The England Athletics U20/ U23 National Championships have taken place this weekend in its obligatory place at Bedford. There would be a mixture of mainly heats and some finals across the Saturday and the majority of the finals on the Sunday. Unfortunately, the weather over both days would not be perfect, with there being strong winds over the whole weekend along with some heavy rain in the afternoon on the Saturday.
Over the course of the two days, places were up for grabs for the British Athletics squads which are to be taken to the European Junior (U20) Championships in Eskilstuna, Sweden and the U23 European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. The selection policy over the weekend is as follows – the main point being that only the winner on the day (along with qualification mark) would be automatically selected on the day):
There was some great competition and extremely close finishes in multiple disciples, with potentially the weekends standout performance coming from GB World Junior Champion Morgan Lake who competed over the High Jump and Long Jump disciplines where she equalled her Junior record of 1.94m. As for this weekend review, I will focus strongly on the track events, especially those middle and long distance races.
Starting with the longer distance events, the U20M 5000m was the first up. This would turn out to be a very exciting race with three going in already with the European entry standard of 14:20.00; with this high quality field, it inevitably led to a fast pace being set with some athletes still looking to reach that qualification mark. The result would be a fast finish as we so often see in many of these championship distance races. It would the American based Alex George (14:18.8) who would come out victorious, securing the GB spot after already having the qualification time. Just behind would be the UK U20 leader, Gus Cockle (14:20.2).
The U23M 5000m would be at a much slower pace than that of the U20 race, putting much greater emphasis on those who could kick hard over the last couple of laps. Going into the race, there would be six athletes under the required 14:00.00 barrier in contention to make the team to go out to Tallinn. With the standout UK leader, Marc Scott (13:36.81) not being present, Jonny Davies would be the favourite. For Davies, the race would go to plan, hitting the from with 600m, never giving up the lead until the finish (14:38.23) despite being pushed hard by Matt Bergin (14:38.00).
With there being no women’s 5000m – instead there would be 3000m where Pheobe Law would sprint home to win (9:36.70) although still lacks the qualification mark, – it would all be left to the U23W. As well as the men’s race, there were six athletes all under the qualifying mark of 16:05.00 meaning that there would be strong competition for the team. UK leader, Emelia Gorecka would not be running along with the next two fastest this lear meaning it left Rhona Auckland clear from the rest of the competition which was shown as she had built up a considerable lead by the bell and continued all the way home in (15:59.20) which would be a new CBP.
The heats for the men’s U23 1500m had been extremely physical and on the faster side, showing the final to certainly be one for the big kickers. Only two of those athletes competing in the final – Cameron Boyek (3:40.62) and Neil Gourley (3:41.14) – had the ability to be selected for the team on the day. These two would follow the script with a very fast finish after a slow opening pace. Boys would stroke first but Gourley timed his run perfectly to take victory in 3:50.60.
There would be three main protagonists in the U20M 1500m who all had achieved the required 3:44.50 mark, these would be Liam Dee, Robbie Fitzgibbon and Josh Kerr. Despite being the youngest in the age category, Kerr showed his strength over the last lap of this race, coming up the inside of a tiring Dee (3:51.2) to take the victory (3:49.90) and book his seat on the plane.
With the two UK leaders, Rhianwedd Price (4:09.56) and Jessica Judd (4:12.67) not running, it would allow Melissa Courtney to take control of the U23W 1500m. After a very dominant and strong performance from Courtney at Wednesday’s BMC, she would build on this win to also take the title (4:15.93) in Bedford over the same distance. She has shown great form all season, consistently running fast times which have all been very close to the European U23 Championship qualification mark of 4:13.00 which she still has a week to achieve to secure selection.
Over the same distance in the Women’s race, it would follow the script represented by the times which had already been played down during the year. Bobby Clay was the UK leader (4:12.20) coming in and would set out to prove this during the race as she would wind up the pace from 600m out creating large gaps between herself and the rest of the field. She would go on to win in a time of 14:16.30 with 2nd and 3rd on the UK rankings, Amy Griffiths and Kathryn Gillespie finishing also 2nd and 3rd respectively in this very fast and strung out race, which I would assume all securing spots on the GB squad.
Some of the most interesting races of the day would certainly come over this shorter 800m distance. For me, the U23M race was one of the most highly anticipated races of the entire weekend. There were four athletes all having run under 1:47.50 going into the race including the overall UK leader Theo Blundell (1:47.14) and 1500m specialist Charlie Grice (1:47.50) who showed excellent speed in a warm up 800m at the Watford BMC last Wednesday. Grice would take this form into the heats running 1:49.80 to become the favourite for the final. The windy conditions would counter the possibility for any extremely fast times in the final. They all went out in a large pack, two lanes wide, hitting the bell in just over 55 seconds, it was here that the main contenders would feature with Grice winding up the pace down the back straight, Jamie Webb would follow suit along with Blundell. Grice would continue to pull away and win in 1.50.04 with Jamie Webb taking second.
The U20M 800m would be just as exciting as the older age category was. Only two athletes in Kyle Langford and Spencer Thomas had the U20 European Standard and both would show their dominance in both their heats and then the final. Although it looked on paper to be a close race, after the reasonable first lap, Langford would stretch away to a very dominant and confident win (1:50.80) ahead Daniel Rowden (1:51.80) and Thomas (1:51.80) who was just beaten on the line.
In the U23W 800m there were three athletes in the field who had the qualifying mark (2:02.50), with the other – Laura Muir – not running. There would be a definite pack of about 4 or 5 which would beak away from the rest early on, Katie Snowden remained at the fore throughout and would start to stretch away with 100m to go, leaving Leah Barrow in her wake who would go on to come 2nd (2:05.38)
With there being four women under the standard of 2:06.00 for the U20W 800m, it was set to be a fast race which would be dominated by the UK leaders. As would be expected, UK leader, Molly Long would string out the field and show her strength over the last 100m to take victory (2:07.37) ahead of the two other runners in the field who had already got the qualifying standard. These two were Mhairi Hendry and Carys McAulay who would come 2nd (2:07.92) and 3rd (2:09.62) respectively.
Overall, these championships didn’t disappoint with some excellent races and multiple winners securing their spots on the plane to the various age group European Championships.