On a busy opening morning of action, Katarina Johnson-Thompson (coach: Betrand Valcin, club: Liverpool Harriers) and Niamh Emerson (David Feeney, Amber Valley & Erewashl) enjoyed fine mornings in Glasgow to head into this evening’s conclusion of the pentathlon in gold and bronze medal places respectively at the European Indoor Championships.
A session which saw 20 of the British team in action as proceedings got underway at the Emirates Arena, the multi-event pair were among the first Brits on the bus to the stadium this morning as they kicked off their campaigns strongly.
One of the star attractions of the morning’s session, Johnson-Thompson opened up her campaign with a season’s best of 8.27 – also the joint third quickest of her career – in the 60m hurdles behind a rapid Championship pentathlon best of 8.09 from Solene Ndama (FRA), with the time notching 1068 points as the Liverpool Harrier bids to reclaim the title she first won back in 2015.
Come the high jump, Johnson-Thompson took command as steady and confident progressions from 1.81m through to 1.93m saw the jumps specialist build a lead on the field. Moving up to 1.96m, a height just 1cm short of the British indoor record, the world indoor champion sailed over brilliantly at the first time of asking. Not only was it her best jump since her British outdoor record of 1.98m at the 2016 Olympic Games, but the mark is also an equal best Championship best in the pentathlon.
The rich form continued in the shot, with a first-round best of 13.15m – a personal best by 1cm – scoring 737 to take Johnson-Thompson to 2989 overall and in the lead heading into this evening’s conclusion of the event.
Alongside Johnson-Thompson, and fresh from a fourth-best ever pentathlon mark by a British athlete earlier this year in Cardiff, Emerson enjoyed a fine morning courtesy of personal bests in both the 60m hurdles and high jump.
The first Brit in action, the reigning world junior heptathlon champion recovered brilliantly from a slightly slow start to take each of the five hurdles well and dip for the line in 8.54 to take 0.14 off her previous lifetime best, with the time good for 1008 points.
The personal best marks didn’t stop there for Emerson, as first-time clearances at 1.75m and 1.78m were followed by successes at 1.81m, 1.84m and an equal indoor personal best 1.87m to the delight of the back-straight crowd inside the Emirates Arena. Three failures at an outright personal best of 1.90m followed, with the 19-year-old sat in bronze on 2075 points ahead of the shot.
Come the cage being put in place, Emerson seemed to shatter even her own expectations as a monster personal best throw of 13.93m in the opening round of the three scored 789 points and pushed her into silver overall.
The British pair resume their pentathlon campaign with the long jump at 19:04 this evening.
In men’s middle-distance action, and typically cagey-affairs with only the top two guaranteed to progress to the final, heat one of the men’s 1500m saw the ever-improving Neil Gourley (Mark Rowland, Giffnock North) made his senior championships debut fresh from a maiden British title just three weeks ago.
Hitting the front with 600m to go to put progression firmly in his own hands, and, roared on by his home crowd, Gourley did exactly that as he pushed the pace and hung on to second behind the fast finishing Filip Ingebrigtsen place to book automatic qualification with a top-two finish.
The fact that Ingebrigtsen was disqualified post-race mattered not, as Gourley’s status as a top two finisher guaranteed him a place on the start-line for Sunday’s final.
Reflecting on how the race unfolded and how he feels post-race, he said: “I feel not too bad, I’ve been more tired after 800’s before but it was never going to be easy. The German guy was always going to give me a challenge on the home straight which he did, Filip came around me, it was fine as long as no one else came around me – the aim was just to hold that position as long as I could.
“It wasn’t the plan to get so far back at the beginning. The important thing was to relax and not panic and then when I got my opportunity, try and hit the front and take the initiative because if you don’t indoors often you find yourself clawing back distance and you might not just get there purely because you run out of track. That was the goal to get to the front and push it on – I’m happy with my decision there.”
Set to join Gourley in the final, Robbie Fitzgibbon (Jon Bigg, Brighton Phoenix) ran a smart race to tuck in for third place in heat two, with his finishing time of 3:43.09 quicker than the winning times in both heats one and three and more than sufficient to progress.
The slowest of the heats which ultimately left athletes scrambling for a top-two finish come the shake-up at the bell, Elliot Giles (Bigg, Birchfield Harriers) couldn’t muster the finishing kick he is typically known for over 800m, with his first championships moving up in distance to the 1500m seeing him exit following a fourth-place finish in heat three with 3:48.76.
The men’s 3000m saw a clean sweep of British qualifications of the trio of Andrew Butchart (Terrance Mahon, Central), Chris O’Hare (Mahon, Edinburgh) and Sam Atkin (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington) navigated the heats impressively.
Spearheading the British charge in heat one, Butchart and British team debutant Atkin kept in sight of front-runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen and ensured their heads were always in the race against a backdrop of home-crowd noise throughout.
Butchart pushed the pace on at the bell to nip past Ingebrigtsen and show his legs were still there before settling for second in 7:51.28, with Atkin’s grit five places back seeing him run himself into seventh at the finish in a personal best of 7:52.12 to book a place in tomorrow evening’s final.
Butchart said: “I’ll recover and come back tomorrow night. It was fun; it was nice to be back and the home crowd was great. I could feel them cheer every lap.
“If you saw me 365 days ago you’d have thought no way is he going to be back for this and make the final. I was pleased just to get here, then to make the final is even better, and now if I get a medal that’s just the icing on the cake. I’ve never raced in front of a home crown in Glasgow, so to run in front of them, it means a lot to me.”
Going in heat two of the two, O’Hare followed Butchart’s lead in wanting to lay down a marker as he cruised round the laps before picking the pace up over the final 200m to sweep by Henrik Ingebrigtsen and take a popular victory in the heat in a time of 7:53.39 ahead of what promises to be an electric final.
Front-running the race from the gun and the first of Britain’s three women in 800m action, Adelle Tracey (Craig Winrow, Guildford & Godalming) booked her spot in the semi-finals with second and 2:02.51 behind reigning champion Selina Buchel (SUI).
“It’s really tough to qualify so I just tried to control the race and make it as quick as possible,” said Tracey of the race. “She just caught me on the line there but it was just making sure I qualify and take each day as it comes.
“I’m in the best position I have ever been in before at this time of year and that’s really nice and that race showed that so, I’m hoping I can carry that through into the semi-finals.”
A silver medallist last time around at these Championships, Shelayna Oskan-Clarke (Bigg, Windsor Slough Eton Hounslow) looked comfortable throughout but was forced to shift through the gears to overtake Renelle Lamote (FRA) in the final 50m and be sure of her progress alongside Tracey.
Making it three for three, Mari Smith (Bud Baldaro, Birchfield Harriers) was made to wait before being able to call herself a European semi-finalist, with a kick for home seeing the senior debutant take third place in 2:03.77. a time good to see her through to tomorrow’s semi-finals as a fastest non-automatic qualifier.
In men’s high jump action, Chris Baker (Graham Ravenscroft, Sale Harriers) enjoyed a near trouble-free qualifying pool campaign as a clean scorecard through to 2.21m saw him then sail over 2.25m at the second time of asking to position himself firmly inside the top-eight athletes.
Though three failures came at the automatic qualifying height of 2.28m, his best mark of the afternoon served as one that was more than good enough to see him into the final, with the 2016 European outdoor medallist saying afterwards: “I’m really happy to make it through to the final.
“It was kind of a champs that I wasn’t sure of expectation wise. Then, when you get here, I’m like ‘I want to make the final’ – then you hear it’s just the top eight to make the final and it’s ‘I really want to make the final’.
“I’ve been working a lot on my approach trying to get that smooth and calm and finish it and jump high. That was starting to come a bit today, I got a bit over excited on certain jumps and that where the failures came but there’s really nice guys to be jumping with in Europe, so really happy to be out there and show what I can do tomorrow as well.”
The men’s 400m saw a trio of hopefuls aiming for progression to this evening’s semi-finals as Owen Smith (Matt Elias, Cardiff), Cameron Chalmers (James Hillier, Guernsey) and Alex Haydock-Wilson (Michael Baker; WSEH) were split across three of the four heats.
Smith showed strongest of the three as he went in heat two over two frantic laps, the increasingly experienced Welshman pushed out hard with the intention of taking the bell in the lead. Tying up slightly over the final 50m but digging in to hold on to second place, Smith clocked 47.50 to see him progress to the next stages.
“I thought I set out really well – I came through at the break and controlled it like I wanted to,” reflected Smith. “I looked at the screen on the back straight and thought ‘OK I’ve got a bit of a gap’ and I thought I’d done enough not to be caught. Finishing second takes the stress out of having to wait for those next few heats to go and makes my life a bit easier for the lane draw later on.
“I think I made it up all over the first 200, it’s always hard to close a gap on someone once they’ve opened it in my personal experience. I like getting out hard and controlling the race, you’ve got to work that harder to get back on par and then work a bit harder again to go past.”
Adopting the same tactic as Smith in aiming to lead at the break, Chalmers looked in control down the back straight over the final 200m, only to be flanked by Janezic (SLO) and Saidy (FRA) in the closing metres to push him into third and hoping for a fastest non-automatic qualification spot. The quickest of the heats by far, Chalmers’ time of 47.18 saw him progress comfortably following the conclusion of the four heats.
Making his senior British team debut, Haydock-Wilson will surely take a lot away from the experience as he bowed out in the preliminary rounds courtesy of a 47.88 clocking for fourth in a tough heat. The 19-year-old will hope to take to the track once again come the men’s 4x400m final on Sunday evening.
There were mixed fortunes in the women’s equivalent, as Eilidh Doyle (Brian Doyle, Pitreavie) was the sole Brit to book a spot in the semi-finals with a fastest non-auto qualifying time of 52.81 for third in heat seven of seven.
Elsewhere in the event, team debutant and British indoor junior record holder Amber Anning (Lloyd Cowan, Blackheath & Bromley) agonisingly missing out on progressing by just one place and 0.13 seconds following a time of 53.26
For Zoey Clark (Eddie McKenna, Thames Valley), an uncharacteristically sluggish push out of the blocks left the Scot looking to wrestle back the metres lost early on. Struggling to manoeuvre around those in front of her on the home straight, the British champion’s placing of fifth in 53.85 left her down the standings and without a semi-final spot.
In field action, and looking to continue the type of form that saw her make the final of the European Championships in Berlin, Naomi Ogbeta (Tom Cullen, Trafford) hopped, skipped and jumped out to 13.80m in both rounds one and two of the women’s triple jump qualifying to leave her short of the top eight standings.
The lone British representative in the men’s long jump, Feron Sayers (Aston Moore, Birchfield Harriers) was left to sweat it out on qualifying for the final following a best jump of 7.57m in the qualifying rounds.
Pushing to better his distance for the day, consecutive fouls in rounds two and three left him waiting to see whether he’d be one of eight to make the final, with a third-round best of 7.64m from Mazur of Ukraine knocking Sayers into ninth and out of the competition.
Action continues this evening from 19:00. The timetable for the championships can be found via https://bit.ly/2VwqMRX.