The Aviva GB & NI team celebrated further medal success in the final session at the World indoors at the Atakoy Athletics Arena in Istanbul, Turkey, with an outstanding gold for the women’s 4x400m relay squad and a number of other podium finishes to round off their best ever weekend at the Championship.
The women’s 4x400m team of Shana Cox (Lloyd Cowan), Nicola Sanders (Tony Lester), Christine Ohuruogu (Lloyd Cowan), and Perri Shakes Drayton (Chris Zah) put in an amazing gold medal-winning performance to break the traditional USA and Russian dominance of this event.
Despite never having won a medal in the relay in any previous World Indoor Championships, the girls pulled together a superlative display to ensure they surprised their opponents and finished first in 3.28.76, ahead of the USA with 3:28.79 and Russia in third with 3:29.55
First leg runner Shana Cox put three rounds of the individual 400m behind her to lead them through in a strong position within the top three: ”I tried to put the girls in a really good position to fight it out come out on top,” she said.
Then it was time for Nicola Sanders to take to the track, and she held the team in place with a solid run albeit the Russian and USA runners appeared to be stretching away. She said: “My job is to stay in there, keep us in position, but then Chrissy did the job to give us a lead.”
In Sanders’ own words, it was indeed Christine Ohuruogu who made the difference for the team. With two seasons of injury woe behind her, a strong winter’s training meant that the Olympic 400m champion was in great form, and she stunned the field by taking the Aviva GB & NI quartet from third place into the lead. She said:
“I’ve been working very, very hard,” she nodded, “and it’s nice to be with the team for this.”
She then handed over the lead to Perri Shakes-Drayton, the 400m hurdles specialist renowned for her bulldoggish relay nature. She was faced with a daunting task, to keep the field behind her including World Indoor individual 400m gold medalist American Sanya Richards-Ross.
Yet when the challenge came from Richards-Ross over the final 100m, Shakes-Drayton held on, dipping dramatically over the line, and tumbling to the floor. When the photo-finish verdict came in, the team celebrated joyously.
Shakes Drayton said: “I just forgot who was in my race. I saw Chrissy move from third into first and I didn’t want to lose anything to I went out there and ran my legs off!”
As if inspired by their teammates, the Men’s 4x400m team of Conrad Williams (Linford Christie), Nigel Levine (Linford Christie), Michael Bingham (Kevin Tyler) and Richard Buck (Steve Fudge) looked also to be headed for a gold medal upset ahead of the much favoured USA, but instead had to settle for silver, in what was still a very impressive relay performance.
With Williams and Levine holding first for the opening two legs, the USA took the lead on the third leg and although Richard Buck on anchor ran strongly, he was unable to make inroads on the American lead.
But it was still the second fastest time ever for the GB squad in an indoor 4x400m race, and a more than welcome silver medal addition to the Aviva GB & NI medal count.
In the men’s 800m final, Andrew Osagie (Craig Winrow) made up for the disappointment of his fourth place finish at the European Indoor Championships in 2011, by going one place better on the world stage, taking bronze in a competitive final won by the Ethiopian favourite Mohammed Aman in 1:48.36.
Osagie, who laid off the early pace, moved to fifth at halfway and into fourth at the bell, before biding his time until the last 50m to move into the medals in the final few strides crossing the line third in 1:48.92.
“I'm so happy with that to get a medal. I knew going into the final I maybe could sneak a medal. You never know what's going to happen,” he said.
“I think we ran a 28 second first 200m there and then as soon as someone made a move, everyone panicked. I really didn't want to, I wanted to keep my head just like I did in the semi-final. I knew that last lap I was going to be quicker than most as long as I was there in contention. I'm so happy to get that.”
There was further medal success for the team in the women’s pole vault, although Holly Bleasdale (Julien Raffalli Ebezant) was a picture of frustration as she took her first ever major championship medal at senior level, but looked as though she was good for more than her bronze medal result.
Bleasdale, 20, attempted to clear 4.75m but aborted two run-throughs before her third and final attempt failed to clear it, and finished with 4.70m as her best height of the day.
With silver going to France’s Vanessa Boslak (4.70m) and gold to Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva with 4.80m, the youngster was pleased , but reflected constructively on her day:
“I can’t believe I won bronze and I’m really pleased. But I am still annoyed with myself as I found out I got bronze when I was attempting 4.75m and I couldn’t contain it, and lost my focus,” she admitted.
“Bronze is a massive step up for me I know so I’m really chuffed, this is the first time I’ve felt really really nervous, I’ve not felt that nervous in a while and had to contain myself.”
Teammate and UK junior record holder Katie Byres (also Raffalli Ebezant), making her Aviva GB & NI senior debut following a superb indoor season, struggled to make an impact, no-heighting with three failures at 4.30m.
Elsewhere, Shara Proctor (Rana Reider) rounded off her superb indoor season form by taking home the bronze medal from the women’s long jump, in a final won by the USA’s Brittney Reese with a massive 7.23m leap.
Proctor, who fouled her first two jumps, nailed her run up in the third attempt and flew out to 6.86m, equaling her own national record and eclipsing the early lead of Russia’s Darya Klishina by just 1cm to sit in gold medal position
It didn’t last for long with USA’s Reese and Janay DeLoach pushing the 7m barrier, and eventually Reese sailing out to her gold winning distance, but it was still a great achievement for Proctor, who thrived under the pressure of the big stage:
“It was very intense. That's what I like and it made for a good competition,” she said.
“After two fouls at the beginning, I was a little nervous. But I went back, relaxed and then went and jumped 6.86m and got a little more confidence for the finals…I was just happy to be on the podium.”
Just shy of reaching the podium in his 60m hurdles final, Andy Pozzi (Malcolm Arnold) should still reflect on his world indoor weekend with positivity after finishing fourth in a fast-run race won in 7.44secs by American Aries Merritt.
Earlier on in his semi-final, Pozzi had looked impressive in improving his PB further to 7.56secs this time finishing second to Liu Xiang’s 7.53secs winning run, but was unable to continue his routine of improved marks, just falling short of a medal in the final.
“I gave a good performance in the end, that’s the most important thing and I’m happy with 7.58secs,” said the youngster.
“Unfortunately the race didn’t quite go perfectly but I had two races that went perfectly and one that was 99% there so I’m happy with that.
“I didn’t come off hurdle three perfectly but it’s such a minor thing really. Then unfortunately I hit the last one quite hard, but 7.58secs I’m happy with. We’re just looking towards the future now and hopefully I can be a permanent fixture on the senior Great Britain team.”
In the men’s high jump final, Robbie Grabarz (Fuzz Ahmed) cleared a best height of 2.31m to finish sixth, albeit a height that was enough to win bronze for Russian Ivan Ukhov.
Having cleared 2.31m on his third attempt, on count-back Grabarz was reduced to sixth, but knowing the title was won in 2.33m by Greek Dimitrios Chondrocoukis will mean Grabarz will be aware that championship medals are within his grasp and new found form since his 2.34m PB in January.
“Sixth in the world is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s also not what I came here to achieve, so I’ve got mixed feelings really,” he admitted.
“It is something to be proud of at the same time. I wasn’t battling for a medal at my last height, which is what I set myself a target to do. There was nothing major missing, it’s just a matter of ironing out a few little things.
“It’s a great step to have jumped what is higher than my PB last year in a final and even to qualify is definitely something to be proud of. I just know that I’m capable of much more than I did today.”
Asha Philip (Christine Bowmaker) and Jodie Williams (Mike McFarlane) both missed out on a place in the women’s 60m final, with Philip just shy of qualifying by one hundredth of a second as a fastest loser following her semi.
Philip went in the first of the three races, and finished fourth in 7.24secs. Williams was in the third and final race, finishing sixth in 7.32secs
Reflecting on her return to action, Philip said: “7.24 was one of my first PBs. If I got to the final I could probably have run faster but I'm happy,” she said.
“To come from where I've been to be back and running PBs, I'm happy.”
Williams said: “I'm pretty disappointed with my performance. I thought I might just have a chance of getting through but unfortunately not. I didn't come up to my standards so I'm a bit disappointed.
“I think it's more the mental side of things haven't been with it this season. I've had a few confidence issues so now it's back to the drawing board really, back to training and try to get that sorted out for outdoors.”
In the 3000m, Mo Farah (Alberto Salazar) was run out of medal contention in a tough final, finishing fourth in 7:41.79. USA’s race winner Bernard Lagat avenged his defeat at the hands of Farah at last summer’s world championships by taking the title following another sprint finish, winning in 7:41.44.
Farah looked to have judged the race well, remaining free of trouble as the laps clocked up at an ever-increasing pace, and moving into second with 800m to go, but in the typical argy-bargy characteristic of indoor endurance races, was boxed in on the final lap and unable to break into the medal placings.
“It came down to the last lap really,” he admitted. “As I was coming through I got blocked in and I tried to change again and fight through the line but it wasn't enough.
“It was all about tactics and speed and that proves again that you can't take anything for granted. I've just got to keep working hard. The good thing is that this isn't in the Olympics so it’s all a learning curve.”
In the women’s final Helen Clitheroe (John Nuttall) finished seventh - the race dominated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian strength and won by Kenya’s Hellen Onsando Obiri in 8:37.16.
Clitheroe, who became detached from the lead pack, ran her usual solid consistent race and crossed the line in 8:59.04.
The performance in Istanbul was the Aviva GB & NI team’s best ever – the previous best being the seven medal haul in Birmingham 2003.
Aviva GB & NI Role of honour: 9 medals, Gold 2, Silver 3, Bronze 4
Silver – Jessica Ennis – Pentathlon
Gold – Yamile Aldama – Triple Jump
Silver – Tiffany Porter- 60m hurdles
Bronze – Dwain Chambers – 60m
Gold- women’s 4x400m team
Silver – men’s 4x400m team
Bronze – Shara Proctor – Long Jump
Bronze – Andrew Osagie -800m
Bronze – Holly Bleasdale – Pole Vault
Reports and updates covering the action 32-strong Aviva GB & NI squad were available on www.uka.org.uk and via twitter @uka_athletics #BackTheTeam.
A full Aviva GB & NI team media guide for Istanbul 2012 can be found here for download http://www.uka.org.uk/media/event-media-guides/
For full results from the weekendvisit: http://www.iaaf.org/Mini/WIC12/Results/ResultsByDate.aspx