Commonwealth javelin champion Nick Nieland (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) made a sensational start to his new campaign at the Bedford International Games, incorporating the UK Challenge, on Sunday 10 June.
His first throw went out to 79.04m, beating the meeting record of 78.40m held by Mick Hill since 2002 and spearing him straight to the top of the year’s Power of 10 rankings. It capped six and a half hours of super sun-drenched competition that also included a Scottish senior pole vault record of 4.05m by Kirsty Maguire (Edinburgh AC).
Rabah Yusuf (Newham and Essex Beagles) lowered the meeting 400m record to 45.72 seconds from the 46.15 seconds run by Geoff Dearman (Belgrave Harriers) in 2000. Behind Yusuf, who is striving to get a GB passport, the new local hero, Nigel Levine (Bedford and County) had an amazing 40 minutes. He clocked 21.33 seconds in his 200m into a head wind of 0.8 metres per second – only three-hundredths shy of the European Juniors qualifying standard – and stormed round his 400m in 46.31, a PB by 0.46 seconds. It was such an excellent run that he defeated seniors such as Graham Hedman and Conrad Williams who were seeking to impress selectors of the Norwich Union GB 4x400m squad for the European Cup. The European Junior Championships 400m qualifying time is 47.25 seconds - but Levine and his coach, Simon Duberley, still have to decide which event to tackle at the Trials back at Bedford.
Levine, who does a 120-mile round trip three times a week from Bedford to train with Duberley at Thames Valley Athletics Centre track at Eton, said: "I have the 400 qualifying time. I'm getting closer to the 200 qualifying time. There's still time to decide."
Don't the trips to and from training get him down? "Cost does not matter," says Levine, who is studying car mechanics at Bedford College. "It's the times on the track that matter."
Marilyn Okoro (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers), sharpening up for 800m battles ahead on the road to the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, enjoyed her second swift 400m victory in successive days.
Having won in 52.06 seconds in Geneva last night, she flew home in time to clock 52.60 in the Bedford A race.
Laura Turner (Harrow AC) lowered her 100m season’s best to 11.49 seconds into a slight head wind (0.1 metres per second) to go equal fourth in the Power of 10 rankings with Jeanette Kwakye and behind Emma Ania, Joice Maduaka and Anyika Onuora.
She was followed home by three teenagers beating the qualifying standard of 11.80 seconds for the European Junior Championships in Hengelo, Netherlands, on 19-22 July: Ashlee Nelson (City of Stoke) finished strongly to take second place in 11.56 seconds; Loughborough International 200m winner Hayley Jones (Wigan and District) was third in 11.62, six-hundredths ahead of senior Emily Freeman (Wakefield Harriers), and Ashia Philip (Newham and Essex Beagles) was fifth in 11.70.
Despite a 0.9 metres per second head wind in the men’s 200m, Somto Eruchie (Leicester Coritanian) closed on the European Under 23s qualifying time of 20.90 by winning in a PB of 20.99 from Under 20 Chris Clarke (Marshall Milton Keynes), whose 21.11 was well inside the European Juniors standard of 21.30.
There were also spectacular times in the women’s 200m races. UK School Games 300m champion Holly Croxford (Winchester) had two slices of misfortune in her heat: the wind blew at –1.4 metres per second and the electronic timing failed. So she was given a hand-timed 24.1 seconds for a fine victory over Joey Duck (Marshall Milton Keynes), who was given the same time. The head wind increased to 2.6 in the next heat, won by Laura Turner (Harrow) in 23.29 seconds, a massive improvement on her previous best of 24.42.
Toby Ulm (Swindon Harriers), the 18-year-old who is following in the Wiltshire footsteps of the 1968 Olympic 400m hurdles champion David Hemery, stormed under the qualifying standard of 52.25 seconds for the European Juniors.
Ulm, who is coached by former international Howard Moscrop and advised by Hemery, won in 51.62 seconds, obliterating his previous best of 52.2 – then revealed he had been expecting it: “On paper it counts as a good PB but I have been in the shape and ability to run that for a long time. It’s important to get the qualifying time out of the way as soon as you can.”
Of the pedigree plotting his progress, he said: “Howard is a top notch coach in Swindon and David lives three minutes away from my house. So I have no complaints!”
He has also arranged to follow in the footsteps of Hemery by taking a scholarship in the USA once he has finished his A-levels. He will be studying at Georgetown, USA, where his visiting lecturers could include former USA President Bill Clinton – but hoping for an athletics career before he turns to politics.
Peter Smith (Kingston Upon Hull AC) is following in footsteps closer to home … those of elder brother Alex, who won the hammer bronze medal at the 2005 World Youth Championships in Morocco. Peter passed the qualifying standard of 70.00m for the IAAF World Youth Championships to be staged in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on 11-15 July by throwing 71.97m.
And he was unequivocal about his hopes: “I want a medal. If I was following someone else, other than family, it wouldn’t be such a big thing. There’s a German throwing 77m at the moment but it’s something to aim for, isn’t it?”
Yet another of the group coached by Dave and Diane Smith, James Bedford (Kingston Upon Hull AC) scored a rare Under 20 victory over Alex by throwing 67.87m. He needs to ease his PB of 69.36m beyond 70m to beat the qualifying standard for the European Junior Championships and says: “I have two chances – the Northerns next week and the England Under 20 Champs the following week.”
Eden Francis (Leicester Coritanian) once again exceeded the European Juniors discus qualifying distance of 48.00m in improving her lifetime best by 70cm to 50.65m.
Similarly in the men’s competition, Brett Morse (Cardiff AAC) threw 56.31m to get to within 4cm of his best; the European Juniors entry standard is 55.50m. Ahead of him, the 1997 European Junior champion Emeka Udechuku (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) won with a season’s best of 58.07m to demonstrate his new fitness regime is on course.
Scott Huggins, the 17-year-old from Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC, raised the Scottish Junior pole vault record to 4.80m in a competition won by Joe Ive (Belgrave Harriers) with a PB of 5.25m.
Huggins enjoyed much better conditions than when he won the Inter-Counties senior title in horrendous weather a fortnight ago, and credited coach Alan Williams with his PBs this summer. Explaining why he succeeded while 10 seniors no-highted at the Inter-Counties, he said: “Alan told me to bring plenty of towels and umbrellas. He said, ‘So long as you keep your grips dry, you stand a chance of clearing the bar.”
And Huggins lists his targets for the rest of the season as: “To keep enjoying the sport … and adding to the record.”
Steph Pywell (Sale Harriers Manchester) again reached the European Under 23 standard of 1.88m in winning the women’s high jump on countback from Susan Moncrieff (Trafford). It means Pywell now shares the BIG meeting record with Wanita May (Canada), who also cleared 1.88m in 2000.
Amy Harris (Birchfield), the European Juniors silver medallist in Kaunas two years ago, won the long jump with a season’s best of 6.21m as she seeks the European Under 23 standard of 6.35m.
And there was a fabulous glimpse of the future in the shot. Under 17 Curtis Griffith-Parker (Cambridge Harriers) improved his PB from 18.93m to 19.57m to defeat Michael Wheeler (Herne Hill Harriers), who improved his own PB from 18.56m to 18.75m. And Rebecca Peake (Sale Harriers Manchester) led a parade of PBs in the women’s shot by winning with 16.04m from young Francis’s 15.74m.
There were also some quality pan-disability races with Paralympian Tracey Hinton winning the women's 200m, guided by Daryll Maynard, in 27.21 seconds despite a 1.7 head wind and Ian Jones scoring a 100m / 400m double in 12.21 and 53.54.
To underline the unforgiving nature of the sport, Simon Phelan (Channel Islands) suffered a serious knee injury in the high jump. He was quickly consoled by Jo Jennings, the former international high jumper and current UKA Talent Development Officer who helps Carol Jackson organise the BIG spectaculars.
“I came back from a career-threatening knee injury,” said Jennings. “He is obviously devastated now but he has got a good team around him to help him through.”
Adam Scarr (Enfield and Haringey) went on to clear 2.24m, the qualifying height for the European Under 23 Championships - and drove away in a Mini Cooper provided by Elms of Bedford, one of the BIG sponsors.
For the full results from the meeting, please click here