Katarina Johnson-Thompson (club: Liverpool Harriers, coach: Bertrand Valcin), Zoey Clark (Thames Valley, Eddie McKenna) and Chris O’Hare (Edinburgh; Terrance Mahon) were among a string of impressive victors on the second and final day of the SPAR British Athletics Indoor Championships at Arena Birmingham yesterday.
Confirmed as the biggest and best British indoor championships for some decades on the back of record athlete entries and tickets sold, many of those in action on a day consisting of 17 finals stepped up when it mattered most to claim domestic silverware and confirm British team spots ahead of next month’s European Indoor Championships in Glasgow (1-3 March).
The recipient of some of the biggest cheers of the day – as she appeared for the second time this weekend following 60m hurdles silver on Saturday – was multi-international medallist Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Liverpool Harriers; Bertrand Valcin) produced a season’s best of 6.46m in round four to add a second consecutive British indoor long jump title to her long list of achievements.
Behind KJT, a best of 6.36m secured Jahisha Thomas (Blackheath & Bromley; Clive Roberts & John Shepherd) a silver medal that ensures she will make her first ever British team having secured the qualifying mark earlier this year, while Abigail Irozuru (Sale Harriers Manchester, Tom Cullen) completed the podium courtesy of a 6.35m best.
One of the races of the day based on the strength of the final’s field, the women’s 400m failed to disappoint as an eyeballs-out affair saw a change of lead late in the day.
Pushing out strongly and intent on leading at the break, the title seemed to be heading home with Laviai Nielsen (Enfield & Haringey; Christine Bowmaker) following the world relay medallist leading at the break and looking strong.
Come the final 30m the gold medal position changed hands quickly as both Zoey Clark (Thames Valley; Eddie McKenna) and Amber Anning (Brighton & Hove; Lloyd Cowan & Clarence Callender) pulled out into the outer lanes and passed her to nick the higher medals from her grasp. Clark’s winning time was a rapid 52.85, while Anning’s 53.00 serves as both a historic British junior indoor record and a European Indoor qualifying mark.
In stark contrast, Andrew Butchart (Central; Terrence Mahon) struggled to live up to his own billing as pre-race favourite in the men’s 3000m due to a strong closing section from his training partner Chris O’Hare and Charlie Grice (Brighton Phoenix; Jon Bigg).
O’Hare’s winning time was 7:52.86, which was a couple seconds ahead of both Grice and Butchart. As all three of the trio now have the qualifying time – Grice having secured it courtesy of his 7:54.33 personal best this afternoon – it seems certain that Britain will have three athletes toeing the 3000m start-line in Glasgow next month.
Reflecting on his victory, O’Hare said: “I feel really good but the 3000m has been a tough race and a new event for me. My run in Boston was my first 3000m in around six or seven years and it’s good to take it out as I did and get the win.
“I just made the step up purely for indoors, I’m not finished with the 1500m yet by any stretch. I needed to do some strength work and with the world championships being so late, I didn’t want to be focusing on 1500m from start to finish.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s joint indoor national record holder in the women’s high jump, Morgan Lake (Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow; Fuzz Caan) was another big name who competed on the day and stepped up once again to secure domestic gold.
Lake’s 1.94m was another solid mark following the 21-year-old’s strong entrance to the year. Bethan Partridge (Birchfield Harriers; Fuzz Caan) jumped a 1.87m season’s best for silver and Nikki Manson (Giffnock North) jumped a season’s best of her own with a 1.80m clearance for bronze.
Among those to take advantage of the opportunity to score qualifying marks for the European Indoor Championships at a highly competitive domestic championships was Sophie McKinna (Great Yarmouth; Mike Winch), who entertained the crowd with the best display of British women’s shot putting since 2000 on her way to gold.
After setting a personal best with an opening throw of 17.64m, McKinna proceeded to pass her pre-championships best a further two more times. The best of her throws was a massive 17.97m – enough to put her in the top 10 in Europe this year and a mere 3cm away from the qualifying mark for the IAAF World Championships later this year too.
McKinna was understandably ecstatic afterwards. “I couldn’t be more happy. It is amazing to break barriers like this [best throw for 19 years], and at the European outdoors I got the best result by a British woman in sixty years. These milestones and barriers will stay with me but for me the most important thing is to qualify for those World Champs by throwing 18m.”
The silver medallist Amelia Strickler (Thames Valley; Zane Duqemin) also enjoyed the double success of throwing a PB and achieving the qualifying standard thanks to her third-round attempt of 17.28m. Adele Nicoll (Birchfield Harriers; Richard Spencer-Jones) clinched third place with a 15.58m season’s best.
Local lad Feron Sayers (Birchfield Harriers; Aston Moore) will be joining McKinna and Strickler in Glasgow after prevailing in a tight men’s long jump with a 7.72m effort in the penultimate round distancing himself from the other eventual medallists James Lelliott (Bournemouth; Brian Camp) and Reynold Banigo (Sale Harriers Manchester; Lukasz Zawila), who jumped 7.68m and 7.67m respectively.
On the other side of the 60 metre straight, there was plenty of drama in the men’s pole vault as British record holder and reigning Commonwealth medallist Luke Cutts (Sheffield & Dearne; Trevor Fox) failed to record a mark. That gave rising talent Charlie Myers (Middlesbrough; Chris Boundy) the perfect opportunity to improve on his second-place finish last year to win his first British indoor title with a 5.45m season’s best.
“Getting into it I was a bit nervous because of my injury, it’s the first time I have done anything on it. But once I got my confidence back everything started to flow,” said the Middlesbrough athlete.
“I would rate my performance seven today, it’s great with what has been going on however it was a very messy performance. My coach was saying to me that what I was doing was good but messy. But I have not jumped for a while so it is still there but need to tidy it up. “
Though they are events that won’t form part of the programme at the European Indoor Championships, both the 5000m race walk and 200m competitions proved to be fiercely competitive affairs.
In the women’s walk showpiece, and opening her year in ideal fashion, it was Heather Lewis (Pembrokeshire; Martin Bell) capitalised on Bethan Davies’ (Cardiff; Andi Drake) disqualification to win a tough women’s 5000m race walk in a personal best of 22:55.15.
All eyes were on multiple British record holder in the men’s equivalent, Tom Bosworth, (Tonbridge; Andi Drake), who underlined his class with yet another comfortable victory in 19:22.56 despite battling illness in the build-up.
Chris Stone (Woodford Green Essex Ladies) took a tumble over the finish line amidst his desperation to beat Connor Wood (Sale Harriers Manchester; Brian Scobie) in the men’s 200m final, but Wood just about edged it with a 20.94 personal best.
Stone had his own personal best time of 20.96 and a silver medal as consolation. It was PBs galore, as Shemar Boldizsar (Harlow; Vincent Lawrence) rounded off the medal places with his own lifetime best of 21.13.
Interestingly, all three women’s 200m medallists also recorded lifetime bests in a race won comfortably by Hayley Mills (Tamworth) in 23.59 ahead of Kiah Dubarry-Gay’s (Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets) 24.01 and Melissa Roberts’ (Birchfield Harriers; Matt Elias) 24.28.
All these athletes having to run personal bests to medal was demonstrative of the high quality on offer all weekend and Cameron Fillery’s (Woodford Green Essex Ladies; Michael Baker) 7.80 for 60m hurdle silver made him a proud member of that club too in a tight finish behind David King (City of Plymouth; James Hillier) who won in 7.78 to ensure a first British indoor title.
Behind the pair, Khai Riley-LaBorde (Enfield & Haringey; Ray Gibbins) replicated his bronze medal from last year with a 7.85 season’s best.
As a Glaswegian, men’s 1500m champion Neil Gourley (Giffnock North; Mark Rowland) will relish competing at this year’s European Indoor Championships more than most. The final came right down to the wire with Gourley overtaking Elliot Giles (Birchfield Harriers; Jon Bigg) in the home straight to win by hundredths in a time of 3:44.76, with Piers Copeland taking bronze.
The women’s 800m was also extremely close right up until the finish line, with the top four all finishing within a second of each other. Shelayna Oskan-Clarke (Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow; Jon Bigg) easily dealt with the favourites tag as the eventual winner in 2:05.04 having held off numerous attempts to pass her from those in the field.
Behind Oskan-Clarke, Mari Smith (Birchfield Harriers; Bud Baldaro) produced a rapid final 200m to take something of a surprise silver medal, with Adelle Tracey (Guildford & Goldalming, Craing Winrow) making yet another domestic podium with third and bronze.
A fine kick for home over the final lap saw Jemma Reekie (Kilbarchan; Andy Young) claim a memorable maiden British title to book her spot on the team for Glasgow; the 20-year-old’s time of 4:17.08 seeing her take the title, with Sarah McDonald (Birchfield, David Harmer) a second or so back in 4:18.10 for silver.
A frantic two laps of the track saw indoor personal bests of 46.26 and 46.37 for Cameron Chalmers (Guernsey; James Hillier) and Owen Smith (Cardiff; Matt Elias), both of which guarantee their European indoor spots in the men’s 400m.
Alex Haydock-Wilson (Michael Baker, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow; Michael Baker), who ran the qualifying time in the heats with an overall PB of 46.88, will be hoping his bronze medal is enough for a discretionary selection for the Europeans.
Shockwaves were felt once more in the men’s 800m when Jamie Webb (Liverpool Harriers; Adrian Webb) got disqualified moments after storming clear to gold. Because of this, Joseph Reid (Cardiff; Matt Elias) was crowned British champion in a time of 1:48.41, thus completing his successful transition from the 400m over the past few years.
Although the silver medallist Guy Learmonth (Lasswade; Henry Gray) has a definite place on the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team for the European Indoors, Reid’s place in the squad hangs in the balance given that he is yet to record the requisite time.