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Ennis, Turner star in UKWL/BAL UK Challenge

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Jessica Ennis (Trafford AC) and Andy Turner (City of Manchester) produced the most sparkling UK Challenge performances of the match as the sun blazed on the UK Women’s League First Division and British League Premiership at the Manchester Athletics Arena on Saturday 2 June.


Two days after completing the final exams of her Psychology degree course at Sheffield University, Ennis stormed to a breathtaking hat-trick of victories, producing the two longest jumps of her life, breaking Sally Gunnell’s UKWL 100m hurdles record and racing to the top of this summer’s Power of 10 rankings at 200m.


The wind was in her favour – though, in every other respect, she has made her own good fortune by managing to train through her two weeks’ of intensive finals, which ended on Thursday with a particular stinker.


But she had no trouble psyching herself up for the first event of the day, the long jump, which she entered with a best of 6.40m achieved last month at the IAAF Combined Events Challenge in Desenzano, Italy, when she overtook the UK Under 23s’ heptathlon record set by Denise Lewis five years before she became the 2000 Olympic champion.


Ennis leapt 6.45m (wind +3.0 metres per second) from behind the take-off board in the third round and 6.54m (wind +2.6) and hit the board in the sixth and final round while World triple jump champion Trecia Smith, representing Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, reached a best of 6.36m at the start of her campaign to retain the world triple jump title she won in Helsinki in 2005.


“It felt good,” said Ennis. “The wind was illegal but it’s a massive relief to get back to athletics after the stress of the exams. I’m not going to dwell on them; I’ll wait until the results come and probably cry a bit then.”


On to the 100m hurdles, in which Sally Gunnell (Essex Ladies) set the UKWL record of 13.1 in 1988, four years before she became the Olympic 400m hurdles champion.


Despite hitting virtually ever hurdle in lane eight, Ennis lowered the league best to 12.97 seconds – the first time she has dipped under 13 seconds. Again the wind speed was illegal (+3.1).


And again she was amazed by her own success: “I’m in shock! I was catching hurdles with my trail leg but my speed in between them was good. I was expecting to do well this year, but not this well this soon. It’s just great.”


An hour later – time to warm-down, get treatment for a cut right knee and warm-up – came the 200m and another impressive victory, in 23.29 seconds, the fastest by a UK female sprinter this year. Again the wind was over the limit at+3.1. But again it was an awesome performance.


And just imagine how she’ll go now she can forget all about exams: “I managed a couple of sessions during the exams but it will be good to just train now. I can’t believe the way I have started the season. I just hope I keep the improvement going and hit my peak at the World Championships.”


For the record, her long jump earned 205 points in the UK Challenge, her hurdles 222 and her 200m 203.


To the surprise of nobody, she was named the UK Challenge Athlete of the Match ahead of 19-year-old Nony Mordi (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers), who increased the Scottish triple jump record to 13.10m (167 points) in finishing first B in a competition won by her clubmate Nadia Williams with 13.27m (176 points). Before collecting her £2,000 reward from scottishathletics for herself and £1,000 for coach John Scott, Mordi put her achievement in perspective by pointing out the qualifying standard for this summer’s European Under 23 Championships is 13.70m.


“It would be a jump and a half to get that, but I remain optimistic,” Mordi said. And why not? This effort was 13cm further than she has ever jumped before.


The BAL Athlete of the Match Award went to Andy Turner (City of Manchester), who is taking a weekend off hurdling. He completed a 100m-200m double and was on a plane to tomorrow’s Norwich Union Glasgow Grand Prix before his team manager, Dean Hardman, collected his prize on his behalf.


Turner won the 100m in 10.33 (194 points) and the 200m in a more outstanding 20.71 (204 points) aided by winds of +2.5 and +3.5 before flying to race in the 200m and 4x100m at the summer’s first televised meeting.


And he took the award by the narrowest of margins from Richard Alleyne (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), who won the 110m hurdles in 13.71 (204 points) with a following wind of 2.3.


The prize would have gone to the UK record holder Chris Tomlinson. He won the men’s long jump with a wind-assisted 8.10m, further than the British League record of 7.94m set by Fred Salle in 1990.


But he was guesting for Newham and Essex Beagles after a passport problem prevented him flying to an international meeting in Greece and so could not be considered for the ‘Man of the Match’ Award.


He explained: “I turned up at Exeter Airport last weekend to fly to compete in Hengelo but the nice people at British European said I would not be able to travel because the picture page of my passport was damaged. I explained it’s nine and a half years old and I use it virtually every week but they were unsympathetic. I’ve sent it away to be repaired and am told it will take seven days.


“I like to do these league meetings, though. I don’t think some of our guys compete enough. The Americans compete 20 times a season and they are the best country at the moment. Competition’s the best form of training, especially at this time of the season.


“I jumped an appalling 8.10 and had a few travelling 8.40 jumps from where I was taking off. I was disappointed to lose a bit of discipline in the early rounds on the run-up but meetings like this help to sort things out.”


Jonathan Moore won the men’s match for Birchfield with a leap of 7.74m (wind +2.7) for 194 Challenge points. His clubmate Michael McKernan won the triple jump with 15.53m (wind +3.6) for 183 points.




May’s UK Challenge Man of the Month, Andy Frost (Woodford) resumed his winning ways in the hammer with 69.46m (192 points).


Dale Garland (Birchfield) won the 400m hurdles in 51.91 (157 points) but then suffered a hamstring problem when he stepped into their 4x100m squad at short notice. “I feel rotten about it,” said Stags’ manager Dave Lawrence. “I hope it doesn’t affect his season’s ambitions.”


To double Birchfield’s grief, they were overhauled in the last event and lost overall to City of Manchester (aka Sale Harriers). BAL match result: 1 City of Manchester 338; 2 Birchfield 333; 3 Belgrave 311; 4 City of Sheffield 310; 5 Woodford Green with Essex Ladies 262; 6 Newham and Essex Beagles 235; 7 Shaftesbury Barnet 225; 8 Trafford 187.


Manchester men’s manager Dean Hardman put the success down to the double (A and B) victories achieved mainly in the throws.


Their women’s manager, Eric Hughes, was also celebrating after the UKWL match ended: 1 City of Manchester 205; 2 Trafford 190; 3 Shaftesbury 180.5; 4 Birchfield 179; 5 Edinburgh 155.5; 6 Woodford Green with Essex Ladies 117; 7 Glasgow 114; 8 Cardiff 97.


“It’s a good double for the club,” commented Hughes, whose team’s run of six successive championships was ended by Edinburgh last summer. “We showed tremendous team spirit. Our throwers did very well and overall I’m delighted.”


Edinburgh had their high spots, too. Carey Easton continued her comeback from an Achilles operation by earning 178 Challenge points for her 400m win in 53.62 seconds. Susan Deacon scored equally highly with her 100m win in 11.58 (wind: +3.5).


Glasgow’s pick-me-up was the continued acceleration of Eilidh Child. Her 400m hurdles win in 57.88 (193 points) was her fifth successive PB of this season while Liz Fairs opened her season by clocking 58.15 for second place before dashing to Glasgow to take the lane vacated by the injured Lee McConnell in the Grand Prix.


Rachel Felton (Shaftesbury) scored 175 by winning a great 1500m tussle in 4:16.83.


Zoe Derham (Birchfield) was again the star of the field eventers a week after her UK Inter-Counties record. She threw the hammer 63.48m for 197 points while Kara Nwidobie’s discus victory for Trafford sailed out to 54.08m to earn her 181 points.


Trafford’s Susan Moncrieff won the high jump at 1.85m (195) in a competition so badly affected by a head wind that officials had to hold the bar steady as the competitors ran up.


It was a crosswind for the pole vaulters, but Louise Butterworth (Birchfield) scored a creditable 186 by clearing 4.01m for victory.


For all BAL results, please click here