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European Under 23 Championships: Day 1 PM report 

Richard Buck
Richard Buck

On a night when all eyes were on Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s male 100m sprinters, Montell Douglas stole the show at the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, on Thursday evening 12 July. She beat the qualifying time for the World Championships in Osaka next month in notching the fastest time of the women’s semi-finals. Here’s how the dramatic evening progressed:


Men’s 800m first round: All three Norwich Union GB&NI representatives reached the final – by vastly different routes as thunder rolled around the Istvan Gyulai Stadium and lightning flashed over the three storey mansion-like grandstand.

To open the evening session, Richard Hill (Notts AC) boiled-up his own storm. The ‘running brave’ qualified for the final the hard way – pushing the pace through 400m in 53.05 seconds and then hanging on for third in 1:47.66. His gamble paid-off in a round in which the fastest two in each heat and the two fastest ‘losers’ qualified. He was third-quickest of all qualifiers behind the men who edged him out in a blanket finish, Abdesslam Merabet (France), who won in a PB of 1:47.44, and Josef Repcik (Slovakia), second in 1:47.58. The reigning England Under 23s’ 800m champion who is studying Science in health, Exercise and Sport at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, said as he waited for the other two heats to unfold: “It should be enough. If it’s not enough, the boys in the other heats are going to have to run very quickly. I’ve had the disadvantage of going first, so I took it on thinking that evening if I came third I would go through.” His theory worked a treat.

Graeme Oudney (Pitreavie AAC), who has been guided to this international debut by the coaching of the legendary Liz McColgan, was given a ninth place in the final by the Jury of Appeal. He was dreadfully unlucky to finish fifth in the second heat and, to all intents and purposes, go out. He led through 600m in 1:22.28 but was then overtaken on the final bend – and baulked when Dmitrijs Jurkevics (Latvia) fell in the finishing straight. It gave Oudney no chance to launch his planned surge for the line. “I’m gutted,” he said after his heat was won in a pedestrian 1:49.57 and he clocked 1:51.71. “I moved it on to split everyone up a little bit. On the top bend I was feeling good but a guy fell in front of me in the home straight. I feel bitterly disappointed because I was feeling good; I am much better than 1:51.7.” Team Leader Steve Rippon launched an appeal – and, hours later, the news came through that he had been given a place in the final. “He thoroughly deserves it,” said Rippon, who has never lost an appeal in his three years as Under 23 Team Leader. Oudney received the news two hours after his race while having a sombre meal with his folks in the city centre. He said: “It spoilt the meal a bit because it was a case of getting back to the hotel and resting up for the final. It’s brilliant news!”

St Mary’s University graduate Darren St Clair (Enfield and Haringey) won the third heat in 1:50.03 to guarantee his place – and Hill’s – in the final. He was undeterred when he saw Oudney’s unfortunate elimination: “I was focussing on my own race. It went exactly how I thought it would go. Me and Liam [Cain, his coach] have been working on accelerating off a 56 seconds lap and that’s what it was. My aim is to get a medal at these Championships: one step down, one to go!” And how about the thunderstorm? “It suited me down to the ground,” he smiled.


Women’s 100m semi-finals: Montell Douglas (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) ran her second big PB of the day – a World Championships qualifier of 11.28 seconds – to lead the way into tomorrow’s final. It was a blistering performance in lane six as rain fell heavily and the wind blew at only a moderate +0.8 metres per second. She was 19-hundredths of a second ahead of her closest challenger in the first heat – and nine-hundredths quicker than heat two winner Verena Sailer (Germany), who had been quickest in the first round during this morning’s sunshine. “Not bad, eh?” commented Douglas. “I come into every round aiming to win. It helps with lane draws and getting a bit of an edge on the girls.”


Women’s 400m semi-finals: Faye Harding (Sale Harriers Manchester), whose preparations were interrupted for five weeks by illness and a hamstring tear, battled through to the final from the second of the three heats. She did not panic when Kseniya Zadorina (Russia) powered past her within 150 metres and came up with a storming finish to stop the clock at 53.42 seconds for third place in the race. It made her the sixth-fastest qualifier for the final with Russians predictably looking in shape to sweep the medals.


Women’s 800m semi-finals: Both Norwich Union GB&NI representatives, both based at Loughborough University, reached the final. Laura Finucane (Pendle AC), seventh in the 2004 World Juniors and fifth in the 2005 European Juniors, was a comfortable second in the first of the three heats, clocking 2:02.82 behind pre-race favourite Mariya Shapayeva, who led all the way to win in 2:01.49. “You get so nervous in the heats because you just want to get through,” said a relieved Finucane. “I knew it was going to go that way because I’ve raced Shapayeva a few times before.” They were the fastest two of the qualifiers for the final

Loughborough University-based Charlotte Best (Crawley AC), who won a great race at Bedford last month to become England Under 23 champion, was fifth-fastest qualifier overall for the final. Fourth with 200m to go in the third heat, she came up with a trademark powerful finish to take second place in 2:04.02, 0.38sec behind Elodie Guegan (France). “I was getting a bit worried on the top bend,” she confessed. “The field was very strong for this event. For two British people to be in the final is very good.”


Men’s 100m semi-finals: The Norwich Union GB&NI dream have repeating the medals 1-2-3 of the 2005 European Junior Championships in Kaunas ended at this rainy stage of the proceedings.

The alarm bells rang on a night when the temperature had plummeted from the mid-30s to 23° Celsius when Championships favourite Craig Pickering (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) was pushed all the way in the first heat, winning in 10.28 seconds, just a hundredth ahead of Fabio Cerutti (Italy). “I hurt my back in warm-up,” said the ever-honest Pickering, who felt he had been beaten on the dip. “It keeps happening. It’s very frustrating because I know I can run a lot better. But the back locks and when I get down in my blocks, it goes into spasm. But then, it’s exactly the same as two years ago!” He was referring to the 2005 European Junior Championships, when he was defeated in the semi-final by his teammate Simeon Williamson (Highgate Harriers) in the semi but reversed the positions in the final.

Williamson survived a scare in the other semi-final (wind: +1.6) but went through to tomorrow’s final – while Ryan Scott (Yate and District AC) was agonisingly eliminated by one-hundredth of a second. First round revelation Martial Mbandjock (France) won in a blistering Championships record of 10.16 seconds with Williamson, second in 10.23, confessing: “I started to drift toward the French guy's lane after 80 or 90 metres and lost my stride. But I’m OK.” Scott was brutally honest after placing fifth: “I didn’t run well. It’s frustrating because I wanted to go through. I was down at the start and it was hard to come through.” Did the memory of his disqualification in the World Indoors 60m final adversely effect him? “No way! That’s not in my head. They [the qualifiers] ran very well. There’s only so much failure I can take. This will make me train harder.”


Men’s 400m semi-finals: In virtually a repeat of his first round heat this morning, Richard Buck (City of York AC) won his heat to earn a place in tomorrow’s final. “You know,” he gasped, “400m is a helluvva long way to sprint. Especially twice in a day.” His time of 46.48 seconds was a hundredth slower than his PB this morning, even though the weather was more Yorkshire than mid-European: wet, windy and as cool as an English autumn. He was fourth quickest of the qualifiers behind Denis Alekseyev (Russia), who clocked 46.13, Kacper Kozlowski (Poland) 46.30 and Anton Kokorin (Russia) 46.39. None of which matters to Buck: “Tomorrow is the race I’ve been waiting for!”


Men’s shot final: Having squeezed into the final as the 12th man, Kieren Kelly (Sale Harriers Manchester) was disappointed to finish 12th. He was well below his best of 17.97m, reaching 16.12m in the first round, improving to 16.85m in the second but fouling in the third. “I just couldn’t connect with it,” he said. “No excuses. I will work towards the Norwich Union World Trials now and see if I can produce good form again.”


Men’s long jump qualifying: Canning Town-based JJ Jegede (Newham and Essex Beagles), who limped out of last month’s Norwich Union European Trials at Bedford in a painful ninth place, suffered a different kind of agony on his international debut. Going into the third and final round, he was placed a comfortable eighth with 7.42m (wind: +0.2). But he finished in the most painful position of all – 13th with only 12 going through to the final. No fewer than five athletes achieved their best jumps in the last round while Jegede suffered a foul. “He missed by 4cm,” said the team’s jumps coach, Terry Lomax. “JJ ran too well. He started from behind his check-mark but took off over the board. In some ways, it’s a positive problem that he can deal with. He jumped 7.42m cutting back to hit the board. But this is his first major championship. It was in trying conditions. And he didn’t bomb out.”

Senior GB international Chris Kirk (City of Sheffield AC), who is coached by the highly successful Peter Stanley and has just finished a degree in sport development and coaching at Northumbria University, could not get to grips with the conditions was finished 16th of the qualifiers with 7.08m, a world away from the PB of 7.82m achieved earlier this season. Lomax said: “Chris warmed-up very well. Then he changed between warm-up and competition.”


Women’s pole vault qualifying: The University of Wales Institute Cardiff proudly possesses one-sixth of the finalists! Emma Lyons (Notts AC), who competed at English Schools’ Championships in cross country, combined events and triple jump before concentrating on the pole vault at UWIC, cleared 4.05m for equal fourth place in qualifying group A.

Louise Butterworth (Birchfield Harriers), the England Under 23 champion coached by fellow vaulter Scott Simpson at UWIC, also cleared 4.05m for sixth place in qualifying group B. In the overall standings, Lyons was equal ninth and Butterworth 11th.

Lyons, who had first-time clearances at 3.65m and 3.85m, and second-timers at 3.95m and 4.05m, said: “For the first time in ages my run-up felt good. I went onto bigger poles that I have ever taken before. It was a big shock but I have to get used to them. The main thing we came here to do was to get through to the final.”

Butterworth followed a first-time clearance at 3.65m by taking all three attempts 3.85m, two at 3.95m and two at 4.05m. Understandably she said: “There were moments of good jumping and there were moments of not-so-good. It’s my consistency I need to work on. When we started the weather was really nice. Then it threw it down, which maybe affects the psychology … the bed’s all wet, the track’s slippery. But I know what I have to do on Saturday. I shall just go out and see how it goes. If I can jump not very well and make the final, who knows?”


Women’s discus qualifying: Kirsty Law (Inverness Harriers), who won at an international meeting in Varazdin, Croatia, last weekend on her way here, could not reproduce her sensational form of the last fortnight and finished 10th in her group with a best on the night of 46.04m. Law, who threw a lifetime best of 55.52m at the UK Challenge ThrowsFest, was 20th overall in the two groups.


Men’s 5000m final:

St Mary’s University-based Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham and District AC), the 2005 European Junior 5000m and cross country silver medallist, battled into eighth place in 13:59.24 – a PB by 3.11 seconds – while Jonathan Thewlis (City of Sheffield AC) was 19th in 14:47.27 on his international debut. The race was won in 13:53.15 by Noureddine Smail (France).

Vernon said: “You are always a bit disappointed after a race like that. We were fartlekking the whole time. It was like doing 14 minutes of bends and straights. I lost a bit of strength towards the end. People were making moves four laps out and I couldn’t go with it. In the last 400, I was closing people down without actually catching anyone.”

Thewlis, who is missing his graduation ceremony at Nottingham University tomorrow (Friday) after gaining a degree in mechanical education, said of his run: “Phew! I was really disappointed. I was in the position I wanted to be at 3km and then I hit a brick wall and filled up with lactics. I ran far worse than my training suggested I would.”


Simeon Williams
Simeon Williams

European Under 23 Championships: Day 1 AM report

More than 900 athletes from 44 countries are taking part in the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. Here is how the first day’s action unfolded on Thursday 12 July for the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team:


Women’s 100m first round: Montell Douglas (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) gave the entire team an inspirational start with a lifetime best of 11.41 seconds in the fifth and last heat (wind: +0.6 metres per second). Douglas, a 60 semi-finalist among the seniors at the winter’s European Indoor Championships in Birmingham, knocked a full tenth of a second off her previous best and beamed: “I knew it was there. I’m not really surprised, just happy to do it. I’m glad the first round’s over. I can go back to the hotel now and prepare for the semis.” She was the second quickest of the five first round winners. The fastest, Verena Sailer (Germany) clocked 11.31 (wind: +1.8).


Men’s 400m first round: Grimsby-born Richard Buck (City of York AC) won his heat in a lifetime best of 46.16 seconds – the fastest of all the qualifiers – and dedicated the success to team physiotherapist Alison Latham. The England Under 23s’ champion who won Commonwealth Youth bronze and European Junior relay gold on his way through the age groups, explained: “Alison got me on the track. My back seized up during warm-up but she sorted it well enough.” But he was as surprised as he was delighted by his PB after a series of niggling injuries through the winter: “I don’t know what’s happened! It’s only my fourth 400 race of the season. I was going through 200 quite quick but realised there were still two guys in front of me. So I kicked on and they were still beside me into the straight so I kicked on again. I think I was running scared!”


Leeds City’s Richard Strachan, who has raced for Norwich Union GB&NI seniors in the last two European Cup Super Leagues, suffered the disappointment of having to withdraw with an ankle injury – and has also gone down with a cold. He hopes to be fit to compete for a place in the relay squad at the weekend.


Men’s 100m first round: Norwich Union GB&NI had three of the four fastest qualifiers for this evening’s semi-finals.


Ryan Scott, who races for Yate & District AC, sped to a personal best of 10.28 seconds from lane three in the opening heat (wind speed: +1.2) of the five. “The first job is to qualify, so I’ll settle for a PB,” he said before strolling off to prepare for this evening’s semi-finals. He took a hundredth off his previous best time in finishing a hundredth behind Martial Mbandjock (France), who lowered his PB by two-hundredths.


Simeon Williamson, the Highgate Harrier who was the silver medallist behind Craig Pickering at the 2005 European Junior Championships, won the second heat (wind speed: +0.4) in 10.36 from lane two. He was nine-hundredths ahead of the field yet said: “It was not as good as I wanted. The first one is always the worst. Now I can get ready for the real business.” His time was matched by Christian Blum (Germany), who won the fourth heat (wind: +1.9).


Craig Pickering, the reigning European Junior 100m champion from Marshall Milton Keynes AC who is currently studying sport and exercise science at the University of Bath, won the fifth and last heat in the fastest time of the round, 10.23 seconds (wind speed: +0.1). “It’s been quite a big wind all the way through this morning, except for my heat,” he grinned. “I didn’t have the best start but apart from that it was OK.”


Women’s high jump qualifying: Worksop-born Stephanie Pywell (Sale Harriers Manchester), fourth in last month’s European Cup First League, was “very disappointed” to be eliminated after clearing 1.73m and 1.77m at the first attempts. Knowing that a first-time clearance at 1.81m would secure a place in the final, she missed. She went very close with her second attempt but then also missed-out on her final attempt – a huge shock for an athlete who cleared 1.90m earlier this season. It placed her ninth of the 11 in qualifying group A.


Men’s shot qualifying: Kieren Kelly (Sale Harriers Manchester), advised at Peterborough and Loughborough by Geoff Capes, reached the final in dramatic style – with his third and final put. He languished in the dreaded 13th qualifying position, one place outside the finals, after efforts of 16.80m and 17.46m on a morning when all 19 contestants were well below their bests. But 17.72m in the final round, within 25cm of his lifetime best, earned him 12th place in a contest led by Luka Rujevic (Serbia) with 19.20m. “And I threw awful,” Kelly said afterwards. “It feels as if there is so much more there. I’m just not connecting with it. I should be hitting it harder. Hopefully that will come in the final.”