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european under-23 preview

Lawrence Okoye
UK record holder Lawrence Okoye tops the European U23 rankings

13 July 2011

Holly Bleasdale (coach: Julien Raffalli) and Lawrence Okoye (coach: John Hillier) go into this week’s European Under-23 Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic (14-17 July) as the top ranked athletes on the continent courtesy of their respective UK senior records in the pole vault (4.70m) and discus (67.63m) in the last ten days.

Okoye, who exceeded the 13-year-old UK best at the McCain Throwsfest on Saturday, is the most recently crowned national record holder and is in the form of his life going into this week’s competition alongside his team mate and European number two Brett Morse.

“I knew I had a big throw in me at Hendon and I was expecting something good,” said the former rugby player who is now ranked third in the global senior discus rankings for 2011. “It was a strong field and pretty much perfect conditions, and as soon as I hit it I knew that it was going far, I just didn’t realise it was going that far.

“It was actually my final throw that was most pleasing though, because I’d thrown 67m in the fifth round but came back to throw 64m in the sixth, so I actually put together a good overall series; it was by far the most consistent competition I’ve had and I hope I can carry that through to this week. I’ve been working hard on my consistency and that showed at the weekend - I hope it shows in Ostrava.

“Being ranked number one doesn’t really mean all that much,” he added. “Everyone can compete above themselves on the day and I know that with Brett there (his Aviva GB & NI team mate Brett Morse), on his day he can throw just as far as me, so I’ll just have to give it my all.”

Bleasdale, with a first time clearance of 4.61m, finished a very credible second in poor vaulting conditions in Sunday’s Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix and is almost 30cm ahead of her nearest challenger.

The record-breaking Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland duo are joined by James Alaka (coach: Clarence Callender) in the 100m, Luke Lennon-Ford (coach: Linford Christie) in the 400m, Nathan Woodward (Nick Dakin) in the 400mH and Stacey Smith (coach: Mick Woods) in the 1500m as European age group leaders.

Woodward heads an exceptional British trio in the 400mH who have all run inside 50 seconds this season, but it’s the battle for gold - where he’ll inevitably go head to head with European number two Jack Green (coach: Malcolm Arnold) - that’s likely to make it the race of the Championships.

While Woodward won the Trial and went on to clock a lifetime best of 48.71 a week later, Green, fifth in the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships and runner up in this year’s Trial, clocked a 48.98 PB when finishing fourth in a world class 400mH field at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix on Sunday; if either achieve victory, it will be the fourth successive European Under-23 Championships 400mH title for the Aviva GB & NI team following in the footsteps of Rhys Williams (2005), Dai Greene (2007) and Lloyd Gumbs (2009).

In the flat 400m, Trials winner Nigel Levine (coach: Simon Duberley), the 2009 European Under-23 silver medallist, will be targeting his first major title with a season’s best of 45.85, but he’s lost his place as European number one to Luke Lennon-Ford (coach: Linford Christie) with a recent lifetime best of 45.56 in France, while in the 100m, although listed fourth on paper behind European leader Christophe Lemaitre of France, Alaka deservedly takes the plaudits as the fastest man on the start list in the absence of the top ranked three.

Gateshead’s Stacey Smith (coach: Mick Woods) leads the 1500m rankings courtesy of a lifetime best of 4:06.81 at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix, while James Shane (coach: Martin Brown), currently ranked seventh in the men’s 1500m with 3:39.11, clocked a career best over 800m at the new Alexander Stadium (1:46.70), further evidencing his continued progression.

Stevie Stockton (coach: George Gandy), who won the Trial race on her debut over 5000m, is currently ranked outside the top ten in Europe over the distance but is number one over 3000m and has already beaten her fifth-ranked team mate Hannah Walker (coach: Bud Baldaro) this season. The pair, alongside European Under-23 Cross Country Championships bronze medallist Emma Pallant (coach: Mick Woods), should be in the medal mix.

Unfortunately, however, European Junior Cross Country Champion Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods), selected to compete in the 10,000m, will miss out in Ostrava. The fourth place finisher in the Delhi Commonwealth Games has withdrawn from the Aviva GB & NI team after she returned to training following a knee injury but did not progress as well as she and her coach had hoped.

In the women’s hammer, UK senior record holder Sophie Hitchon (coach: Derek Evely) - who arguably kick started the resurgence in UK throws with her World Junior gold 12 months ago - is currently ranked second in Europe and has a realistic medal chance this week; in addition, with a strong squad of sprinters, the Aviva GB & NI men are favourites for both 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m with the women potential podium finishers in the 4 x 100m.

European Athletics will stream live the European Under-23 Championships with English language commentary through their website at www.european-athletics.org. All afternoon sessions will be covered plus morning session finals and additional live streaming will be available with Czech commentary through: www.sportzive.cz

Daily session reports will be published on the UKA website: www.uka.org.uk

For full event details please check out the European Athletics website.