UK Athletics Championships 2024: Keely Hodgkinson still the star attraction at Olympic trials after 400m switch

Distance switch: Keely Hodgkinson will be competing over 400metres at the UK Athletics Championships (Getty Images)
Distance switch: Keely Hodgkinson will be competing over 400metres at the UK Athletics Championships (Getty Images)

For an athlete so accustomed to finishing with a silver medal in major championships, there has been an air of invincibility to Keely Hodgkinson in 2024.

She is the fastest woman in the world this year by nearly a second and even managed to win the European title having clambered out of her sick bed to make the start line.

The 22-year-old is Britain’s best bet for an athletics gold at the Paris Olympics, boosted by the failure of her great rival and the defending champion, Athing Mu, to qualify for the Games after she fell at the US trials last weekend.

Hodgkinson will be among the star attractions in Manchester this weekend for the British contingent’s own trial for Paris at the UK Athletics Championships.

Over 800metres, Hodgkinson would be a shoo-in for her national title and is already assured a place in the Olympics squad. But she has opted to compete over the shorter 400m this weekend.

UK Athletics Championships

Trio to watch in Manchester

Keely Hodgkinson

The 22-year-old could lay claim to currently being Britain’s best athletic talent.

She has looked invincible over two laps of the track this season, comfortably the fastest in the world and favourite to win the gold medal in Paris when the Games get under way.

In Manchester, however, she is running the 400m.

Louie Hinchliffe

Barely heard of before this season, the Sheffield-born sprinter has been causing a stir the other side of the Atlantic under the tutelage of Carl Lewis.

Despite his inexperience, Hinchcliffe is in with a shout of winning the 100m national title, particularly with Zharnel Hughes missing through injury.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

If fit, the heptathlon world champion is one of the favourites for gold in Paris — but that is a big if.

The alarm bells sounded when she pulled out of the Europeans in Rome with a slight leg injury and, having entered three events here, this will be the acid test over her fitness for the Olympics.

Despite racing over a more unfamiliar distance, as ever, her target in the race will be the same. She said: “I want to attack every race. I want to be as consistent as possible. I’ll keep setting myself little targets in training, in championships all the time to see how much I can push myself.”

Her absence in the 800m gives a chance to Phoebe Gill, an immensely talented 17-year-old, who could make the British team in the 800m but faces competition from Jemma Reekie and Alex Bell at the trials.

Also mixing it up is Matt Hudson-Smith who, like Hodgkinson, looks in the form of his life in the 400m, having comfortably broken his own European record earlier this season. He will run his standard event in Manchester but is also entered in the 200m as part of his meticulous preparations for Paris.

The championships will prove an acid test for Katarina Johnson-Thompson after the world heptathlete champion pulled out midway through the European Championships with injury.

Her coach, Aston Moore, downplayed the problem as no more than a “small niggle in her right leg”, her withdrawal simply a precaution ahead of such a big summer. She is lined up to compete in the 200m, javelin and high jump over the next two days.

Acid test: Katarina Johnson-Thompson was forced to withdraw injured from the recent European Championships (REUTERS)
Acid test: Katarina Johnson-Thompson was forced to withdraw injured from the recent European Championships (REUTERS)

There is a potential sprint duel between Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita in the 200m, with the latter in the start list for both events, while Asher-Smith is competing solely in the longer sprint.

Perhaps the biggest excitement is over the unknown quantity of Louie Hinchcliffe, who only five years ago came dead last at the English Schools 100m final. Now, the 21-year-old is on the precipice of the Olympics.

A move to study and train in the United States in Houston has brought him under the tutelage of nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis.

The pairing is clearly working, with Hinchcliffe having joined Britain’s sub-10second men this season. Of his chances, Lewis, who raced against arguably Britain’s best sprinter of all time in Linford Christie, said recently: “I think he is going to be one of the greatest sprinters Britain’s ever had and, if I said that a year ago, everyone would have thought I was crazy.

“I am excited for him. He is a wonderful young man, he is unique.”

There will be no duel against Zharnel Hughes, unfortunately, with Britain’s fastest man over the 100m and 200m given a medical exemption not to compete after sustaining a hamstring injury racing in Jamaica earlier this month.