18th July 2009

Seven Heaven

The Aviva GB & NI team won an incredible seven medals on the penultimate day of action in the European Under-23 Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania (16-19th July), taking the total to 13 and eclipsing previous European under-23 GB & NI team totals with one day remaining.

Matching the brilliant medal double in last night’s discus by Eden Francis (Birchfield) and Jade Nicholls (Shaftesbury Barnet), Perri Shakes-Drayton (Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets) and Eilidh Child (Pitreavie AAC) went one better with gold and silver in this afternoon’s 400mH final, both athletes racing to outstanding PB’s and World Championships ‘A’ marks of 55.26s and 55.32s respectively. 

It was a brilliant demonstration of form from Europe’s top two ranked 400mH athletes (under-23). “Aagh!” screamed a very happy Shakes-Drayton. “I’m happy with how this weekend’s gone because I had a really bad belly ache at the start of the week and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be here – I’m so happy.”

Child, as ever, ran a determined race but lost out to the English under-23 champion. “I hate getting beaten, but it was a good race,” she said. “I thought I was going to catch her on the line but I ran out of track.”

Not to be outdone, Lloyd Gumbs (Shaftesbury Barnet), who admitted after his round one race that he was excited just to be here, won an outstanding men’s 400mH gold from lane eight in a lifetime best performance of 49.62s, his first sub-50s clocking. “Wooah, no way, I ran another PB! I don’t know what to say, I’m just glad to win it.”

He was speechless when he raced to victory and a European Under-23 Championships qualifying time in the Trials in Bedford at the end of June. He was speechless once again today – but his smile told a better story than any interview ever could.

Toby Sandeman’s (Thames Valley) 200m gold was another amazing highlight on the penultimate day of action. The UK senior champion – who had scorched to victory in Birmingham with a new best of 20.69s last weekend (12th July) – won his earlier semi final in 20.80s, the second fastest performance of the morning behind German favourite Alexio Platini Menga.

He stepped up another level in this afternoon’s final, clocking an outstanding PB of 20.37s – also a World Championships ‘A’ standard – ahead of Menga in second (20.59s). “I’m so delighted,” he said, “the competition was very, very tough today and I’m just so glad I came through and took victory today. I knew I had to run fast because the German has been running so well, but I was focused on beating him and I ran well and I’m so, so happy.”

Richard Kilty (Gateshead), who finished seventh in 20.93s, was happy just to be in the final. “I was the youngest there, I’m just 19,” he said. “I’ll have another go at this and I’m gonna win it next time. I’m delighted that Toby won it.”

The final track medals of the day, with a pattern starting to form, came in another pair with Gianni Frankis (Newham & Essex Beagles) and Callum Priestly (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) taking the day’s medal tally to seven, finishing second and third respectively in the men’s 110mH final.

“I’m happy,” said Frankis, who raced to his second PB in a day clocking 13.57s – only two one-hundredths of a second outside the World Championships ‘A’ mark – “although obviously I didn’t want to come second. That guy (Polish athlete Artur Noga who won in 13.47s) is a great competitor, I knew he’d come out differently to how he did in the heat.”

“Of course I wish my medal was a different colour,” added Priestley, who also PB’d with 13.63s, “but I hit a hurdle pretty hard so I’m surprised I made it, I know there’s more to come.” Aviva GB & NI women’s team captain Sarah Holt (Sale Harriers Manchester), bronze medallist in the UK Championships a week ago in Birmingham with 59.90m (July 11th), won bronze again this afternoon – the only GB & NI field event medal of the day.

She left it late in the hammer final, making the cut with her final attempt (60.30m) after two no-throws, but the pressure was worth it as the top ranked UK under-23 All-Time eventually recorded a series-best throw of 62.55m throw for third. “I didn’t know I’d even won bronze,” laughed Holt. “I was a bit apprehensive as I’ve done three no-throws so many times. I’d rather have a medal than a massive PB.”

Jessica Leach (Birchfield) and Emma Lyons (Sale Harriers Manchester) were disappointed to finish 12th in the women’s high jump final (1.75m) and pole vault (4.05m) respectively, but Lucy Sargent (Havering Mayesbrook), eighth in the women’s 200m final with 23.96s having clocked a lifetime best of 23.57s in the semi final, was happy:

“I was so shocked to get to the final. I really enjoyed it. If someone had told me last year, or even a month ago, that that was going to happen, Id have been like ‘oh, shut up’, I’m really, really pleased. I don’t know what my time was but I don’t really care, I’m just so pleased with myself.”

City of Stoke’s Emma Jackson was also pleased with her season’s best performance for fifth in the 800m final (2:02.09): “I knew it was going to be fast and with the training I’d lost I thought, ‘I do not want to go through in 57/58s because it’s going to kill me,’ I did the right thing for me, I know I did. With 200m to go I thought I could go for a medal, but I tired a bit. It’s a season’s best, I can’t really grumble. I was going for a medal but I’m not sure how realistic that was. I’m pleased, I’d have loved a PB but I was close.”

In the only qualifying event of the day, GB & NI’s 4 x 400m men’s relay team (Patrick Swan (Edinburgh AC), Robertson (Shaftesbury Barnet), Jamie Bowie (Inverness) and Luke Lennon-Ford (Birchfield)) progressed through to tomorrow’s final after finishing fourth in their heat (3:08.11) – the fastest of the non-automatic qualifiers.

The final day’s programme begins with the men’s hammer final, with GB & NI’s men’s team captain Alex Smith (Sale Harriers Manchester), at 13.00h (Lithuanian time).