14th July 2023
JEREMIAH AZU AND YEMI MARY JOHN CROWNED EURO U23 CHAMPIONS
There was further medal success for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team in an evening of finals at the European U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland, as they added four more medals to their total, despite the hour postponement due to heavy rain.
Superb performances from Jeremiah Azu and Yemi Mary John saw them claim European U23 titles in the men’s 100m and women’s 400m respectively, while Charlotte Payne and Keely Hodgkinson also reached the podium during the second evening session at the Championships.
Team co-captain Jeremiah Azu (coach: Marco Airale, club: Cardiff) struck gold in the men’s 100m to retain the title he won two years ago. Going into the final, it appeared to be a two-way battle between the Welshman and the Netherlands’ Raphael Bouju, but in the end, Azu showed his class to seal it comfortably in a time of 10.05 (2.1), just 0.01s outside his PB set in the semis.
After delivering another commanding performance on the Espoo track, Azu said post-race, “This was my goal coming into this Championship, to win. Looking at the numbers before the competition, I was hoping to go sub-10, but it feels amazing to win the U23 Championship title.”
World U20 champion Yemi Mary John (Alan Hames, Woodford Green Essex Ladies) starred in another epic 400m contest to win the European U23 title in thrilling circumstances.
In wet conditions, John battled around the final bend as she tried to get alongside eventual silver medallist Henriette Jaeger (NOR) but came into the final 90 metres behind. What followed was a superb battle royale between the pair with the Norwegian looking to have edged it until the final 20 metres when the Briton overhauled her. As Jaeger tripped and dived for the line, John maintained her composure to come through assertively win it on the photo finish.
In an equally exciting final flourish, Keely Hodgkinson (Trevor Painter, Leigh) moved up from fifth to third to claim the bronze in a PB of 51.76; the first time she has dipped under 52 seconds in the 400m.
John celebrated her victory with a bow to the packed stadium, and talking afterwards, John stated: “A bit like in Colombia for the U20s, the rain came through for the final, so I had to adjust but I’m happy with how it went. I’m really happy with the win and a PB, so perhaps the rain is my lucky charm.”
Hodgkinson added, “I think I could have executed the race better, but I got the PB that I have been chasing for years. I’m happy to win another medal for Great Britain, and I really enjoyed the experience.”
As medals rained down on the track, Charlotte Payne (Paul Dickenson, Reading) made sure there was plenty to shout about in the field as she claimed silver in the women’s hammer.
The senior UK champion was always in the medal positions in this one, but her 69.22m effort in the fifth round would move her up to silver. She could not catch Finland’s Silja Kosonen who threw a Championship Record of 73.71m in her first attempt, but she added her name to the medal winners in Espoo.
Speaking after the competition, Payne said, “I took this competition as my last chance to win a big medal at these championships, so I am glad I am coming home with the silver. The competition went a bit chaotic I must say. I am just glad I managed to bring it at the right time. The girl from Finland is just absolutely incredible so coming out with a silver is very valuable. It was a very good competition. The conditions were a bit harder today, but my coach told me just to control what I can control and focus on these things. I wanted to perform the best I can. And I think I did that and I am proud of that.”
Alyson Bell (Anne Scott, Glasgow Jaguars) had a fantastic performance in the women’s 100m final as she crossed the line in sixth position. After superbly qualifying for the final, she battled well to a time of 11.46 (0.6), coming through strongly. The gold was won by the Netherland’s N’Keita Seedo in 11.22.
Meanwhile, Jodie Smith’s (Ashley Bryant, Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) heptathlon competition came to a close with a 14th place finish and a season’s best of 5489 points.
She had a firm grip on the javelin competition, throwing 36.20m in her first attempt, to gain 595 points. The WSEH athlete was back out on the track in the 800m where she ran a controlled race to finish in 2:25.51.
In a competition that was dominated from the start by home favourite, Saga Vanninen (FIN) who won with 6317 points, the England Senior silver medalist had a solid overall competition, making the most of the lessons learnt in the European U23 Championships two years ago in Estonia.
Commenting on her experience, Smith said: “Combined Events is always a hard competition, and having the morning and afternoon splits was different than we normally have at home. I’m not happy with my point score, but I am so grateful for the experience, and glad I was able to finish the Heptathlon.”
Day two of the Championships saw the GB & NI team move to the top of the medals table, claiming a total of six medals in one day with Charles Hicks (gold) and Will Barnicoat (bronze) securing medals in the men’s 5000m earlier in the day.
Results can be found here
Watch the action live via allathletics.tv