8th July 2021


An eventful first day for the British team at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Tallinn, Estonia saw a successful series of qualifications and progressions on both the track and in the field with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm causing an hour’s delay during the morning session

In the men’s 100m, Jeremiah Azu (coach: Helen Patricia James, club: Cardiff) and Brandon Mingeli (Ryan Freckleton, Cambridge Harriers) impressed in their heats to go through to tomorrow’s final. Azu ran a personal best of 10.19 (+1.6 m/s) which was the second fastest time by a Welsh male, with only Christian Malcolm ahead of him in the list. The Cardiff man goes into tomorrow’s final as the fastest qualifier.

He said afterwards, “I felt something special in the warm-up, I wasn’t expecting that but, of course, I’ll take it. Now to look forward to tomorrow.”

Mingeli was also happy to proceed with a time of 10.45 securing his semi-final place, commenting, “I just wanted to get through the rounds. It was a good start, and I am glad to get through to the final.”

In his heat, Dominic Ashwell (Marvin Rowe, Shaftesbury Barnet) finished fourth in a time of 10.47, but with only the top two guaranteed qualification, he did not proceed to the final.

The women’s 100m semi-final saw another confident win from Kristal Awuah (Matthew Thomas, Herne Hill).  She qualified as the fourth fastest overall with a time of 11.33 (+1.3). She commented afterwards, “I am really happy with that. It was very, very smooth. I am going back to recover and come back even sharper tomorrow.”

Both Awuah and Alisha Rees (Leon Baptiste, Edinburgh AC) had done well to successfully negotiate their heats in the morning after having to wait for an hour after warming up due to the storm delay. In the same semi-final as Awuah, Rees crossed the line in fourth but the time of 11.57 did not see her advance to the final.

First to go in these championships for the British team was Yasmin Liverpool (Stewart Marshall, Coventry) in the women’s 400m. She crossed the line in third in 54.45 to gain automatic qualification for Friday’s semi-final.

Post-race, she said, “I think I might have mis-judged the race a little bit, but I did the job and finished in the top three. I had to re-engage in the last 100 to ensure I got top three; partly because I was in lane 8 but no excuses of course.”

Also safely through in the one lap race was Alex Haydock-Wilson (Michael Baker, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) who was third in his heat in a time of 46.70. After the race he said “The track is amazing. I just wanted to enter that home straight in control and once there I thought I was ok for top four. There are a lot of races this week. Conditions were good and this is the coldest it is going to be, so it bodes well to get this in 22 degrees.”

In the 400m hurdles the rain delay did not affect Alex Knibbs (Nick Dakin, Amber Valley & Erewash) or Alastair Chalmers (Matt Elias, Guernsey) who safely progressed to tomorrow’s semi-final.  Knibbs won his heat comfortably in 50.27 and said afterwards, “I felt really good out there. During the delay for the rain I had to keep mentally up there and I knew if I could execute well I’d be ok.”

In heat 2 Chalmers was second in 51.21, commenting, “It’s a different mentality in the heat. Lane eight wasn’t easy but I got through and that’s what matters. The wait to start messes up the routine and the warm-up so particular pleased to have got through and I know what I need to do now for the semi.”

Zoe Pollock (Nick Dakin, Oxford City) achieved a personal best of 57.17 in winning her heat of the 400m hurdles. Clearly delighted to progress to the semi-finals, she said, “I felt really good.  I hope I have more to give; I felt quite relaxed on the home straight and kept the stride pattern I wanted. Luckily I hadn’t warmed up when the rain delay happened but you have to be prepared to adapt to whatever.”

All three heptathletes had a mixed first day. As the sky darkened before the pending thunderstorm, the first discipline, the 100m hurdles, was able to take place before an enforced break in competition, and there was a solid start from the British trio.

Holly Mills (Laura Turner-Alleyne, Andover) won her heat in 13.40 (1065 points) with Jade O’Dowda (Newham and Essex Beagles) finishing in 13.81 (1005 points) and Jodie Smith (Laura Turner-Alleyne, Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow) third in her heat in 13.88 (995 points). In the delayed high jump after the rain, Mills cleared 1.72m, O’Dowda 1.69m while Smith jumped 1.66m.

The shot put and 200m followed with good performances from all three athletes. The day finished with Mills well in medal contention in second place with 3688 points, O’Dowda sixth with 3493 points, and Smith 16th on 3269 points after four events.

Although slightly disappointed, Mills was confident of a good second day, “The high jump went badly, and I was disappointed and upset but it isn’t over until after all seven events, so I knew I had to get on with it. It hasn’t gone as I wanted it go but there is a whole day to come, and I know I can do better.”

In the women’s 3000m steeplechase, Sarah Tait (Linda Smith, Lasswade) and Elise Thorner (Wells City) both advanced to the final on Saturday. Tait finished fifth in heat one in 10:06.51 so move through as an automatic qualifier, while Thorner grabbed a fastest non-auto qualifier slot as she crossed the line in eighth in a time of 10:11.28

The men’s 1500m saw two out of three British athletes successfully progress to Saturday’s final.

George Mills (Jon Bigg, Brighton Phoenix) showed why he is ranked fourth U23 in Europe, as he stayed well clear of a scrappy first 400m to win his heat comfortably in 3:44.32. After the race he said, “I just wanted to stay out of trouble, take control of the race and ensure I qualified. I felt very good today. The track is lovely, and the weather is great so I couldn’t wait to get out there. I’ve come away from the last two races wanting more and I have got a great opportunity here to do just that.”

He will be joined in the final by Joshua Lay (Anthony Love, Rugby & Northamptonshire) who also came in first place in his heat in 3:44.90. The European U20 bronze medallist from 2019 was happy with his performance, “I got forced to the front as I was in lane one, but no-one really wanted to take it on and it important to ensure I got through without relying on the time. With an extra day’s rest, I can look forward and I would like to win.”

Tiarnan Crorken (Andy Bibby, Preston) missed out on a place in the final after his 3:46.31 just missed out on the fastest qualifier place.

Both Isabelle Boffey (Luke Gunn, Enfield & Haringey) and Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd, Herts Phoenix) go through to Saturday’s 800m final after finish first and second respectively in their heats.

Boffey finished in 2:04.05 reflecting her fifth in Europe U23 ranking. The Birmingham University student said, “I knew going into today I wanted to do a decent heat and ensure I got into the top two spots for the final, so I am buzzing now. It is nice to have a day’s break as that isn’t usually the case so I am super excited and very positive.”

In a gutsy performance Mhlanga ran a PB of 2:03.04 to finish second in her heat. Delighted to progress she said, “I am very happy with that. I got a bit boxed in, so I tried to relax and kick in the home straight. I am very happy to have made the final.”

In the first track final of the championships, David Melville (Harvard University) finished 19th in 31:11.42.  He reflected on a valuable experience, “It was a tough one to take. I was tired after the long flight and time difference. I haven’t really raced after changing time zones. I felt good for the first couple of kilometres but when there was a break and I tried to make a move to keep up, my hamstrings tightened, and I couldn’t really catch up. I have lots to learn from today.”

Out in the field Anna Purchase (Rob Careless, Notts) and Tara Simpson-Sullivan (Robert Halliwell, Wigan & District) both safely advanced to the women’s hammer final throwing 61.59m and 63.27m respectively. Simpson-Sullivan evaluated her series, saying, “The competition was a little rough.  It was late in the evening which I am not used to but I am glad to get through and I feel confident going into the final on Saturday.”

20-year-old Ben Hawkes (Adrian Palmer, Cardiff) managed a best throw of 65.06 metres in the men’s hammer qualification pool, but the mark did not earn him a spot in the European final.

The European Athletics Under 23 Championships runs from 8 to 11 July in Tallinn, Estonia.  It is streamed live on the European Athletics website with events getting underway at 9:40am (07:40 BST) on Friday.