31 August 2007.
UK Athletics today announced the winners of the final prizes in this summer’s £30,000 UK Challenge series, which began 51 competitions ago and concluded at Crystal Palace last Saturday.
The Athletes of the Series are throwers Emeka Udechuku (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) and Zoe Derham (Birchfield Harriers) while Power of 10 cash bonuses go to middle distance runners Vicky Griffiths (Liverpool Harriers) and Nicola Gauld (Aberdeen AAC) plus high jumper Samson Oni (Belgrave Harriers).
Udechuku and Derham each win a warm weather training package donated by WGT Sport Ltd at the end of a season in which they not only dominated their events but also consistently performed at a higher level than athletes in other events.
Udechuku had already been presented with an Alfa Romeo GT car, to use for a year, for scoring more points than any other athlete with his best four performances, improving the Challenge discus record and winning his final.
He and Derham also shared with Oni, discus thrower Philippa Roles (Sale Harriers Manchester) and hammer thrower Andy Frost (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) £5,000 offered to athletes leading their events after the 50 qualifying competitions and also winning their final.
In addition, Oni wins £855, Griffiths £779 and Gauld £715 for leading after the qualifying competitions and winning their finals with personal best performances that beat Power of 10 national standards set by UK Athletics and its governing partners to help athletes make the transition from quality club to international standards.
All of the major prize-winners are determined their UK Challenge victories will lead to greater successes in the future.
Udechuku – who improved the Challenge record to 63.79m, a World Championships B standard, at last month’s UK Challenge ThrowsFest – said: “I would rather have been some other than Crystal Palace this week. But the Challenge is obviously useful to athletes who don’t get to the major championships.” Explaining that he plans to lose 2 more stones so that he can cope with his winter’s training before he bids for a place in next year’s Beijing Olympics, the 19-and-a-half stones Udechuku added: “I’m more confident now than I was at the end of last season. Even though I have made a lot of changes, I’m going to make many more this winter. I’m going to try and built a little bit of consistency into my performances. I’m very confident moving forward.”
Derham has improved her hammer best from 65.85 to 67.80 metres under the coaching of 2002 Commonwealth champion Lorraine Shaw, who is now the UK Athletics lead coach for the event. As she clutched her winner’s bottle of Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne, Derham said: “It’s been a very good season: a few PBs; very consistent. I was hoping to get selection for Osaka. And I was looking for another PB before the end of the season. But never mind – there’s next year. The British record is 68.97m. If I can get over 69, it makes it possible to head for 70. To be the first woman in Great Britain over 70 is my goal. Lorraine would be quite happy because she would still have a hand on the record.”
Roles was brutally honest about her form: “I’m throwing like a complete waster in competitions. Normally I add 5 metres in competition to what I’m throwing in training but this year I’ve been losing 5 metres.” But her determination to succeed at the highest level is as strong as ever a decade after she became the first GB teenage woman to win a discus medal at European Junior Championships: “Next year, I need to throw the qualifying standard (59 metres) more than once. I have still got it. I’m convinced of that. And I refuse to give up until I have done it.”
Frost retained the Challenge hammer title with his second-best throw of an “indifferent” year, 71.76 metres and then revealed that he and his coach, Alan Bertram, had already plotted their future campaign: “We sat down and had lunch last week and worked out the plan for next season. We’re going to change a few things in winter training, and start throwing a lot later in the winter. I know deep down I am a 75-metre thrower. It will come. Without doubt, I want to be in Beijing!”
Oni cleared the World Championships B standard of 2.28 metres and said: “I threw away my chance of going to Osaka. I was very disappointed. Yet I still came here today and jumped a PB. I can only wish I had done it a few weeks ago. Now I am more confident I can go even higher next year. There’s no point dwelling on the disappointment of not making the World Champs. With the Olympics, 2008 is going to be a great year. I am confident I can do a lot more in the indoor season. I’m going to be looking to do the Olympic A standard (2.30m) more than once to make me feel more confident.”
Griffiths had a pleasant surprise after lowering her 800m best to 2 minutes 1.49 seconds in finishing ahead of the European Under 23 silver medallist Lizi Brathwaite at the end of only her second season of concentrating on the 800m. The 20-year-old Merseysider explained: “I thought it was £300 until I got a call to say I was getting pounds for all the points I scored in both my qualifiers and the final. So it’s pretty much paid for my end-of-season holiday – I’m off to Egypt on Monday. Then I’ll get down to winter training with my coach, Stan Roberts. I want to knock another second off my PB and get closer to the other girls. All the 800s seems to be of a high standard, which is a good thing.”
Gauld, a 25-year-old accountant based in Aberdeen, has knocked three and a half seconds off her 1500m best this summer and plans to use her P10 bonus to finance more competition. She explained: “I fly to England quite a few times to find good competition. I have no funding. So that money will be really helpful.”