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European U23 Championships Day 2 report

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Silver and Gold

Gold for Simeon Williamson and silver medals for Craig Pickering and Montell Douglas sped Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland to fourth place in the medals table on the second evening of the European Under 23 Championships at Debrecen, Hungary, on Friday 13 July. Here is how all the drama unfolded for the team during the second evening session:


Men’s 100m final: At the 2005 European Junior Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania, Craig Pickering (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) won the 100m gold medal and Simeon Williamson (Highgate Harriers) took the silver medal – after Williamson beat him in the semi-final. Williamson has been doggedly winding his spring of revenge ever since that rainy night. And he unleashed it so swiftly in sunny Debrecen that first he false started and at the second ‘bang’ his reaction time was officially measured at 0.117 seconds. Lightning! Williamson flashed over the finish line in 10.10 seconds – aided by a breeze of a mere 0.2 metres per second – with Pickering second in 10.14. Both times are lifetime bests. Both beat the Championship record of 10.16 run in last night’s semi-finals by Martial Mbandjock (France), who finished with the bronze medal in 10.27 seconds tonight.

So did Williamson consciously start so quickly? “I don’t know,” he beamed. “I was nervous. I wasn’t nervous in the warm-up. But in the call room it was so quiet. I’ve never been so nervous. Out on the track … in the blocks … false start … I thought, ‘Here we go!’ Under pressure I don’t usually drive out of the blocks. But this time I remembered what Lloyd [Cowan, his coach at the UK Athletics North London High Performance Centre at Lee Valley] has been drilling into me, ‘Keep driving, keep driving, keep driving.’ I came up and couldn’t see anyone. Then I saw Craig coming up on my outside at 80 metres. But I kept my technique and … oh man, for two years I’ve been waiting for this.”

Pickering revealed he had two injections last night to solve the back problems that hampered him in the semi-finals and said: “He deserves that. There’s not very much I could do about it. I did all I could. I ran a PB.”

But the last words on this occasion must go to the new European Under 23 100 Champion, Simeon Williamson: “Please make sure you thank for me Lloyd, who has coached me for three years now; Christine Bloomfield, who did my drills sessions during the winter; Alf Vickers for looking after my well-being and welfare; and all the family and friends who have supported me over the years.”


Montell Douglas
An agonising wait for Montell

Women’s 100m final (wind: -2.0): What an unforgiving sport this is! Twenty-four hours after Asha Philip at the IAAF World Youth Championships became the first GB female to strike 100m gold at a major championship, Montell Douglas (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) missed a gold medal by only two thousandths of a second. All after an agonising wait. After the kind of tense, nervous race that has even the crowd on edge, the stadium announcer bravely revealed that after a slow-motion replay he thought Douglas, a student at Brunel University where UK Athletics has based its West London High Performance Centre, had got the verdict. Five minutes later, the photo-finish judges gave it to Verena Sailer (Germany) – with Douglas second in the same time, 11.66 seconds.  Even while she was waiting for the official result, Douglas was self-critical of her performance: “It wasn’t good. It was the hardest race I’ve had. It was horrible.” And once she was announced as placing second, she added: “It’s my fault. I should have stayed relaxed when she came back at me at 80 metres. But I’m not used to people coming back at me. I tensed up and was rolling.”


Men’s 400m final: Leeds Metropolitan University student Richard Buck (City of York AC) battled into fifth place with yet another PB, 46.15 seconds, as the medals went to: 1 Denis Alekseyev (Russia) 45.69 PB; 2 Zeljko Vincek Croatia Under 23 record 45.69; 3 Kacper Kozlowski (Poland) 45.86. Buck nicked just a hundredth off the PB he ran in the first round yesterday morning and said: “I couldn’t run the way I wanted to. I’m not sure why. I know the race was won in something I’ve not run yet. But I’m certain times like that are in my range once I get things right. If I’d run slightly more conservatively through the rounds, maybe I could have taken it. I was running scared in the first round.”


Women’s 400m final: Only four weeks after suffering such a severe hamstring injury that she could not walk, Faye Harding (Sale Harriers Manchester) battled into seventh place in 53.70 seconds in a race in which Russia swept the medals: 1 Lyudmila Litvinova 51.25 PB; 2 Olga Shulikova 51.57; 3 Kseniya Zadorina 51.78. “I was out of it from the word go,” said Harding, who had been drawn in the dreaded lane one. “At the beginning of the season, I genuinely thought the only way was up. I was in shape to get a medal. But I missed five weeks of training. This setback is so frustrating.”


Women’s 100m hurdles semi-finals (wind: -0.9): Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield AC) eased into the final by finishing second in 13.08 seconds behind Nevin Yanit, the Turkish athlete who also defeated her in the first round. She clattered her right knee on the ninth hurdle and said as she clutched an icepack to the cut: “That’s my fault for trying too hard. It’s all part of running under pressure.”


Men’s 1500m first round: Ross Toole, Kilbarchan AAC’s international debut boy, went down fighting in the first heat. He was fourth with 250m to go but, try as he might, he finished a bitterly disappointed ninth in 3:52.04 as local hero Barnabas Bene – seeking his fourth European age group title in front of his home crowd – won in 3:50.69. Toole was 17th fastest of the 21 starters in the heats; the fastest was Alvaro Rodriguez (Spain) with 3:45.33.


Men’s 200m first round: With the first two in each heat guaranteed progress, the three Norwich Union GB&NI sprinters moved into tomorrow’s semi-finals without extending themselves.

Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC) eased to a season’s best of 21.00 seconds from lane eight in the first heat into a head wind of 0.4 metres per second. “I’m pleased with that,” he said. “I took my foot off the gas and still ran a season’s best – can’t complain about that! I’m glad the first round’s out of the way.”

Leon Baptiste, Enfield and Haringey AC’s 2003 European Junior 100m champion, was equally dominant from lane eight on the third heat, easing over the line in 21.15 (wind: -0.8). He said: “I was a little bit worried because I had the flu two weeks ago but I felt easy.”

Jeffrey Lawal-Balogun (Kent AC), making his international debut, was content to take second place in 21.51 seconds in heat four (wind: -1.2) behind Jerrel Feller (Netherlands), who clocked 21.25. “It went all right,” Lawal-Balogun reported. “I’m a rounds man. This is just a warm-up.”

Fifton was fourth-fastest overall behind Visa Hongisto, who lowered the Finland Under 23 record to 20.75, Marco Cribari (Switzerland) 20.91 and Arnaldo Abrantes (Portugal) a PB of 20.97. Baptiste ranked sixth and Lawal-Balogun equal 19th.


Men’s 400m hurdles semi-finals: Both Norwich Union GB&NI competitors successfully negotiated outside lanes to reach tomorrow’s final.

David Greene (Swansea Harriers), the 2005 European Junior silver medallist, continued Norwich Union GB&NI’s acquaintance with lane eight. He eased to victory in 50.41 seconds after being led into the straight by European Junior champion Milan Kotur (Croatia), who placed second in 50.80. “I was a bit nervous,” revealed Greene, “because I’ve not raced for six weeks because of injury and have had only two hurdles sessions. This has given me a lot of confidence for tomorrow.”

Ben Carne (Harrow AC), the England Under 23 champion who was sixth at last month’s European Cup Super League on his international debut, won from lane one in 51.58 seconds and said: “Shocking! Absolutely shocking! I don’t enjoy lane one. I was trying to pick ‘em off round the top bend. You have to work much harder in that lane but I’ve done what I had to do.”


Women’s 400m hurdles semi-finals: Eilidh Child (Pitreavie AAC) ran her seventh PB of the summer – 57.73 seconds – to reach the final on her international debut. Drawn unfavourably in the inside lane for her heat, she did not panic against athletes with quicker PBs and was rewarded with a time that place her seventh-fastest of the eight qualifiers. “I just focussed on my own race,” she said. “When I came round the bend and knew I was third, I realised that the closer I got to the leading two, the better my chance of a PB. I came here wanting to get a PB or to get into the final – and I’ve done both!” The pair in front of her were Angela Morosanu (Romania), who won in 56.55, and Yuliya Mulyukova (Russia), who clocked 56.75, the fastest two qualifiers overall for the final.


Women’s 200m first round: As darkness descended on the Istvan Gyulai Stadium, both Norwich Union GB&NI sprinters advanced to the semi-finals.

Kadi-AnnThomas (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) found herself – surprise, surprise – in lane eight (though the team leadership denied paying rental for this particular strip of track!) but came home third in 23.81 seconds. “I’ve qualified by right, so I should get a better lane tomorrow,” said Thomas, whose time placed her 14th fastest of the qualifiers. “I feel as if I’ve got more there.”

And 100m silver medallist Montell Douglas returned less than an hour after her medals ceremony to take second place in her heat with a PB of 23.62 seconds, making her the 11th fastest of the round. After the draining drama of the 100m final, there was surprise in some circles that she hadn’t called it a day. “I nearly did,” she said. “But I’ve still got a job to do.” Which is an inspirational attitude for the entire Norwich Union GB&NI team heading into the second half of these high-class Championships.



Friday the 13th – renowned as the worst date in the calendar for the superstitious – had begun with a personal best for Johanna Jackson (Redcar RWC) on the second morning of the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary.


She rose at 4.30am, breakfasted while her Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team mates slept peacefully and, as the steamy temperatures rose towards 30° Celsius following last night’s thunderstorms, finished a superb seventh in the women’s 20km walk (which started at 8am local time, 7am BST) in 1 hour 36 minutes 28 seconds, a PB by 49 seconds. Not bad on an unlucky day! “I didn’t even realise what date it is, I was up so early this morning,” she said as she recovered from her exertions in a race won by Tatyana Shemyakina (Russia) in a Championships record of 1:28:48. Jackson, coached by mother Maureen, negotiated the 2km laps of the Debrecen sports park and zoo in 9:52, 9:36, 9:27, 9:26, 9:28 (through 10km in 47:49), 9:30, 9:39, 9:43, 9:49 and 9:48. She said of her race: “I set off with some very good walkers and went through 10km in just under 48 minutes, which is my fastest. With 2km to go, I saw two cards [warnings] on the board so I had to slow down a bit [to avoid a third warning, which would have resulted in disqualification]. “My top target time was 1:36:40 but I was forgetting about times really: I just wanted to race.”


As the track action unfolded later in the morning…


Women’s 100m hurdles first round: Only four days after leading the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team to victory at the European Cup Combined Events Super League in Poland, Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield AC) eased back into action by clocking the second-fastest time of the heats, 13.06 seconds. “I felt a bit rubbish in warm-up,” she said. “But as soon as I got on the track and did a blocks start, I was OK.” She was second in her heat to Nevin Yanit (Turkey), who ran a season’s best of 13.03. Ennis added: “I was happy to run that time. One down, two to go hopefully!”


Women’s 3000m steeplechase first round: Former UK senior steeplechase record holder Lizzie Hall (Herts Phoenix) discovered how cruel life can be on Friday the 13th. 13 months after being put out of action by a stress fracture in her right foot, she finished 13th qualifier and thus missed a place in the final by just one position. Hall, who resumed training six months ago, said: “I have come so far on the recovery road and I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I could do it. But I had nothing left. I’m sure I’m in better shape than that.” She was sixth in her heat in 10:24.34. The fastest qualifier for the final was Elodie Mouthon in a French Under 23 record of 9:55.19. Hall’s PB is 9:48.51.


Men’s pole vault qualifying: Steve Lewis (Newham and Essex Beagles) qualified for the final, Paul Walker (Sale Harriers Manchester) missed out – and Joe Ive (Belgrave Harriers) suffered a hairline fracture of the right patella.

Lewis finished equal first in his pool with first-time clearances at 5.15m and 5.25m and said: “The only aim was to do as few jumps as possible so I’m really happy. I used soft poles and was a bit worried, but I’m a bit more relaxed now. I’ve moved down to the shorter poles that I jumped my PB [5.60m] with. So I’m hoping for a big jump in the final.”

Walker cleared 4.95m at the first attempt, 5.15m at the second attempt but missed at 5.25m. Having arrived in Debrecen with a PB of 5.31m, Walker was at a loss to explain his morning. He said: "I was in good shape. Warm-up went well. In the competition, things went not as well as in the warm-up. Every time I've jumped a PB, it's been in a good quality meeting or championship but it just didn't seem to come together today. Good luck to Steve. And Joe's come out of it a bit worse than me."

Ive, named only last week the UK Challenge Athlete of the Month of June, suffered his knee injury on his second attempt at 5.15m. After receiving treatment beside the track, he had one brave effort at 5.25m but found it impossible. He said after he returned from a local hospital on crutches: "I took off too close, my top hand slipped and it just shot me into everything. As for the third attempt, I thought, 'Why not?' But there was too much pain running through my legs. I couldn't run-up properly. These things happen. I'll be all right!"


Men’s 3000m steeplechase: Luke Gunn (Derby AC) took the most economic route he could to the final by finishing sixth in his heat in 8:37.60, feeling confident it would be good enough to get him through as a fastest loser. He was right: it was quicker than the time of the other heat winner. He has had five weeks off racing since ending his USA collegiate season, explaining: “I don’t want to burn-out before the end of our season.”