I don't mind chasing people down so I will."

Having been in the stadium to watch David Rudisha's break the 800m WR in 2012, Oskan-Clarke will be down on the track this time, revelling in her own personal glory.

  1. World leading relay runners in shape for success

Four years ago the results for Britain's sprint relays at the London Olympics read disqualified and did not qualify, now they head into Rio as the fastest teams in the world this year.

On Friday night, Britain's women continued their monumental progression in sprinting as they broke the national record once more, running 41.81s to take a comprehensive victory and push the feelers out for a global medal.

In 2012 they did not even qualify to compete at the games, but in a quartet of Asha Phillip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryl Neita, they now have four women all in PB form ready to rip up the track every time they compete. Their time here would have won them two of the last three world championships and a medal at any Olympic Games in history. Provided they get the baton round in Rio something special is on the cards, as they are well aware. "It was perfect what we did today, we are proud of ourselves. We are really confident now heading into Rio." Phillip said afterwards.

While the women have been consistently strong since 2012, Britain's men have been consistently inconsistent in the relay. From the highs of being European champions in 2014 and 16 to the lows of a DNF and DQ at the last two WC, this is a squad oozing with talent just waiting to get it right on the big stage. Yesterday though, they produced the perfect dress rehearsal for Rio running 37.78s just .05 outside of the British record, with the 'B' team just .03 of a second behind. They too would have medalled with that time at every single Olympic games.

With the final line-up still to be decided it was clear to see that the athletes were very fired up to prove a point but also to show their unity in numbers. Whichever athletes are selected to compete against Jamaica and USA, they will know this is their greatest chance to repeat the famous success of Athens 2004.

"We are a great squad and really get on with each other. There has been a lot of hard work from a lot of people to make this team stronger. We are all running really well and are very confident. We believe we can go out there and challenge the world's best." Adam Gemili said post-race.

  1. KJT coming good just at the right time

After a slow start to the season, Katarina Johnson-Thompson came into the Anniversary Games with a point to prove to herself and her fans, ahead of a medal challenge at Rio 2016. Luckily she did just that. Competing in front of her adoring home crowd, the mercurial talent and big time performer leapt back into contention for gold in a big way.

Starting with a glorious performance in the high jump on Friday, Johnson-Thompson leapt to a new outdoor PB 1.95m, floating over the bar in great fashion. Though she didn't quite make it in her attempt at a British record 1.98m, the way in which she was jumping did a lot to suggest that she is back into her best shape for that event. Crucially with a number of heights being achieved at the second attempt she showed the resolve that will be so important in Rio.

"It was the best conditions we could have hoped for, I thought it was going to be a bit cold, but it's been good and I'm really pleased to get a PB." she said afterwards.

A day later and a far more vital seed was sewn in the long jump as she excelled in t an event that she had suffered so badly in 12 months earlier. In one of the most comprehensive performances of the weekend, Johnson-Thompson produced a SB 6.84m to win the competition and supplement a superb set of jumps. Beating compatriot Shara Proctor and rival Jessica Ennis-Hill there were no more foul-jumps for the Brit as she leapt over 6.60m on each occasion, a mark she had previously failed to reach all year.

"I think I've slayed my long jump demons,' she said afterwards. 'The wind was changing a little bit but I know I can change things.

"Last year I felt I couldn't change anything in Beijing but I got a consistent set of good jumps out there."

Johnson-Thompson now has two weeks to keep working hard before she takes on Ennis-Hill and Brianne Thiesen-Eaton for gold in Rio, though it remains to be seen how she will perform in the other five events, a near-perfect weekend will have given her a lot of confidence: "Perfect would've been a few more centimetres in the high jump - but it's a long way better than I've done this season. I just have to back myself now.

"I've just got to go home, work on the other events and hope I head into Rio with no injuries. I feel like when I'm 100 per cent healthy I can do anything." she said.

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