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Norwich Union England U23 & U20 Champs day 1 report

On the day Craig Pickering became a European Cup winner for Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Munich, Asha Philip (Newham and Essex Beagles) smashed the UK Under 17 Women’s 100m record and went to the top of the World Under 18 rankings at the Norwich Union England Athletics Under 23 and Under 20 Championships at Bedford on Saturday 23 June.


And there to present her with her medal was the legend whose Under 20 Championship best she broke, Katharine Merry (Birchfield Harriers), who went on to win the 2000 Olympic 400m bronze medal and is now mentoring hopefuls for London 2012. It was yet another reminder of how close the 'stars of the future' are to being 'successes of today'.


After Merry clocked her CBP of 11.40 seconds in 1993, she went on to win 100m silver and 200m gold at that year’s European Junior Championships.


Her wishes should not test the selectors too much: she now heads the IAAF world youth rankings from Ashton Purvis (USA), who clocked 11.40 at the NCAA Championships in California.


Now that Philip has lowered the record to 11.37 seconds (wind speed a perfect +2.0 metres per second), she hopes to be named in the Norwich Union GB&NI Under 18 team for the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ostrava on 11-15 July and to grab a place in the 4x100m in the Norwich Union GB&NI Under 20 team for the European Junior Championships to be staged in Hengelo, Netherlands, on 19-22 July.


Her performance lit-up the stadium even more brightly than the sunshine that followed a thunderstorm of such severity that the programme had been suspended for 20 minutes. No fewer than five flew under the Euro Juniors qualifying standard of 11.80 seconds. Behind Philip’s 11.37 came: 2 Anike Shand-Whittingham (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) 11.60; 3 Elaine O’Neill (Wessex and Bath AC) 11.76; 4 Lucy Sargent (Havering Mayesbrook) 11.78; 5 Jennifer Taker (Trafford AC) 11.78. Ashlee Nelson (City of Stoke AC), in the world top 5 with her BIG2007 time of 11.56, missed the final as a precaution after feeling a tight hamstring in winning her heat.


Merry was thrilled to hand over her CBP, commenting: “I didn’t know I had it! It’s about time somebody came along with Asha’s talent and rewrote the record books.”


Then along came a man determined to kind of rewrite a little bit of history. Simeon Williamson (Highgate Harriers) beat Pickering at these Under 20 Championships in 2005 but was then the middle man in an unprecedented GB 1-2-3 at the European Juniors in Kaunas, Lithuania: 1 Pickering; 2 Williamson; 3 Alex Nelson.


Tonight, Williamson struck gold again, in the Under 23 Men’s final (wind: +2.0) in 10.22 seconds, within seven-hundredths of Pickering’s PB in the Cup. It earned him victory over Pickering’s training partner at the University of Bath, Ryan Scott (Wessex and Bath), who was second in 10.29; James Ellington (Belgrave Harriers), third in 10.38; James Dasaolu (Croydon Harriers) fourth in the same time; and Wade Bennett-Jackson (Belgrave), fifth in 10.40 – all under the qualifying standard of 10.45 for the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, on 12-15 July.


Williamson was “very pleased” not only with his run but also the fact that the violent thunderstorm had calmed the wind. “All my races apart from one other this summer, it’s been windy and raining,” he said. “So this was about my first proper race of the year.


“Now I’m hoping I can go one better in Debrecen that two years ago; that was the worst day of my athletics life. I’d beaten Craig three times that year, including in the European semis. But that was my first ever championships. I’ve learnt a lot since then.”


Leevan Yearwood (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC) won the Under 20 Men’s 100m final (wind: +0.9) in 10.30 seconds in only his second competition of the season after nine weeks of hamstring problems. He said: “I only got back to training hard two weeks ago.”


Earlier, Alex Smith (Sale Harriers Manchester) collected the first gold medal– and booked his place in the Norwich Union GB&NI team for Hengelo. He completed a hat-trick of national Under 20 hammer titles by throwing 68.72m.


It earned him a victory over his Hull Hammer Squad training partner James Bedford (Kingston-upon-Hull AC), who reached 68.08m to earn the silver medal. It ended a run of two successive victories by Bedford, who exceeded the Hengelo entry standard of 70.00m last weekend.


And Smith put it down to a little homework in his garden after training yesterday. He explained: “I’ve been trying some new stuff, hoping it would go a bit better. I first started changing things the week before BIG; I was a bit down then but I’ve been working my way back up.


“I did a session on Thursday and changed a few more things. Yesterday I still couldn’t get things right. So I went home and had a play in the garden for about 10 minutes.


“Now I think I’ve got things sorted and I’ve got a month before the Europeans to get some more work in; I think I can get into mid to high 70 shape. I’m competing at the UK Challenge ThrowsFest next weekend and am also looking forward to throwing in Croatia on 7 July.”


To complete a great competition for the Smith family, Alex’s younger brother Peter won the Under 18 hammer with 70.68m, again beating the qualifying standard for the World Youths. The Hull Hammer Squad are coached by former GB international Dave Smith and his wife Diane, the parents of Alex and Peter.


Emma Pallant (Aldershot, Farnham and District) clinched her place in Hengelo by winning the Under 20 Women’s 1500m in 4:25.28 in the absence of her club mate, Steph Twell, who is missing these Championships on doctor’s advice, as a precaution, because of a slight niggle in a calf. They have both beaten the Hengelo qualifying standard of 4:20.00 so Pallant was content to stay off the pace until, with 300m to go, she sprinted clear.


Sarah Hopkinson (Gloucester AC) went with her so purposefully that she clocked 4:27.91 – inside the World Youths qualifying standard – even though she was pipped for second place in the closing strides by Jo Harvey (Exeter Harriers), who clocked 4:27.69.


Both Sally Scott (Gateshead Harriers) and Jade Ive (Sutton and District AC) cleared PBs of 3.80m to pole vault into contention for places in Team GB at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Belgrade on 22-27 July.


Scott, who won the Under 20 Women’s title by clearing 3.80 at the second attempt while Ive needed all three, will now head for next weekend’s UK JumpsFest at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, in an effort to achieve the Euro Juniors standard of 3.95m.


“I’m optimistic,” said coach Alan Richardson, whom Scott is visiting regularly in Loughborough now that she has completed her GCSEs. But he emphasised: “We are focussing on the process of the way she jumps so that there is going to be big progression for five and 10 years. We’re pretty optimistic it’s all heading in the right direction.”


Adam Scarr (Enfield and Haringey AC), who went into the Under 23 Men’s high jump competition with a PB of 2.24m that is the entry standard for the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, retained the national title with a third-time clearance at 2.23m but missed out at 2.27m, which would have eclipsed the CBP of 2.24m set by Martyn Bernard (Wakefield), who is now the European Indoors bronze medallist.


Hannah England (Oxford City), who has beaten the Euro U23s 1500m qualifying standard of 4:13.00, won the title in 4:19.28 from Laura Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield), who is hoping for selection in the 5000m. England will now head for the BMC Nike Grand Prix incorporating the UK Challenge at Watford next Saturday in search of another PB to sharpen-up for the duel ahead in Debrecen.


The harshness of the sport was probably best illustrated in the Under 18 Men’s 110m hurdles, added to the timetable especially to help athletes targeting the World Youths qualifying time of 13.90 seconds. James McLean (Southend on Sea AC) won brilliantly in 13.86 seconds – only to discover the wind speed was an illegal +3.0 per seconds. “I’m pleased but disappointed,” he said. “I ran a good technical race. I’ve only had three races over these hurdles this year and I can’t complain about my progression – 14.7, 14.2, 13.8. Neither can I control the wind speed. So it’s up to the selectors to decide whether to take me. It was the main aim for this season but I can’t do anything else.”


Similarly, 19-year-old Andrew Jones (Shrewsbury AC) came up with a sensational long jump PB of 7.65m, 10cm beyond the Hengelo entry standard, only to discover that the wind gauge measured +5.0m/s. Jones, who entered the competition with a legal best of 7.35m, had a legal 7.37m and 7.35m before coming up with his monster leap, which relegated Nonso Okolo (Shaftesbury Barnet) to silver with 7.38m (wind: +2.3).


Jones’ performance delighted UK Event Coach John Crotty, who has been guiding him since September: “He’s a very strong athlete; disciplined. There’s a lot to work on. We just need to polish him a little bit.”


The Jones boy himself said: “Shame about the wind. It didn’t feel as strong as 5. But the jump felt absolutely awesome. Last year I was doing 6.87. Now I’ve done 7.14 indoors [at the Norwich Union Jumps International at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre] and 7.65 outdoors. Even John was emotional about it. I’ve been training six days a week since October and clearly it’s paying off.”


He jarred an ankle during his epic series. If he has recovered in time, he will head for next weekend’s UK Challenge JumpsFest – hoping the breeze blows more kindly in Birmingham.


Another name for the future? 17-year-old Phil Norman (North Devon AC) won the Under 20 Men’s 3000m steeplechase in 9:10.16, well outside the Euro Juniors qualifying standard of 8:55, but an impressive enough PB (by 9 seconds) for UK Event Coach Spencer Duval to comment: “There’s one to watch!” It was only his fourth ‘chase over this distance and the North Devon College student will revert to the 2000m steeplechase in his next race at the Sainsbury’s English Schools Championships.


The Under 23 Men’s 3000m steeplechase took place in a fierce thunderstorm with lightning flashing through ink-black clouds and hail stones bouncing in the rapidly deepening puddles. In a repeat of the BUSA final at the same track in saturated conditions, Chris Hart (Blackburn Harriers) won in 9:06.25 from Stephen Lisgo (Mansfield Harriers), who kicked-in a 66 second lap in mid-race without disturbing the winner. Hart will now head for the UKA Endurance Initiative 3000m steeplechase at Watford next Saturday night in search of a Euro U23s qualifying time of 8:40.00.


Despite equally hostile weather, the Under 20 Men’s javelin yielded two qualifiers: James Campbell (Cheltenham and County Harriers) won with a throw of 71.09m, beyond the Euro Juniors qualifying standard, while Dan Pembroke (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow) hurled the Under 18 spear 71.23m, beyond the World Youths guideline.


Campbell, the Scottish senior record holder, was philosophical about the storm, joking: “It’s a shame lightning didn’t strike in mid-air. It might have gone a bit further.”


He added: “At the Loughborough International last year I threw a 4-metre PB in the rain. I’m close to being where I want to be at the moment. It’s going 71 now rather than 66 a few weeks ago. I have two more competitions – the ThrowsFest and in Croatia – and a couple of little things to work on that will make a big difference.”


The programme was suspended for 20 minutes while the storm abated and the incredibly efficient Bedford Stadium staff mopped-up, after which Kadi-Ann Thomas (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) swept to victory in the Under 23 Women’s 100m in 11.52, three-hundredths inside the Euro U23s qualifying standard but with the aid of a following wind of 2.4m/s.


The Under 23 Women’s 800m – a straight final – burnt off any residue puddles. Laura Finucane (Pendle AC), second in the Euro U23 rankings after her 2:01.35 in Prague last week, was pushed into second place 0.22sec behind Charlotte Best (Crawley AC), who clocked 2:05.02.


Best, fourth in the Euro rankings with 2:01.66 at the Manchester BMC Grand Prix, will now head for Watford next Saturday night to run a swift 1500m. She puts her excellent season down to training with European Cup 1500m winner Abby Westley, Commonwealth 1500m champion Lisa Dobriskey and her European Under 23s team mate Laura Kenney at Loughborough University: “We’ve been working really well together. I’ve been working on my endurance because that has been my weaker point.”


For the full results of Day 1, please click here