17th February 2012

Aviva Grand Prix


18 February 2012

Spectators at the Aviva Grand Prix left the National Indoor Arena (NIA), Birmingham today safe in the knowledge they had seen world class athletics performances galore, with headline performances from a number of record-setting Brits as well as some significant world leading performances.

And leading the way in performance, just half an hour into the Aviva Grand Prix timetable was Jessica Ennis (Toni Minichiello), who set the NIA alight with a world leading hurdles time, smashing her personal best of 7.95 with a stunning 7.87 to beat World 100m hurdles silver medallist Danielle Carruthers (7.91)

The reigning world heptathlon silver medallist produced her trademark display of technical excellence to once again reign supreme over a field of specialist hurdlers.

With the long jump lined up for her less than an hour and a half later, it was all Ennis could do to compose herself following a performance that took even herself by surprise.

“I didn’t expect to run that quickly at all. I feel in really good shape and the hurdles have been going really well,” she said.

“To run 7.94 or something like that I would have been really happy with, but to run that much under my PB is just brilliant! I could feel Danielle right there on my shoulder. It’s great to have that competitiveness and someone right there beside you, it pushes you on. “

Another athlete who pushed on a great performance was Britain’s distance running star Mo Farah (Alberto Salazar) who smashed the British record for the two mile race in the afternoon’s last event. Yet such is the level that the World 5000m champion is now competing, he was almost disappointed to have finished in second in 8:08.07 behind Olympic silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge (8:07.39):

“With Galen Rupp (Farah’s training Partner) running 8:09 I definitely thought I could match that, but I felt a bit flat on the last kilometre because I’d been up with the pace early on, but it’s coming together,” he said.
“It’s tough out there you know, you can’t always win and races like that really keep you on our toes.”

Earlier, in the men’s high jump, a rejuvenated Robbie Grabarz (Fuzz Ahmed) showed the sort of form that catapulted him to the top of the World’s high jump rankings for a brief spell in January with a dominant victory.

Despite taking three attempts to clear a lowly 2.20m, he then went on to record first time clearances over 2.23m, 2.26m, 2.29m, and 2.32 to give the spectators a succinct lesson in how to make the high jump look easy.

He then took three solid attempts at a British record height of 2.39m – 5cm higher than he had ever cleared before and although unsuccessful, his final attempt was closest of the three and proved the huge height will not be beyond him in future.

He said: “It’s definitely a confidence thing and I’ve really overcome the psychological barriers that were holding me back.  I look back at what has been inspiring me to do well all winter and it’s been about gaining confidence and self-belief; I know what I can do – I know I’ve got it – and I don’t want to waste it.”

In another display of record breaking ambition – Shara Proctor (Rana Reider) broke the UK record for the women’s long jump twice in the space of half an hour. First she improved it in the third round by 1cm to 6.71m, then further extended the mark by a hefty chunk to 6.80m.

Proctor, who engaged in a mini-lap of honour after the end of the competition, looked delighted to have taken the mark in front of the Aviva Grand Prix crowd.

“In my mind I had 6.71m because I had a dream. So I came out aiming at that.
Then after I jumped that I said “Shara you can go further”, so I did and I jumped 6.80m!” she said.
“I’m excited about the crowd. I love this crowd; it feels good to jump at home and really helps me jump further.”
In what was her second event of the afternoon Ennis took third in an indoor personal best of 6.47m, marking a superb day’s work in the west midlands for the Sheffield star.

She said: “I was really pleased with my day. Two personal bests and a world-lead, you can’t complain with that!” she joked.

“I was buzzing after my race and I took that into my jumping, which was pleasing. I’ve been saying for a while that I need to get some consistency in my jumping.”

Also aiming for consistency was Britain’s top pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale (Julien Raffalli-Ebezent). Bleasdale kept the NIA crowd on the edge of their seats when she only managed to clear her opening height of 4.52m on her third attempt.

The UK record holder, who cleared 4.87m in France last month, flopped onto the bed in relief but then quickly composed herself in time to go on to clear 4.70m at her first attempt just minutes later – a height which secured her the win against 2009 World Champion Poland’s Anna Rogowska.

“I’m really happy with today’s performance. To come out here in front of this capacity crowd where there’s a bit of pressure and jump 4.70m again is obviously what I keep aiming for.” She said.

“ I still feel like there’s something lacking in my jumping. My run up was really good again today, but I can’t seem to translate that speed into my vault to get the big heights, but to jump 4.70m, I’m really happy.”

There was another crowd-pleaser in the shape of the men’s 60m final. The race was a rip roaring affair for the NIA crowd as they were treated to a world-class stand off between the fastest men in the world so far this year.

The Jamaican trio of Nesta Carter, Asafa Powell and Lerone Clarke lined up with a sub 6.50 clocking in the offing, and the ensuing race was as exciting as expected. Clarke crossed the line first in a new Jamaican record of 6.47, with Carter and Powell in second and third with .49 and .50 respectively.

Clarke said after: “I kept focussed. I knew that all I had to do was get out of the blocks and drive hard, get up and run home and it didn’t matter who was out front, just to focus on me.
“I’m grateful to do it, especially to get a National Record. Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, they’re all fast guys and to come here and win, it’s fantastic.”

GB interest in the short sprint was eliminated at the heats stage, with Andy Robertson the best performer with 6.69 for fourth in the second race.

In the Grand Prix 400m race, Nigel Levine (Linford Christie) ran a superb two-laps to take first place against high quality opposition, crossing the line in a lifetime best 45.71.

It wasn’t the victory that he would have opted for – as original leader Costa Rican Nery Brenes was but 25m from the line when he tripped and fell. But Levine had already commited himself to the pace and was a worthy victor, taking almost half a second off his indoor best, which is now faster than his outdoor PB.
“It felt pretty good to win and I’m exhausted,” he admitted. “ I haven’t got much more to say except that I’m really happy with that. That was the race I wanted to run, it went exactly to plan.
“I’m going to go to Istanbul now and hopefully get a medal – we’ll see how it goes.”

The men’s 60m hurdles final brought together reigning and former Olympic champions Dayron Robles and Liu Xiang resulting in an impressive victory for China’s favourite athlete in a national record of 7.41, with Robles second in 7.50.

Of the GB interest, there were good results all round with Andy Pozzi and Lawrence Clarke (Malcolm Arnold) both clocking personal bests in their heats of 7.62 and 7.67 – and earning their spots in the world class final. From there, they finished seventh and eighth both with 7.71 secs.

The men’s 800m race was a fast paced effort that saw the win taken by Ethiopian Mohamed Aman in 1:45.40, with Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski and Kenyan Boaz Lalang his closest challengers in second  and third places.

However rallying over the final 200m in pursuit of the top three, UK trials winner Joe Thomas, Andrew Osagie and Guy Learmonth all set impressive personal bests. Thomas’ 1:46.35 in fourth place marking his fifth consecutive race in which he improved on his best ever time.

“I was actually a bit disappointed with the time, I wanted to go a bit faster, but I’ll take it one step at a time,” he reflected.

“ I’ve had a very good winter with no problems for the first time in a few years, which means the consistency is there now.
“My finishing strength is definitely my best asset. The middle of the race I was feeling a bit tired. I came back really strong, so that will give me confidence for the next time I’m in a paced race.”

In the men’s long jump there was joy for British athlete JJ Jegede (Peter Stanley) against a high class field as he set a lifetime best and surpassed the eight meter barrier for the first time ever with 8.04m.

Enjoying the NIA support he thanked the crowd soon after for their encouragement:

“It was a really good series on a great track and with a great atmosphere. I love performing in front of a big crowd, I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie so really enjoyed it,” he admitted.
“It’s a pity I missed out on world indoor qualifying mark, which is 8.15m, but I beat a world class field so I’m happy about that and hopeful for 2012.”

Back on the track on track, last season’s indoor sensation Helen Clitheroe went in the women’s 3000m, finishing fifth in 8:48.58, in a race won by legendary Ethiopian Meseret Defar in a world leading 8:31.56. Fellow Brits  Gemma Steel and Elle Baker both set PBs in crossing the line in sixth and seventh positions respectively.

Defar’s fellow Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba was equally as dominant in the women’s 1500m, and she set a new stadium record of 4:01.33 in taking first. In second was Britain’s own Hannah England (Bud Baldaro) with 4:09.79, with fellow Brit Claire Gibson setting a PB of 4:14.79 in sixth.

The women’s 60m was a clear win for the USA’s Tianna Madison with 7.07 ahead of Ivet Lalova (Bulgaria) in 7.14, but GB interest rested on the shoulders of the UK’s fastest two 60m athletes so far this winter.

Despite her sparkling form at last weekend’s Aviva UK Trials, there was disappointment for Jeanette Kwakye (Michael Afilaka) as she was squeezed out of a place in the final after finishing seventh in her heat. However in the earlier of the two qualifying rounds, Asha Philip (Christine Bowmaker) set a PB of 7.23 to prove her lifetime best performance in Lee Valley last month was no fluke, and make the final line up.

In the high quality final, Philip was in the mix and in finishing fourth was rewarded by a further PB of 7.19 to head the UK Rankings for 2012.

“It was such a buzz and a confidence boost. I can’t put it into words really. I’m so excited about things at the moment,” she said.
“Sheffield last week didn’t go great for me, but it’s only going to make me stronger now. Winning and improving is a habit and I’ve proved today that I can do it, I can run and I can mix it with these girls. I’m over the moon.”
In the women’s 800m race, Poland’s Angelika Cichocka took the race win in 2:01.90, but GB hopes were pinned on Marilyn Okoro (Ayo Falola) in her continuing return to form and what was hoped would be a race to enable her to secure the World Indoor 800m qualifying time.

The 2009 World finalist did not disappoint with a season’s best of 2:02.62 to secure her place for Istanbul.

In the men’s 1500m the win went to Kenya’s Nixon Chepseba in 3:34.70, but the GB trio of Andy Baddeley, James Brewer and Lewis Moses all set Indoor PBs in fifth, seventh and eighth places.

In the national 400m race that opened the afternoon’s proceedings, Richard Buck (Steve Fudge) smashed his PB to win in 45.88 ahead of Conrad Williams (Linford Christie) and Michael Bingham (Kevin Tyler).

Buck, who was racing for a chance to join the Aviva GB & NI team at the World Indoors next month was pleased with his new mark:
“My coach thought I could run that sort of time but realistically I thought it would be more like 46-low, so I’m delighted.”

Also delighted was Shana Cox (Lloyd Cowan) in winning the women’s 400m in 52.18 ahead of Czech Denisa Rosolova.
Cox said: “I’m excited, that was a great time for me and I feel like I’m headed in the right direction,” she said.
“This is all part of the plan. I’m looking to do some pretty exciting things in Istanbul!”

The flashquotes archive can be found here http://www.uka.org.uk/media/flashquotes-archive/

UKA provide reports from Aviva Series events on  www.uka.org.uk and quotes from the top performers as well as regular updates via twitter www.twitter.com/@uka_athletics  and Facebook www.facebook.com/UKAofficial

To view the results from today visit: http://www.uka.org.uk/results/20120218_Birmingham/timetable/index/index.html