Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson are the headline acts in a 93-strong England athletics team for the Commonwealth Games that is packed with promise and star power, and includes the brilliant youngster Max Burgin on his major championship debut in the 800m.
Of particular delight to organisers is that Asher-Smith, the world 200m champion, has agreed to race in both the women’s 100m and 4x100m at the Games next month, which sets up a potential showdown with the Olympic champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah, and the world champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
With the Tokyo 100m bronze medallist, Shericka Jackson, also expected to travel to Birmingham, insiders are hoping the “race of the championships” is on the cards.
There are plenty of other medal winners in the England team, including the world heptathlon champion Johnson-Thompson, the Olympic 800m silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson and Holly Bradshaw, who won a pole vault bronze in Tokyo.
But the most intriguing name is undoubtedly Burgin, a 20-year-old from Halifax whose youthful brilliance has earned him comparisons with a young Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram. In 2018 Burgin ran the fastest 800m by a 15-year-old, clocking 1:47.50, and has made smart progress since.
Burgin’s plans to make a major splash at the Tokyo Olympics were ruined by injury, but last week in Finland he again advertised his enormous potential by running 1:43:52 – the fastest time at the distance in the world this year – and admits he is desperate to make up for lost time.
“I see this summer as a chance to stamp my name on the sport, to make my mark,” Burgin said. “I’ve been held back a bit for the last few years and I feel like I haven’t really been able to show how good an athlete I can be. This is my opportunity and I need to seize it with both hands. I’m hungry, definitely.”
That performance made Burgin the fourth fastest British 800m runner of all time – behind only Coe, Cram and Peter Elliott. But he believes he will soon go even quicker. “Definitely,” he replied. “It was only my second race of the season and I think I would be disappointed if I didn’t go faster at some point this season. But it’s certainly a good base that I’ve built myself. I just need to fill it out.”
While other young athletes would be nervous about being compared with some of the great names of British middle‑distance running Burgin, who studies history at the University of Leeds, says it only spurs him on. “It is a motivating factor, having these greats of the past to aim at, to hope to emulate. The past few weeks there has been a lot of mentioning the three ahead of me on the all-time rankings – Coe, Cram and Elliott – and it is motivating to know there are levels to get to.”
Burgin also hopes to follow in the footsteps of Hodgkinson, who made such a powerful mark in her debut season, by winning a medal in his first major championship. “What Keely has achieved has shown how far people in our age are not really limited by the fact we are too young. We can compete at the top. She has proved that.”
Kelly Sotherton, the team leader for England’s athletics team, said she expected plenty of medals with the team at her disposal. “There are genuine medal opportunities across all events,” she said. “I am looking forward to watching familiar faces and new ones emerge in the biggest event here since London 2012.”