by Robyn Rashford

AFTER 20 years of sweat, toil and tears, months of early-morning training sessions and the emotional impact of his shock selection, Bolton’s Stuart Stokes will take his place in a powerful field tomorrow bidding for a place in the 3,000m steeplechase final.

In his pursuit of a much sought after qualification into the 15-man final, the 35-year-old will have his work cut out as he takes on the mammoth task of facing the mighty Kenyans.

For many, the Horwich teacher’s chances of making the final are questionable when the line-up includes world-class athletes, including 2008 gold medallist Brimin Kipruto. who has already run an impressive 8mins 01.73secs this season and world champion Ezekiel Kemboi, who is not far behind him with 8:10.55.

In contrast, Stokes – although ranked in Europe’s top five – has a season’s best performance of 8:29.32.

But after failing to make the team for three consecutive Olympics and, ironically, being snubbed for being too old at Beijing, Stokes, pictured below, is determined to savour his big moment.

“I don’t want to be sitting analysing everything about the race itself,” he said. “I just want to enjoy the whole experience.

I’ll run my heart out. I’ll give it my all and, if I don’t quite make the final, I don’t want that to be a negative thing.”

As the oldest member of the Great Britain athletics team and the only one with a fulltime job, there is no doubt Stokes can be sufficiently proud of his achievements in making the London 2012 event, something that has come at a price.

“I’ve trained every morning, getting up at 4.30am, for seven months – even on weekends – and been in bed every night at 7.50pm. I have a couple of niggles, I’ve had injections in my calf, an epidural in my spine and five cortisone injections in my hip. I’m literally falling to pieces but I’m hoping I will have a team of doctors and medical staff there and I will be able to get physio every day.”

On-hand medical back-up is new to Stokes who, having been overlooked by the governing body for funding, has had to rely on himself and his family for financial support to fulfil his Olympic dream.

“Everyone knows what goes into becoming an Olympian,” he added.

“It’s a unique situation.

“I’ve just got to make the most of it.”