The youthful Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland Women’s Team performed brilliantly to take fourth place in the European Cup of Combined Events Super League in boiling Arles, France, on Saturday 1 July and Sunday 2 July.
Reprieved from relegation last year only because Germany opted out of this summer’s competition, Norwich Union GB were third behind all-conquering Russia and Sweden overnight, slipped to fifth after six of the seven events but produced a strong finish in the 800m to claim fourth spot. The final points totals were: 1 Russia 18,149; 2 Sweden 18.078; 3 Finland 17,503; 4 Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland 17,454; 5 Ukraine 17,445; 6 Poland 17,289; 7 Belarus 17,107; 8 Estonia 16,434.
Team Leader Darrell Bunn said: “It’s been an outstanding weekend in terms of organisation and crowd involvement as well as our performances. I don’t think we have ever finished so high in Super League before. The kids have really worked hard as a team together. We’ll be in Super League by right next year!”
Continuing her sensationally successful arrival in the Senior age group, Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield) contributed 6,170 points to finish fourth in the individual heptathlon, which was won by the Olympic Champion, Carolina Kluft (Sweden), who scored 6,665. Second place went to Poland’s Karolina Tyminska with 6,402 while European Junior Bronze medallist Ksenja Balta (Estonia) snatched third place with 6,180.
Ennis, the 20-year-old Commonwealth Games Bronze medallist and European Junior Champion, had a great first day. She opened with a blistering victory in the 100m hurdles (wind: +2.2 metres per second) in 13.37 seconds, the fastest time of the entire series. Among the established stars behind her, Kluft clocked 13.64.
The Sheffield University student went on to high jump 1.86m (while Kluft cleared 1.92m), put the shot a personal best of 12.36m (to Kluft’s 14.05m) and clocked another PB, 23.76 seconds in the 200m (wind: +1.3 m/s), only 11 hundredths behind the imperious Kluft.
On the second day, Ennis long jumped 6.12m (wind: 0.0 m/s) but slipped into third place overall behind Kluft (6.32m into a 0.5 m/s head wind) and Poland’s Tyminska, who reached a massive 6.59m (wind: +1.4 m/s). Undeterred, Ennis threw the javelin a PB of 36.81m to cling on to third place overall as Kluft threw 46.86m and Tyminska 37.90m.
The Sheffield star ended her weekend’s work by running the 800m in 2:16.95, which completed her second successive 6000-plus points haul after her heroics at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March. Kluft cruised home in 2:11.48 but, ahead of her, Balta clocked 2:10.35 to edge Ennis out of the top three overall.
Behind her, the rest of the Norwich Union GB Team demonstrated how combined events is blossoming in the wake of Commonwealth Games Champions Kelly Sotherton and Dean Macey thanks to the work being done in UK Athletics squads throughout the year.
Louise Hazel (Peterborough) scored a PB of 5,717 points to finish 17th in the individual rankings. On the first day, the 20-year-old was tenth-fastest overall in the 100m hurdles (wind speed: +0.8 m/s), clocking 13.74 seconds in winning the second-fastest heat. She then cleared a PB of 1.71m in the high jump and put the shot 11.18m before clocking 24.16 seconds, a legal PB, in the 200m (wind: +1.6 m/s).
On the second day, Hazel long jumped 5.94m (wind: -/0.9 m/s), threw the javelin a PB of 38.41m and ran the 800m in 2:22.15.
Ros Gonse (Bedford and County) contributed a legal PB of 5,567 points to finish 19th in the individual rankings. The 24-year-old, who has come back brilliantly from an injury-ravaged winter, clocked 14.27 seconds in her 100m hurdles (wind: +3.0 m/s) for 941 points. She went on to high jump 1.71m, within a centimetre of her PB, put the shot 12.56m and sprint 200m (wind: +1.2 m/s) in 25.14 seconds.
On the second day, Gonse long jumped 5.78m (wind: 0.0 m/s), threw the javelin 39.68m and ran the 800m in 2:26.05.
Phyllis Agbo (Thames Valley Harriers) scored a legal PB of 5,383 points to lie finish 26th in the individual rankings. The 20-year-old was 14th quickest overall in the 100m hurdles (wind: +1.5 m/s), clocking 13.87 seconds, a legal PB. She high jumped a disappointing 1.59m, recovered to put the shot 12.17m and clocked a massive PB of 24.67 seconds in the 200m (wind: +2.1 m/s).
On the second day, Agbo long jumped 5.88m (wind: 0.0 m/s), threw the javelin 36.88m and ran the 800m in an outdoor heptathlon PB of 2:33.31.
In the First League match in Yalta, Ukraine, the Norwich Union GB Men – average age 21 – battled with great determination to dispel all fears of relegation and finish fifth.
The final points totals were: 1 Belarus 23,426; 2 Netherlands 23,107; 3 Ukraine 21,666; 4 Latvia 21,642; 5 Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland 21,354; 6 Greece 21,094; 7 Austria 21,040; Czech Republic did not finish.
Norwich Union GB Team Leader Ian Grant reported: “I’m really delighted. Having had a little bit of luck to get back into First League last year when Germany withdrew, we have produced a good performance. We have had our most successful winter. And now we continue to show good progress. Combined events is striding forward very strongly. We look forward now to the Under 23 international in Switzerland in a few weeks’ time featuring several of the athletes who have performed so well this weekend.”
Ben Hazell (Basingstoke and Mid Hants) scored 7,301 points to finish 12th in the individual rankings. The 21-year-old opened with 11.43 seconds in his 100m heat (wind: -0.9 m/s), long jumped 6.79m (wind officially: 0.0 m/s) in a series that improved with each round, put the shot 12.85m in another series that improved round by round, high jumped 1.77m despite the saturated conditions left by a thunderstorm that delayed the competition for 45 minutes, and clocked a PB of 49.64 seconds to win his heat of the 400m to end the memorable first day.
He had a great second day; he clocked a decathlon PB 15.28 seconds in the 110m hurdles despite a head wind of 2.0 m/s, threw the discus 41.39m, pole vaulted a PB of 4.30m, threw the javelin 58.55m and ran the 1500m in 4:29.14 for second place in his heat.
Kevin Sempers (Belgrave) scored 7,158 points, his best yet, to finish 15th overall. The 20-year-old virtually re-wrote his own record book on the opening day even though a fierce thunderstorm turned the shot circle into a slippery lake and delayed the high jump competition for 45 minutes.
Sempers sprinted 100m (wind: -0.3 m/s) in 11.26 seconds to set a new legal PB, long jumped a PB of 7.07m (wind: +0.4 m/s), put the shot a massive PB of 12.39m, his first time over 12m, high jumped 1.92m despite the slippery run-up and clocked yet another PB, 50.25 seconds in the 400m.
On the second day, he continued the good work. He sprinted the 110m hurdles (wind: -1.7 m/s) in 15.07 seconds, threw the discus 35.60m, pole vaulted 4.30m to equal his PB, threw the javelin a great PB of 57.46m and ran the 1500m in 5:04.54.
Dean Showler-Davis (Winchester and District) scored 6,895 points to finish 19th in the individual rankings. The 21-year-old sprinted 100m (wind: -0.2 m/s) in 10.99 seconds, long jumped a nerveless 7.10m (wind: +0.5 m/s) with his third and final effort after two fouls, put the shot 11.24m, high jumped 1.80m and closed his first day’s solid work with a 400m in 49.75 seconds.
On the second day, he clocked 15.63 seconds in the 110m hurdles (wind: +2.0 m/s), threw the discus 31.62m, pole vaulted 3.80m, threw the javelin 51.96m and ran the 1500m in 4:32.18 for third place in his heat.
Roger Skedd (City of Stoke) sprinted 100m (wind: -0.1 m/s) in 11.30 seconds, long jumped 6.76m (wind: +0.7 m/s), put the shot a decathlon best of 13.07m, high jumped 1.83m and clocked 51.65 seconds in the 400m.
On the second day, he opened with a nightmare 110m hurdles (wind: -0.8 m/s), in which he eventually crossed the line in 22.18 seconds but was later disqualified for knocking over a hurdle with his hand. He threw the discus 40.83m, pole vaulted 4.20m and threw the javelin 54.30m but did not start the 1500m.
The individual decathlon winner was Aleksander Parkhomenko (Belarus) with 8,104.