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European Cup Combined Events Super League preview

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The Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland women’s team flew out to Poland today, aiming for their first-ever top three finish in the European Cup Combined Events Super League at the weekend.


“I think we are capable of making a serious challenge,” said Jessica Ennis, the reigning European Junior heptathlon champion who led a young and inexperienced team to fourth place in last year’s Cup match and has since improved to third in the world rankings.


She added: “Last year was the first time I’d done the European Cup and, though both the weather and the competition was boiling hot, it was very enjoyable. I’m really looking forward to this weekend; I think we should do very well.”


Ennis contributed 6170 points in Arles, France, last year, Louise Hazel (Peterborough AC) 5717 and Ros Gonse (Bedford and County AC) 5567 as GB&NI achieved their best-yet finish, behind frequent winners Russia, Sweden inspired by their Olympic and World champion Carolina Kluft and Finland.


Ennis (City of Sheffield) rocketed up the world rankings two months ago by breaking Denise Lewis’s UK Under 23 record in winning an IAAF Combined Events Challenge in Italy with 6388 points.


She will line-up in Szczecin, Poland, alongside Commonwealth champion and Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton (Birchfield Harriers), the vastly experienced Julie Hollman (Belgrave Harriers) and Gonse, who has been drafted into the team to replace Hazel, who is concentrating on preparing for the heptathlon at next week’s European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary.


Sotherton will be determined to improve on her score of 6210 points for seventh place at the IAAF Challenge in Gotzis, Austria, in May.


Hollman fine-tuned her preparations at last weekend’s UK Challenge JumpsFest and ThrowsFest by winning the elite long jump with 6.26m, putting the shot 12.43m and throwing the javelin a season’s best of 38.95m. She said. “I’ve been a bit stale for the last two years, but it’s coming together again.”


Gonse won her ThrowsFest shot competition with 13.13m and said: “We’ve got a good team in Poland – probably the best one yet. I got a windy PB (a personal best but helped by wind speeds over the legal limit for record purposes) in Arles last year. In my first heptathlon this year I got another windy PB. Hopefully in the European Cup I can build on that.”


Ennis’s personal coach Toni Minichiello, who is also Chair of UK Athletics’ Combined Events Management Group, said: “I firmly believe we have a chance of winning the European Cup in Poland. I am fully aware of the quality of our male sprinters and their recent successes but at the moment the women’s heptathlon is the highest-quality event in Britain.”


Last year’s result in Arles: 1 Russia 18, 149 points; 2 Sweden 18,078; 3 Finland 17,503; 4 Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland 17,454; 5 Ukraine 17,445; 6 Poland 17,289; 7 Belarus 17,107; 8 Estonia 16,434. This year’s rivals are Russia, Finland, France, Greece, Poland, Sweden and Ukraine.


Norwich Union GB&NI men contest the European Cup First League at the same venue against Belgium, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Sweden and Ukraine.


National decathlon bronze medallist Kevin Sempers has been forced to withdraw with an injury suffered in training at the weekend. Reserve Dean Showler-Davies (Winchester and District AC) steps up to join national champion Ben Hazell (Basingstoke Mid Hants), silver medallist Ed Dunford (Birchfield Harriers) and Roger Skedd (City of Stoke AC), who is third in this year’s Power of 10 national rankings introduced by UK Athletics and its governing partners as part of the campaign to drive up standards in all events in all age groups on the way to London 2012.