Led by Eilidh Doyle (coach: Malcolm Arnold), there were a host of safe passages through the qualification rounds on Day One of the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
Serving as the first Briton out on the track as she lined up in heat three of the 400m, Doyle kicked out from lane six, and showed all her experience to control the race from the gun, eventually coming home in 53.28 for the win.
Afterwards she commented: ”It was nice and easy; I just tried to win the break and then just tried to control the second lap and conserve as much energy as possible, so hopefully I’ve done that.
“The gun was really quiet; they called us to ‘set’ but as he said it the microphone cut out, so I just went up, but then he stopped it. So when we went up again I just thought it’s going to be quite quiet and just went.
“So now it’s just getting back to the hotel for a few hours, get some food and recovery and come back for the semis tonight.”
In heat four Laviai Nielsen (Frank Adams) backed up her early season form with a steady and mature outing as she too claimed victory. Starting out in lane six like Doyle, she took the bell out in front and pushed on sufficiently for the win in 53.74 to secure safe passage to this evening’s semi-finals.
Speaking afterwards, the Enfield & Haringey athlete said: “I never thought I’d be in a position where I could ease down in the heats of a European competition! I didn’t want to look up at the screen so I was trying to hear what was behind me, but I’m happy with that – I just want to get ready for the semi-final now; it was nice to wake the legs up out there.
“It doesn’t really feel like an outdoor track because it’s quite low, so it doesn’t really feel like you’re going up or getting any momentum off the bend, but it’s really soft and it felt fast enough out there, it’s not about times at the moment.”
In the 800m Shelayna Oskan-Clarke (Jon Bigg) made sure she left nothing to chance when it came to securing qualification, with the 2016 Olympian leading from the gun to come home in 2:06.02 for the win.
Afterwards she said: “The pace was quite fast, but I felt better leading from the front. I thought ‘I am strong enough to hold this’, and previously I’ve made mistakes in my first race and had to work harder and push past people because the lanes are tight. So I thought ‘I am going to hold my ground’, because I am definitely stronger than the rest.
“The bends [on the track] are tight but it doesn’t feel steep. I’m feeling good; I’m happy to get round and qualify, especially with this being in the morning as I always feel a bit groggy. But I’m happy with that, I got the job done.”
There were mixed fortunes for Kyle Langford (George Harrison) and Guy Learmonth (Henry Gray) in the men’s 800m, with the former securing qualification in 1:49.93 after moving through the field with just 30m to go to secure the win.
Reflecting on the race afterwards, Langford said: “I left it late, but I trusted my speed over the last 30m. I knew the whole way round that when it came to that last straight that I could come through – I kept seeing people come around me so I had to tell myself ‘calm down, I feel great’. I just knew I had to find that way to weave through, which I did.”
It was an agonising finish for Guy Learmonth in the fourth and final heat, as after leading for much of the race the chasing field overtook him over the final 20m to leave him back in fifth, with the 24-year-old’s time of 1:48.73 also outside the four fastest loser positions.
Post-race Learmonth said: “I felt good; I thought I’d just take it out and run good and run strong. My body felt good going in to it, but I just got caught off guard over the last 5-10 meters, so I’m not through, which is absolutely devastating.”
Speaking on taking the race out, he added: “It was my tactic regardless – I saw Kszczot was in my heat last night but it wasn’t going to change anything. I’ve been running like that all season, but unfortunately I just had a loss of concentration and I’ve paid the price for it.”
In the qualification round of the women’s 3000m, all three Britons in action booked their place in Sunday’s final with assured performances. After a couple of pedestrian opening laps, Eilish McColgan (Liz McColgan-Nuttall) tucked into the middle of the pack in heat 1 for much of the race before stepping on the gas to move through the field and claim second place in 8: 57.85.
McColgan said: “Hopefully that race today was a bit of a rust-buster, it was a bit weird as in the middle of the race I felt a bit flat and I noticed I was losing a few positions, but I could hear the other girls around me were really breathing and I wasn’t, so it was a case of thinking ‘these girls are pushing hard and might be running PBs’, so I needed to respond to that.
“My closing speed is good, so I knew over the last 200m that I could push myself up there. That’s one race out of the way now, and I feel like that one race normally helps give me that kick up the backside. I think Sunday will be something a true run race too – I know Laura [Muir] isn’t one to jog about, and neither is Yasemin Can, so I’m looking forward to it and it’ll be exciting to be amongst.”
The second of the heats saw Steph Twell (Mick Woods) and Laura Muir (Andy Young) line up in a field of eight, with Twell spending close to the entire race sat behind eventual race winner Yasemin Can, with compatriot Muir tactically flitting between fourth and fifth. The pecking order remained up to the line, with Twell claiming second and an automatic qualifying spot in 8:55.02, while Muir was three places and just over half a second behind as she took fifth in 8:55.56, a time more than quick enough to take a ‘next fourth fastest’ spot for Sunday’s final.
Commenting on how the race unfolded, Twell said: “I felt like I was there to run my own race today and I’m getting myself ready for the final, so that’s what I felt like I needed to do as opposed to running tactically a bit faster towards the end – that was my plan and I’m happy that I executed it well. I don’t think the race on Sunday is a foregone conclusion, it’s nice to aspire to others in the race, but I’m lining up in the final with them, so I’ve got to get myself in the best possible frame of mind ahead of then.
Unfortunately Rachel Wallader’s (Richard Woodhall) best of 17.35m – her fifth best ever throw and just 8cm shy of her personal best – wasn’t enough to see her gain qualification through to this evening’s Shot Put final, as the British indoor and outdoor champion found herself finishing tenth in the qualifying round.
“Those throws are the best three I have put together in a three throw competition, so I’m gutted that it wasn’t enough.
“It’s such a long and drawn out competition out there, so I had to keep myself going and moving throughout. Generally I feel happy within myself, but I’m just a bit gutted at how today has gone performance-wise.”
It wasn’t to be for Dan Bramble (Frank Attoh) in the Long Jump, with his only legal jump of 7.64m leaving him short of the 7.90m automatic qualifying mark and outside the top 8 performers in the qualifying round.