19 July 2009
The Aviva GB & NI team has won an unprecedented 18 medals in their most successful European Under-23 Championships ever in Kaunas (Lithuania), finishing second in the medal table and second equal (with Germany) in the points table (157).
The highlights on the final day – where five medals were won – were undoubtedly the two relay golds from the men’s and women’s 4 x 100m teams, the latter a particularly tough battle after a two and a half hour delay.
The men’s team of Ryan Scott (Yate), Toby Sandeman (Thames Valley) – yesterday’s 200m gold medallist, Rion Pierre (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow) – 100m bronze medallist and Leevan Yearwood (Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets) – 100m silver medallist, had looked impressive in their heat, cruising to victory in 39.85s.
They were victorious in the final in 39.09s ahead of the fastest qualifiers France in 39.26s. It was a brilliant performance from the quartet who had had limited practice time in the lead up to the event.
“I’m very happy,” said Scott who was in the gold medal winning - and European under-23 record breaking - relay team in 2007 (Debrecen, Hungary). “We won gold in 2007 and to come here and win again, considering we didn’t have the chance to train that much is brilliant. I think we could have had that record if we’d had a few more practices but gold is gold – Ill take that.”
“It’s amazing,” added Sandeman. “I didn’t think about winning two golds before I came out here, I’ve just tried to enjoy the trip. I’ve loved being out here, it’s been great.”
“Wow, I’m over the moon,” said Pierre. “I sat up last night thinking about what I can do in this sport and what I can do for my country, and I did it. Obviously the record would have been nice as well but I went for gold round that top bend and we got it. Now I’m gonna celebrate with my team mates.”
“We did a good job, a quick time, I’m happy,” concluded Yearwood, who anchored the team to victory.
The girls were also outstanding – and credit must be given to team coach Roger Walters for keeping them focused after the race was delayed from its scheduled slot (16.55) to 19.25 – scorching to victory in 43.89s in a slick demonstration of perfect changeovers.
The team of Annabelle Lewis (Kingston Upon Hull), Joey Duck (Marshall Milton Keynes), Lucy Sargent (Havering Mayesbrook) and Elaine O’Neill (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) had qualified automatically for the final in second (44.37s), but they meant business when they came back out for the late final.
“We’re so pleased,” they screamed, “it just went to plan.”
“I didn’t know where we’d finished,” said O’Neill,”I thought we might be third.”
“I was screaming, ‘we’ve got bronze, we’ve got bronze,” said Duck, “and then we saw we’d won! I think we knew we could do it so long as we got the changeovers right.”
The silver medal and outstanding lifetime best from Luke Cutts (Dearneside High) in the pole vault was another exceptional performance on the final day of action.
Cutts, who equalled his previous pole vault best with victory in the Aviva UK Championships a week ago, clearly thrives on high level competition. He entered the competition at 5.15m, before failing on his first attempt at 5.30m, a pattern he repeated at 5.50m and 5.60m where he progressed on his second attempt at each height.
He cleared 5.60m – a 5cm improvement on his best ever – on his third attempt, before failing at 5.65m. In a tactical move, he then passed on his second attempt to challenge the leading German at 5.70m, a brave and potentially brilliant move which failed.
“I’m pleased to get a medal actually, because I was ranked fourth going into that,” he said. “I never got the 5.70m, but I’ll get it next time.”
James Brewer (Cheltenham), in the men’s 1500m final, also won silver (3:51.33), another brave performance from a GB & NI athlete in a race which was mentally tiring and painful to watch. “It was so messy,” he said. “The race went off quickly but it wasn’t really fast at any point. The wind picked up and nobody wanted to take it on, I was sitting in, but we knew that if we made a move we’d get kicked to the back, it was just chopping and changing. On the last bend I was trying to relax and stay strong and hold on. I could run again. I came here ranked third and I was second.”
Ricky Stevenson (New Marske), fifth in 3:51.82, was disappointed not to medal: “I’m not really happy, it would have been better with a quicker race. It was hard to stay on your feet at times. It’s energy sapping chasing positions all the time. It’s another step forward for me though. I only started athletics at 15 and it’s only my second major champs so it’s heading in the right direction. I’ll go back, train harder and hopefully one day it’ll come.”
David Forrester (St Helens Sutton) finished 10th in 3:52.94.
The penultimate medal of the day, prior to the delayed women’s relay, came from Stroud’s Emily Pidgeon in the women’s 5000m (16:04.71) – a season’s best performance and her second fastest time ever. “I was instructed to make sure I stayed in the top six all the time,” she said. “When the Belarus girl started to tire I saw the chance to go, but my second last lap was so hard and I knew I had another to go, I’m pleased I’ve justified my place to the selectors. I knew I could get the time easily in the right race. I’m really, really, happy.”
Stephen Lisgo (Mansfield) - NCAA bronze medallist and second ranked European under-23 going into the event - finished fifth in the men’s 3000m SC in 8:45.77. “I knew the Russian was slightly faster than me but I thought I could have won it,” he said. ”I was comfortable, they weren’t getting away from me, I just switched off, I don’t know, I was lethargic, I blew it.”
Aviva UK champion Alex Smith (Sale Harriers Manchester), eleventh ranked going into today’s hammer final, finished seventh with a series-best effort of 68.75m in the third round, achieving his top eight target.
“I’m quite happy, but it was a nervous one, that one,” he said of his third round, competition-saving throw. “I wanted the rain to come. It was hot and my shoes were sticking a bit in the circle, it was much better when the rain came on and I could move more easily.
Robbie Grabarz (Bedford & County) finished 11th in the high jump with 2.18m, while World Junior Championships bronze medallist Emma Pallant (Aldershot, Farnham & District) finished seventh in the 1500m in 4:17.23. “There was so much arging and barging - I was wasting energy and I was trying to run smart at the same time. When the break went and I wasn’t covering it I had to work hard. I got it wrong tactically,” she admitted.
The GB & NI men's 4 x 400m relay team of Luke Lennon-Ford (Birchfield), Kris Robertson (Shafesbury Barnet), Jamie Bowie (Inverness) and Nigel Levine (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow) finished sixth in 3:06.18.
The race was won by Poland (3:03.74).
Having destroyed the previous medal totals by GB & NI teams in European Under-23 Championships, Team Leader John Trower was rightly delighted: “What a fantastic performance by the team. It’s been fantastic from the first day and the team has excelled in all areas - on the track and on field - what a brilliant all round team performance. Three years out from London you’ve got to say there are probably half a dozen athletes who could step up to getting into finals there and that’s exceptional - what a fantastic Championships.”