European Junior Championships Day 4 report
The Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team took its medals tally to 14 amid the thunderstorms on the final day of the European Junior Championships in Hengelo, Netherlands, on Sunday 22 July.
Today's medals were: gold by the Women's 4x100m quad, silvers in the 800m finals by Emma Jackson and James Brewer plus the Men's 4x100m and Women's 4x400m squads, and bronze by Gianni Frankis in the 110m hurdles. In addition, GB&NI were promoted to the gold medals in the 4x400m when the jury of appeal agreed with a German protest that they had been obstructed by Poland at the second changeover. Poland, who had crossed the line narrowly in front of GB&NI, were disqualified.
Here is how the action unfolded and what the athletes said about it:
The youthful Women’s 4x100m squad won Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s third Gold medal of the championships. European Juniors 100m finalist Anike Shand-Whittingham (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC), World Youths 100m bronze medallist Ashlee Nelson (City of Stoke AC), new European Juniors 200m champion Hayley Jones (Wigan and District AC) and World Youths 100m champion Asha Philip (Newham and Essex Beagles) crossed the line clear in 44.52 seconds from Ukraine (44.77) and Poland (45.32).
Shand-Whittingham on the first leg said: “I was chasing down the Swedish girl in lane eight and I was thinking, ‘Get that gold!’ Get that gold!’ I completely missed Ashlee’s hand first time, which was scary. But I got it second time.”
Nelson said after giving GB the lead down the back straight: “It was hard work in the wind.” And she explained how she copes with the pressure of expectation: “You control the excitement by knowing it’s not going to last forever. You have to take everything in your stride. After all, something might come along and stop you tomorrow, whether you want it to or not.”
Jones said after sealing her second gold medal in successive days: “When I got the baton we were already in front so I knew we just needed to get the change spot on and we would get a medal.”
Philip said after sealing her second gold medal in successive weeks: “It was a bit hard at the beginning. My marker tapes went missing twice. I told Katharine Merry about it and she shouted, ‘It’s blown away!’ I looked everywhere for some more and luckily someone in lane seven had a little bit which stayed where it should. But it was quite stressful.”
The ultimate aim was to beat the UK Junior record of 44.31 set by a team including Merry – who is advising many athletes in this team – in 1993. “I’ve got two more years to get it,” smiled Asha.
Norwich Union GB&NI battled into second place over the line in the Men’s 4x400m final but were promoted to first in the corridors of power. For both GB and Germany immediately put in a formal protest against the conduct of Polish athletes. Jordan McGrath (Birchfield Harriers), who ran the final leg for GB, had to go for medical treatment for spike marks on his right thigh after the race. He and his Polish opponent were racing side by side towards the last bend, with McGrath on the inside. He said: “Just as he cut-in, I was spiked and virtually had to stop and then begin to chase him. It took the last 30 metres out of me.”
Despite this, McGrath brought GB home in 3:08.21, even though he appeared to be shepherded into lane three by the Polish athlete, who stopped the clock at 3:07.87.
The other three GB runners contributed as brilliantly and grittily as McGrath to a superb effort. Nigel Levine (Bedford and County AC) on the first leg put them into the lead, Robert Davis (Birchfield) maintained the advantage at five metres, Louis Persent (Colchester Harriers) extended the lead slightly and spoke for all of his team when he said: “That’s the best race I’ve ever done. It felt amazing.”
The athletes were back at the team hotel before the Jury of Appeal announced that Poland were disqualified and GB would be awarded the gold medals at tonight's end-of-championships banquet for the athletes.
A totally unexpected silver medal came the way of Norwich Union GB&NI in the Women’s 4x400m final. Team Coach Rodger Harkins had told his colleagues last night that he proposed to gamble, was given their approval – and won this race’s equivalent of the jackpot behind the unbeatable Russian squad.
Meghan Beesley (Tamworth AC), who ran the opening leg, said: "I wanted a medal in the 400 hurdles but this makes up for it! The team spirit is great."
Hayley Jones, the English Schools inters 400m champion, said of being one of only two athletes to win a third medal of the championships: "I wasn't told I was in this squad until this morning. I did the 4x100m and as soon as I came back had to go straight to the Call Room for this race. No time to warm down or anything. I've only run one 400 this season. It wasn't very good. I'm not going to tell you my time!"
Joey Duck (Marshall Milton Keynes AC), another 200m star, was also surprised to get Harkins' call at 10.30am today: "I did one 400 last year," she said. "But at the moment I feel as if I'm never doing another one!"
Perri Shakes-Drayton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC), who has been an inspirational captain all week, took over in fifth place with a seemingly impossible 30 metres to make up on the silver medal position. She said: "I still felt strong at 200 and started to kick. I saw the runner in third was acting tired and decided, 'We want a medal at least!' Then the runner in second looked behind and I thought 'Hey, I'm not wasting energy like that. Come on!' And she came on so strongly that GB clocked 3:37.29, five fabulous hundredths of a second ahead of bronze medallists Germany. Russia clocked 3:33.95 for gold.
Acknowledging that all four of his selections had been busy earlier in the championships, Coach Harkins said: "They were tired soldiers but they did the business. I'm really, really happy because it's a gamble. Sometimes you have to be intuitive to make a judgement call. You get to know the athletes and understand them. Meghan was hungry for a medal. Hayley was outstanding even though she was tired. Joey was superb. And Perri was simply magnificent."
The Men’s 4x100m final yielded silver medals for the Norwich Union GB&NI quartet of Funmi Sobodu (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC), new European Junior 200m champion Alex Nelson (Sale Harriers Manchester), 200m bronze medallist Luke Fagan (Enfield and Haringey) and Europe’s fastest 100m junior this summer Leevan Yearwood (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC). And they were presented by … Katharine Merry.
In a vast improvement on two years ago when the GB baton did not get round the first round heat, Yearwood almost chased-down Germany, who nevertheless hung on to win by two-hundredths of a second in 39.81.
Sobodu said of the opening leg: “It went all right. The changeover could have been faster but I am new to it so I kept it safe. We went for gold but this is my first time at the Europeans so I am happy to get a medal. I’ve got the Worlds next year and another European as a Junior.”
Nelson said after charging powerfully down the back straight: “Relay is as important to me as the individual event. To miss silver by three-hundredths of a second at last year’s World Juniors in Beijing and to miss gold here by two-hundredths is a bit disappointing. It didn’t appear we did anything really wrong so maybe we just got beaten by a better team at the end of the day.”
Fagan said after running the third leg: “I’m not really pleased (with second). I couldn’t see anything tat was wrong with it. Maybe I should have handed the baton a little quicker. That might have been the reason why we didn’t win. But other than that all the changes went smoothly and well. They might just have been better on the day.”
Yearwood said after straining every sinew to catch Germany on the last leg: “I tried my hardest. I looked across the track at one stage and they (Germany) were quite a bit in front. I wasn’t expecting that! But everyone of us did their hardest: Our hearts were in it. We just didn’t get it on the day. I’ve got to be happy with a medal after what happened in the 100. I shall come back stronger from that experience.”
Women’s 800m final: Emma Jackson (City of Stoke AC) ran a brave and belligerent race to earn the silver medal in her first major championship behind battle-hardened Mirela Lavric (Romania), who won the World Youths title last week and was sixth at last year’s World Junior Championships.
Jackson, who came into the championships ranked No.1 this year with her PB of 2:01.95 at the BMC Grand Prix incorporating UK Challenge at Manchester, took the lead from the gun and pushed through 400m in 60.83 seconds and was still four metres up with 200m to go.
Lavric caught her in the last 10 metres – but was pushed to a personal best of 2:02.85 for her victory at the end of three rounds.
Jackson, timed at 2:03.23, said of her silver medal: “I’m so pleased with that! I knew Lavric was very fast. That’s why I ran it hard. I did the best I could. It was my first major final. I went for a medal and I got a medal. Fair play to her. She had that much more than me.”
And she went on to praise coach Alan Morris: “All my thanks go to him. He has been looking after me since I was 12 or 13. He has got me as fit as I am and has been brilliant. He took a week off work to come here and help me.”
Hannah Brooks (Crawley AC), who lowered her PB to 2:05.59 in winning her heat on Friday, was eighth in 2:12.47 in what was a race too far for her sore hamstrings. The team physiotherapists had worked diligently all week on a hamstring injury but she reported sadly today: “I just didn’t feel comfortable at all. The physios have worked very hard for me and I’m so annoyed that it just didn’t happen for me today.
“It’s my first international and I wish I could have had the run I know I am capable of having. It’s so frustrating.”
Men’s 800m final: James Brewer (Cheltenham and District Harriers), who led for every step of his semi-final yesterday, changed tactics today – and still went home with the silver medal his ranking suggested he could win.
Mark Mitchell (Forres Harriers), who had been content to conserve energy and finish fourth in his semi-final heat, made the early running, leading through the bell in 54.91 seconds with Brewer on his shoulder.
Pre-race favourite Robin Schembera (Germany) led the charge down the back straight and, with 200m to go, Brewer found himself fourth in the echelon with Mitchell a tiring sixth. Rather than run wide on the bend, Brewer delayed his finishing effort until the straight when he moved out into lane three and overtook two rivals without managing to threaten Schembera, who won in 1:47.98.
Brewer, who clocked 1:48.08, said: “Interesting! Mark and I talked last night about whether we were going to run as a team and decided it’s a European final and it’s every man for himself. If we had been working as a team, that’s how I would have wanted him to do it.
“My mistake was not going early enough. I came here ranked second, knew I was capable of getting silver and I would have liked gold. But he got a metre on me and that was too much to make up.”
Mitchell, seventh in 1:50.23, said: “I knew I couldn’t out-kick any of them so I decided that, to have a chance, I would take it out fast and keep it fast. I just didn’t have it in my legs.”
Gianni Frankis (Newham and Essex Beagles) added a bronze medal to the Norwich Union GB&NI treasure chest in the Men’s 110m hurdles final (wind: +15) by equalling the lifetime best of 13.47 seconds he had run in the semi-final.
“My first hurdle was absolutely hopeless,” he said after finishing behind the oiverwhelming favourite, Artur Noga (Poland), who beat Jon Ridgeon’s championship record for the second time today, clocking 13.36 seconds, and Vladimir Zhukov, who lowered the Russian Junior record to 13.46.
Acknowledging that the error cost him all chance of the silver medal despite his brilliant recovery and desperate dip at the finish, Frankis added: “If I had cleared that, I might have got a little bit closer towards the end. I might have got a different coloured medal.”
The glorious adventure of Callum Priestley (Leicester Coritanian) ended when he crashed to the track at the second hurdle. Yet such is the progress he has made at his first international championships, he was soon smiling afterwards: “I pushed it too hard. I was too low out of the blocks, didn’t have enough height at the first hurdle and hit it. And the second…”
But he quickly added: “I am not disappointed. I didn’t expect to be in the final. I’ve knocked 22-hundredths off my PB. And I have the World Juniors next year. I want a medal there!”
Men’s 100m hurdles semi-finals: Frankis and Priestley both ran lifetime bests to clinch places in the final.
Julian Adeniran (Charnwood AC), who lowered his PB to 13.71 seconds in yesterday’s first round, was “absolutely devastated” to be eliminated. Despite a desperate dip at the line, he was placed sixth in heat one (wind: +1.9) in 13.73 seconds.
“It was a highly competitive field – certainly the strongest of the two semi-finals,” he said. “But that’s what I came here to do: race the best in Europe. Words cannot express how depressed and gutted I am not to make the final.”
The other two GB contestants went through in heat two (wind: +0.8). Frankis, a comfortable first round winner in 13.81 seconds, lowered his best to 13.47 seconds for second place behind the favourite, Noga,who lowered the Championship record to 13.42 seconds.
Frankis said: “That was a long time coming! I am really pleased with how it’s going so far. My training is geared for this sort of thing. I have another round to go so I just hope I can do it again.”
Priestley, who clocked 13.91 seconds on his international debut yesterday despite clattering the penultimate hurdle hard, was foot-perfect in lane eight to take third place and lower his best to 13.62 seconds.
“Wicked!” he said. “I got a wicked start, didn’t hit any hurdles. I knew I was capable of this.”
Just 19 centimetres stood between Alex Smith (Sale Harriers Manchester) and another medal for the team. He finished fourth in the hammer final despite a valiant sixth and final effort of 70.04 metres. It left him behind: 1 Arno Laitinen (Finland) 71.94; 2 Adrian Pop (Romania) 70.80; 3 Siarhei Tsytsoryn (Belarus) 70.23. They were the only men to throw beyond 70 metres – though six more of the finalists have beaten that distance this year – from a circle that has a reputation for slowing them down as they spin into action.
Smith qualified for the last three throws by placing seventh at the halfway stage of the competition with 66.58m. He then moved fleetingly into third place with a fourth round throw of 69.84m. But he was back in frustrating fourth by the end of the fourth round, and remained there despite his last-round best.
The unflappable Smith said: “I’m not too disappointed. I went out there and gave it my best shot. It was all very close. I would have been nice to have a medal but with that circle out there, it was more of a game. It’s a question of how people cope with problems that arise.”
His training mate in his dad Dave’s training group, 18-year-old James Bedford (Kingston-upon-Hull AC) finished 11th in his first major final. He opened up with a foul throw outside the left side of the sector, registered 61.64m in the second round, but then found the right side of the safety net surrounding the circle with his final effort when he was looking for something close to his lifetime best of 70.82m.
He was brutally honest afterwards: “I threw like a bit of an idiot. I wasn’t that nervous because I wanted to enjoy it – and I did enjoy the occasion. It’s been a good experience.”
High jumper Vikki Hubbard (Grantham AC) also suffered the frustration of a fourth place finish, though she cleared the same height as all three medallists, 1.82m. The crucial point was that she had needed two attempts at 1.75m. Erika Wiklund (Sweden) took gold, Liene Karsuma (Latvia) silver and Mirela Demireva (Bulgaria) bronze.
Hubbard, who was seventh at the 2005 World Youth Championships and a finalist at the 2006 World Junior Championships, said: “I am disappointed, obviously. But this is my best result so far and I will come back fighting for the World Juniors next year. It felt technically better than it has done lately. A couple of years ago, if people had said I would be fourth in thesae European Championships, I would have been very happy. But I jumped 1.84 at the English Schools last week, so I know I can do it.”
The Women’s 3000m final, won by Romania’s 1500m champion Cristina Vasiloiu in 9:13.51, provided an important learning experience for three of the Norwich Union GB&NI Juniors who competed in March in the heat of Kenya at the World Cross Country Championships.
Stevie Stockton (Vale Royal AC) led them home – just! She found a finishing sprint to catch Jessica Coulson (Stockport Harriers) on the line. Stockton was sixth in 9:25.52, Coulson seventh in 9:25.53. Olivia Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield AC), whose sister Laura emphatically won the European Under 23s’ 5000m gold medal in Hungary last Sunday, finished 13th in 9:47.29.
Stockton said: “The pace felt as if it was up and down and it was quite vicious at times with elbows.”
Coulson, who had led the GB trio until that last stride, said: “Once the leading group went [with three laps to go], it was hard running on my own. It was good experience.”
Kenney said: “I kept getting clipped while I was in the group. It wasn’t easy to get a rhythm to my running.”
In the Men’s javelin final, James Campbell (Cheltenham and County Harriers) – coached at home by Carolyn Franks and at Leeds University by Mick Hill, the veteran of 23 major championships who is Head Coach with this team – was eighth with a best on the interrupted day of 69.80m, down on his Scottish senior record of 73.18m and his season’s best of 71.09m. The medals went to: 1 Matthias De Zordo (Germany) 78.59; 2 Roman Avramenko (Ukraine) 75.24; 3 Thomas Smet (Belgium) 72.56 PB.
The competitors must have felt the storms singled them out. The final was originally scheduled for Friday but was postponed when the first of the fierce thunderstorms struck. And today two more briefer but brutal downpours – accompanied by thunder and lightning – played havoc with the throwers’ preparations and the early stages of the competition.
Campbell’s series went 68.77m, 67.73m, 68.78m, 69.80m, 69.66m and 69.48m.
Heptathlon: Starting the second day in 14th place with 3184 points, Jade Surman (Birchfield Harriers) endured two breaks for storms during the long jump competition, but got better each time. After opening with a no-jump, she leapt 5.92m in the second round and then nailed 6.19m (wind: +2.2) with her final attempt to add 908 points to her tally. It rocketed her up to fifth place with 4092 points behind: 1 Aiga Grabuste (Latvia) 4430; 2 Eliska Klucinova (Czech Republic) 4221; 3 Ebe Reier (Estonia) 4205; 4 Yana Panteleyeva (Russia) 4093.
The javelin flew only once for Surman – 34.38m for 560 points – before she was forced to leave the stadium in search of treatment for an injury to her throwing arm. “I felt something crunch on my first throw,” she said. It placed her seventh overall with 4652 points.
Returning with the arm heavily strapped, she ran the 800m in 2:31.59 for 673 points, which left her ninth in the final standings with a total of 5325 points. The gold medal went to Grabuste with Latvian Junior record of 5920 points.
Women’s discus: Two days after becoming the most successful GB shot putter in the history of European Junior Championships, Eden Francis (Leicester Coritanian) suffered three no-throws in this final. A cruel way to end four days’ hard work.
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