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Preview of Norwich Union England U23 & U20 Champs

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Jessica Ennis: Bedford-bound
Jessica Ennis: Bedford-bound

A glance at the athletes named to represent Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland in this weekend’s European Cup matches underlines the importance of the Norwich Union England Athletics Under 23 & Under 20 Championships and European Trials at Bedford on 23 and 24 June…


Craig Pickering (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) finished second in the Under 20s’ 100m final two years ago, got it right on the night in Kaunas to win the European Junior 100m and is now entrusted with the senior sprint in the Super League in Munich. Chris Thompson (Aldershot, Farnham & District) enjoyed his greatest track moment to date when he out-sprinted Mo Farah (Newham and Essex Beagles) for the European Under 23s’ 5000m title in 2003, after Lisa Dobriskey (Ashford AC) launched the GB team’s medal-winning spree. Emeka Udechuku (Woodford Green & Essex Ladies) remains unique: his discus triumph in 1997 is the only gold medal won by a UK heavy thrower at European Junior Championships. Kate Dennison (Sale Harriers Manchester), Michael Rimmer (Liverpool Pembroke & Sefton), Steve Lewis (Newham & Essex Beagles) and Goldie Sayers (Belgrave Harriers) all progressed through the Under 20 ranks (and Rimmer and Lewis are still Under 23s). Marilyn Okoro (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) had her first international experience at the 2005 European Under 23s. Abby Westley (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield) and Steph Pywell (Sale Harriers Manchester) richly deserve to be making their senior international debuts in Vaasa rather than battling for domestic medals at Bedford.


Back home, the 2007 European Under 23 Championships to be staged in Debrecen, Hungary, on 12-15 July or the European Junior Championships in Hengelo, Netherlands, on 19-22 July – and for Under 18s either the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on 11-15 July or the European Youth Olympic Festival in Belgrade, Serbia, on 22-27 July – is the prime target for the athletes headed for Bedford this weekend.


‘Target’ singular because all of the teenagers have been advised by Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team officials to focus on one championship in their own age-group and not contemplate doubling-up, except perhaps in sprint relays.


But there’s always an exception to the rule; and this time she is Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield AC), currently ranked the third-best senior heptathlete in the world. She has opted to race the 110m hurdles and throw the javelin in Bedford as part of her preparations to excel for the Norwich Union GB&NI team at the European Cup Combined Events Super League in Poland on 7-8 July and, hopefully, the IAAF World Championships in Osaka later in the season. Along the way, she also hopes to impress the Under 23 selectors sufficiently to earn a place in an individual event in Debrecen much as Carolina Kluft long jumped at the 2005 European Under 23 Championships before winning the World heptathlon title.


The latest European Under 23 rankings – please click here for the full list – emphasise how close other UK athletes are to senior places, never mind the age group spots they are chasing in Bedford. For examples …



Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC) tops the European rankings with his 10.20 seconds run in Geneva on 9 June, two-hundredths quicker than reigning European Junior champion Pickering. The 2003 European Junior Champion, Leon Baptiste (Enfield and Haringey) is ranked eighth with 10.33 at the same Geneva meeting, also inside the European Under 23 qualifying standard of 10.45.


Baptiste is also fourth in the 200m rankings having run 20.84 in Geneva while the 20.86 clocking by Jeffrey Lawal-Balogun (Kent) at the UK Inter-Counties Championships ranks him sixth and inside the European standard of 20.90.


At 400m, World Junior bronze medallist Martyn Rooney (Croydon Harriers) – in the Cup 4x400m squad in Munich – ranks fifth with 46.02 while Richard Strachan (Leeds City AC) is also under the Champs standard of 46.50 having run 46.28 in Italy last month.


Similarly, the 800m rankings have Rimmer second with 1:45.54 at the Bislett Games. This leaves Richard Hill (Notts AC) determined to rediscover his winter form, when he clocked 1:47.72, while Graeme Oudney (Pitreavie AAC) is the man in form after his 1:47.77 at the BMC Nike Grand Prix incorporating the UK Challenge in Manchester a fortnight ago.


In the 3000m steeplechase, Luke Gunn (Derby AC) – a finalist at the 2005 European Under 23s when he was at the bottom of the age group – ranks sixth in the continent with his 8:37.30 at the NCAA Championships in California.


The Bedford 400m hurdles will give candidates opportunities to chase the qualifying time of 50.60 seconds while Europe’s top two Under 23s are absent: David Greene (Swansea Harriers), silver medallist at the 2005 European Juniors and the early favourite to succeed Rhys Williams after his 50.02 clocking in Palafrugell in May, has an injury; Ben Carne (Harrow AC), who clocked 50.28 in Geneva, steps up to the Cup team.


High jumper Adam Scarr (Enfield and Haringey), who cleared 2.24m on his last appearance at Bedford, at BIG2007, is only 1cm off the top of the Euro Under 23 rankings. Steve Lewis’s season’s best of 5.40m places him equal eighth among Europe’s Under 23s.


The Women’s ultimate incentive at Bedford is to over-shadow the amazing Ennis, who in the European Under 23 rankings is top in the high jump (1.95m), second in the 100m hurdles (13.12) and eighth in the long jump (6.40m).


She is even 16th in the Euro U23 200m rankings with 23.68, inside the qualifying standard of 20.75. But this time there’s a Brit above her: Kadi-Ann Thomas (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) fifth with her BUSA title-winning time 23.41 at Bedford last month.


There are three Brits among the European Under 23 top 10 at 800m, all of them inside the Champs qualifying standard of 2:04.00. Laura Finucane (Pendle AC), dreadfully unlucky not to medal at the 2004 IAAF World Junior Championships, ranks second with her resurgent 2:01.35 in Prague last week. Her Loughborough University training mate Charlotte Best (Crawley AC) is fourth with 2:01.66 at the BMC Nike Grand Prix incorporating the UK Challenge in Manchester. Hannah England (Oxford City AC) ranks 10th with her 2:03.92 at the Loughborough International.


The 1500m, even without Westley, will be tasty if England opts for it. She will have a re-run of her fabulous contest at Manchester with Lizi Brathwaite (Herts Phoenix), when both burst under the Champs qualifying standard of 4:13.00 and into the European Under 23 top 10.


The Manchester meeting also saw Katrina Wootton (Bedford and County AC) soar to the top of the European Under 23 Women’s 5000m rankings with 15:42.12, a PB by 50 seconds. With Laura Kenny (Royal Sutton Coldfield) clocking 15:56.89 and Susie Hignett (Bournemouth) 16:10.70 in the same race, only Romania’s Paula Todoran (15:52.99) prevents a UK 1-2-3 in the Euro rankings.


The 400m hurdles in Bedford could feature two potential Debrecen finalists – Eilidh Child (Pitreavie), who has brought her PB down to 57.88, and Faye Harding (Sale Harriers Manchester), who is equally strong over the flat 400m and therefore has a tough choice.


Even though World Junior 100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey is sadly out with his back injury and 200m rankings leader Gerald Phiri (City of Sheffield AC) is desperately hoping his long-awaited GB passport arrives in time, the England Athletics Under 20 Championships will also be smattered with athletes ranking highly in the latest European Junior lists – click here to study them in detail.


While Phiri heads the European Juniors’ 200m rankings with 20.92 in the Inter-Counties semi-finals, there are two more UK athletes in the Euro top five and under the qualifying standard of 21.30: Chris Clarke (Marshall Milton Keynes AC), born in 1990, sped to 21.11 at BIG2007; Luke Fagan (Enfield and Haringey) ran 21.16 at the Loughborough International.


Bedford’s own discovery of the season, Nigel Levine, heads the European Junior rankings with his BIG time of 46.31, 0.65sec ahead of second-ranked Vladimir Krasnov (Russia).


The 800m rankings have James Brewer (Cheltenham and County Harriers) second with 1:47.27 and BUSA Champion Andrew Osagie (Harlow AC) third on 1:47.34 – sandwiched by Germans Robin Schembera (1:46.61) and Sebastian Keiner (1:48.04).


In the 400m hurdles, only 12-hundredths of a second separate the season’s bests of Nathan Woodward (Tamworth AC) and Toby Ulm (Swindon Harriers), who are third and fourth in the European Junior rankings, less than half a second behind leader Silvio Schirrmeister (Germany), who clocked 51.19 in Potsdam a fortnight ago.


High jumper Alan McKie (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC) seeks to succeed his erstwhile training partner Robbie Grabarz content in the knowledge that he has already beaten the qualifying standard of 2.15m.


The same goes for pole vaulter Luke Cutts (Dearnside AC), whose 5.30m clearance at Loughborough International ranks him sixth among Europe’s teenagers.


Alex Smith (Sale Harriers Manchester) ranks top of the continent’s 6kg hammer throwers as he seeks to add to the World Youths bronze medal won two years ago – but first he has to avoid a third successive defeat at the hands of his training mate James Bedford (Kingston-upon-Hull AC), who has also beaten the Hengelo entry standard of 70.00m.


The javelin dramatically illustrates the quality that can be expected in Hengelo: James Campbell (Cheltenham and County Harriers) has extended the Scottish Senior record to 70.10m on the Bedford runway already this summer – at the BUSA Championships – but it ranks him only 14th among European Juniors.


An indication that the UK’s female sprinters are beginning to emulate the males should be evident in the Junior Women’s 100m with as many as five under the Hengelo standard of 11.80. Asha Philip (Newham and Essex Beagles) and Ashlee Nelson (City of Stoke) are young enough to be aiming for the Youth Championships. Hayley Jones (Wigan) has repeatedly pummelled the Hengelo standard, which has also fallen to Anike Shand-Whittingham (Blackheath and Bromley) while Lucy Sargent (Havering Mayesbrook AC) is within one-hundredth of a second of qualifying for her third successive major championships.


The 200m is Jones’ stronger event: her victory in 23.61 seconds over the seniors at the Loughborough International ranks her third in European behind the outstanding Inna Eftimova (Bulgaria) and Tatyana Chernova (Russia).


Emma Jackson (City of Stoke AC) goes into the Trial knowing her exceptional time of 2:01.95 at the BMC Nike Grand Prix incorporating the UK Challenge at Manchester – taking her to fourth in the UK Junior Women’s all-time rankings – places her amazingly clear at the top of the European Junior rankings. Romanians fill the next two places: Mirela Lavric with 2:03.78 and Cristina Vasiloiu with 2:04.54. Next to them comes World Youth contender Alison Leonard (Chorley) with her 2:04.86 at Manchester while, among Under 20s, Hannah Brooks (Crawley AC) is also under the Hengelo qualifying standard of 2:06.00 and Lynsey Sharp (Edinburgh) is within touching distance.


The other endurance events at Bedford promise to be of similar quality. European Junior Cross Country Champion Steph Twell (Aldershot, Farnham and District) – fourth in the Euro teenagers’ 1500m rankings with her victorious 4:10.71 in Barcelona – is expected to opt for the 3000m. So her club mate Emma Pallant (season’s best: 4:13.38) will be favourite in a field that could include junior cross country internationals Jess Coulson (Stockport) and Stevie Stockton (Vale Royal).


While Emily Pidgeon (Gloucester AC) heads the European 5000m rankings with her Manchester time of 16:25.41 as she sets out to defend the title she won so impressively in Kaunas, Vasiloiu heads the European 3000m rankings with 8:56.07. Of the UK athletes under the Hengelo standard of 9:35.00, Twell has a best of 9:15.04, Coulson 9:20.44, Non Stanford (Swansea Harriers) 9:34.18 and Olivia Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield) 9:34.81. All are in Europe’s top 10.


Multi-talented Meghan Beesley (Tamworth AC) is ranked third among Europe’s teenage 400m hurdlers with 58.42 seconds but can expect strong opposition in Bedford from Perri Shakes-Drayton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC), who has a season’s best of 59.66 and is determined to build on her successes last year, when she reached the final at the World Junior Championships.


Scotland will be looking for successes in the horizontal jumps. Under 17 Jade Nimmo (Falkirk Victoria Harriers) leads the UK Under 20 long jump rankings with 6.13m, though she is likely to be aiming for World Youths selection. Triple jumper Jayne Nisbet (Edinburgh) is ranked eighth among European Juniors with her 13.01m.


Eden Francis (Leicester Coritanian) is ranked equal second among Reuropean teenagers in the shot. Uniquely, her BIG effort of 15.74m is identical to the season’s bests of Belarus duo Alena Kopets at the European Cup Winter Throws and Alena Hrishko at her National Championships. All three trail a monumental 17.12m by Melissa Boekelman (Netherlands) – but that won’t impede firing for her fifth successive national title through the age groups. She won the Under 15 title in 2003 with 13.76m, a Championship Best that still stands; was Under 17 champion in 2004 and 2005 with 13.95m, another CBP; and added the Under 20 title last year with 14.94m. Alison Grey’s 15-year-old CBP of 15.08m is under serious threat this weekend.


Francis has also gone 2.65m over the Hengelo qualifying distance of 48.00m in the discus, in which she was national Under 15 champion in 2003 and Under 17 champion in 2004 and 2005. But Shaunagh Brown (Blackheath and Bromley) heads her in the Power of 10 rankings and will be battling to prevent her adding further to her glittering collection.


For the timetable and full start lists, please click here