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Class of 2007 hoping for top marks

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Chris Clarke


If any members of the 27-strong Norwich Union Great Britain & Northern Ireland team at the World Youth Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic are looking for confirmation that the long road to the top in athletics is worthwhile, they need look no further than results from the inaugural event in Bydgoszcz, Poland eight years ago.


Amongst the medallists in 1999 were current day superstars Yelena Isinbayeva, Kenenisa Bekele, Ladji Doucoure, Jacques Freitag, Meseret Defar, Veronica Campbell, Jana Pittman and Stephen Cherono, later to become Saif Saaeed Shaheen; eight of the world’s most decorated athletes with scores of international titles and records between them.


However, it is worth bearing in mind that for every athlete whose youthful talent has developed right through to success at senior level, there is another that has fallen by the wayside.  It is a similar story with GB & NI’s “Class of 99”.


2007 senior team regulars Mo Farah, Nicola Sanders, Goldie Sayers, Lisa Dobriskey, Mark Lewis-Francis and Tim Benjamin have all graduated with honours from Bydgoszcz, where the latter two also struck gold in the 100m and 200m respectively.


Again though, there are athletes from that team who have dropped out of the sport, with little heard of since.  It is up to the current generation to make the most of their earliest opportunity to compete on the global stage and develop the necessary behavioural skills to help them build solid foundations for successful senior careers.


As for immediate success at this level, it is in the sprints where the greatest hopes lie, just as they did eight years ago.  This time, it is Asha Philip in the women’s 100m and Chris Clarke in the men’s 400m, who will lead the British challenge. Both athletes top the IAAF World Youth Rankings for their respective events.


At the age of just 15, Philip was 4th at last year’s World Junior Championships. Amongst athletes of her own age, she is well placed to improve on that result. A searing run to win the recent England U20 Championships in a UK U17 record of 11.37 also proved she is hitting form at the right time.


The previous holder of that record, Olympic 400m bronze medallist Katherine Merry, is in Ostrava as the team’s mentor and will hoping to see the prodigy maintain her sprightly progress in the face of some tough opposition from traditional rivals from the USA and Caribbean nations.


Happily, she will not be alone. Team-mate Ashlee Nelson is also entered for the 100m and as no6 in the IAAF rankings, she too will have high hopes of a place in the final. In the one lap event, Chris Clarke has emerged as a strong contender.  He went below 47 seconds for the first time ever when finishing 2nd at the England U20 Championships in 46.70 recently. 


The time catapulted him to the top of the rankings, but too he has some serious opposition from the USA. Other highly ranked British athletes include Jordan Huggins, Michael Baker, Alison Leonard, Sarah Hopkinson and Shaunagh Brown.


Huggins is 8th in the men’s 100m, Baker is 5th in the men’s 400m hurdles, Leonard is 3rd in the women’s 800m, Hopkinson is 5th in the women’s 2000m steeplechase and Brown is 4th in the women’s discus.


The IAAF World Youth Championships take place 11-15 July in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  Live results can be picked up at www.iaaf.org