10th June 2024


Keely Hodgkinson (coach: Trevor Painter, Leigh) and Neil Gourley (Stephen Haas, Giffnock North) delivered confident performances to win their respective heats on day four of the European Athletics Championships in Rome (Monday 10 June) as six British athletes progressed through the rounds.

Hodgkinson was joined by Alex Bell (Andrew Henderson, Leeds) and Erin Wallace (Trevor Painter, Giffnock North) In the women’s 800m semi-finals after all qualified through the heats.

Gourley was belatedly joined in the men’s 1500m final by compatriot Adam Fogg (Cory Leslie, Coventry) after the latter was advanced after been Impeded by a fall at the bell.

There was more British qualification success for Lina Nielsen (Tony Lester, Shaftesbury Barnet) who set a personal best on the way to the women’s 400m hurdles final, while there was frustration for Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Alastair Chalmers (Matt Elias, Guernsey) who missed out on their respective finals.

Olympic and world silver medallist Hodgkinson made light work of qualification with a confident performance in round one of the women’s 800m. Controlling the race from the front, the 22-year-old looked incredibly relaxed as she took the win in 2:02.46.

“Heats are always a bit of a reality check to be honest because you never really feel that great, but I am just really happy to get through, so it’s all good,” said the British record holder. “It’s just hard because some people are trying to run their best race ever and you are trying to conserve energy, so it’s just a case of don’t get complacent, don’t get caught out at the wrong moment, don’t get tripped up, and also try and save as much energy for the next round, but it was a clean race so I can’t complain.”

Alex Bell got the Great Britain and Northern Ireland middle-distance women off to a solid start with a third-place finish and automatic qualifying spot for Tuesday’s semi-finals with 2:00.98. Despite the frustration of having a competitor’s number stuck to her spikes from an earlier race, Bell ran a steady first lap and kept out of trouble. As the leaders came off the final bend a gap opened up and she took advantage to move through into the top three.

“The smile is more of a relief than anything,” she said. “Going in the first heat is difficult as you don’t know how fast the next heats are going to be, so I just fought to get in the top three. I usually get through championships as the fastest loser, so I was quite nervous going into the first heat today, but I’ve got it done and in essence I can have a longer recovery now.”

In the fourth and final 800m heat of the morning, Erin Wallace (Trevor Painter, Giffnock North) knew what she had to do to guarantee qualification and duly delivered to ensure three from three Brits advanced to the semi-finals. In her first 800m at a major championship she tucked in towards the back of the pack through the opening lap, but as the field strung out over the final 100m she ran strongly to finish fifth in 2:00.90 – outside of the automatic positions but quick enough to go through.

“It probably wasn’t my finest race, but I am relieved that it did end up being quite fast so I’m through to the semi-finals and I can just start again tomorrow,” she said, admitting she was so nervous beforehand that she could barely eat her breakfast.

European Indoor Championships silver medallist Neil Gourley overcame jetlag to deliver a very cool and controlled performance in qualifying for Wednesday’s 1500m final.

The 29-year-old – who missed the indoor season due to injury – proved he was in incredible shape with a superb mile personal best at the Prefontaine Classic on 25 May (3:47.74), his first significant outing since the 2023 World Championships.

The opportunity to experience championship racing in Rome presented a different challenge for Gourley and he passed the test with ease, staying out of trouble in the early stages of a slow heat before putting himself in a good position to kick as Spain’s Adel Mechaal pushed the pace. He eventually pulled away with ease to take the win in 3:44.05.

“It went fine today so I can sleep between now and the final,” he said. “That was the last thing coach said, ‘Don’t fall asleep’; it was an interesting choice of words, but I definitely could have.

“Tactically I’m happy with where I put myself. It was really about just being ready to respond when somebody inevitably went – it was just a case of being aware of anyone making a big move. Whilst the Diamond League circuit is really valuable, this is somewhere where I can experience proper racing, which I just did, and to make sure I execute tactically.”

Adam Fogg ran a good tactical race early on in the second heat of the men’s 1500m, but as the athletes went through the bell a group of four crashed to the track causing chaos for those around them. Fogg did well to stay on his feet but lost momentum and faded to 10th (3:40.83). He was later confirmed as securing a spot in the final after the race referee watched back the footage and advanced him due to the impediment.

“I felt alright going into it,” he said, before he knew he was advanced to the final. “I just needed to go in relaxed as I knew I wasn’t highly ranked in that heat. I didn’t want to go out super aggressively and put myself at the front end early on. I tried to work myself up so I could go at the bell, and I did an ok job of that.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen stayed out of trouble throughout the race, running right off the back of the pack in the early stages before casually working his way through the field to clock a 53.05 last lap and win in 3:37.65.

There were mixed fortunes for GB & NI’s 400m hurdlers as Lina Nielsen (Tony Lester, Shaftesbury Barnet) progressed through to Tuesday’s final while Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Alastair Chalmers (Matt Elias, Guernsey) missed out.

World Indoor relay medallist Nielsen – having looked like she was out of contention with 50m to go – finished brilliantly to take second place in the first of the women’s semi-finals in a 54.43 personal best, sixth all-time among Brits.

“That was so fast!”, said the 28-year-old whose previous best was set in the same stadium. “It’s always my finish and my second half of the race. My final hurdle is literally my super-power but its hurdle six, every single race…I mess it up every single time. I need to be running 15 strides to seven, but I am only making it to five so I need to figure it out. I start off well, then I switch off and then I come through well. If I can get that middle part fixed it should be a good time, but I am happy with a PB, that’s alright.”

Knight finished seventh in semi-final three (56.01), so did not progress to the final on Tuesday.

Despite running a fantastic personal best of 48.76 from lane eight, Alastair Chalmers (Matt Elias, Guernsey) was unfortunate to miss out on qualification for the men’s final after finishing third in the second of the semi-finals. It was an agonising wait for the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist as his performance was confirmed, but his initial delight turned to disappointment as the results of the third semi-final filtered through.

“I ran it perfectly, I wouldn’t change anything about it,” said Chalmers whose time moved him to tenth on the British all-time list. “Coming off hurdle eight in first pretty much is crazy. My back was giving in, everything was giving in, but I was fighting for my life. When I saw the time, I was thinking ‘I could have run the Olympic standard’ [48.70], and to miss out by six hundredths is heart-breaking. And then for the final semi to be world class is crazy. It is really bittersweet and a shame, really.

“I’ve known this year I am in ridiculous shape. I am one of those guys who steps up when needed. If I was in semi-final one, I would have cruised through to the final, so it is just typical that the semi I was in was a ridiculous standard. I ran the fastest time of my whole life so I have got to take a lot of honour from that. I am happy with that, but it was so close.”

Great Britain & Northern Ireland medal tally:

GOLD: [2]: Women’s Half Marathon Team, Dina Asher-Smith – Women’s 100m

SILVER [2]: George Mills – Men’s 5000m, Georgia Bell – Women’s 1500m

BRONZE [3]: Lizzie Bird – Women’s 3000m steeplechase, Romell Glave – Men’s 100m, Calli Hauger-Thackery – Women’s Half Marathon