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Udechuku is in the UK Challenge driving seat

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Emeka Udechuku
Emeka Udechuku: points leader

Their confidence boosted by winning European age-group medals last month, Rikki Fifton, Gianni Frankis, Jeffrey Lawal-Balogun and Gary White will battle their elders for prizes in the £30,000 UK Challenge Final at Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon, 25 August. Yet the 1997 European Juniors discus champion Emeka Udechuku is favourite to drive away with one of the major prizes, an Alfa Romeo GT sports car, and at least a share of a £5,000 cash bonus on offer to athletes demonstrating exceptional quality and consistency.

 

He goes into the Final with 939 points for his ‘Fantastic Four’ throws this summer, giving him a handsome lead in the chase for the sports car. His closest rival, Jessica Ennis, is otherwise engaged with the heptathlon at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka. So Udechuku knows victory with a reasonable throw will seal success over fellow discus thrower Philippa Roles (Sale Harriers Manchester), who has 894 points, hammer thrower Zoe Derham (Birchfield Harriers), 874; high jumper Samson Oni (Belgrave Harriers), 855; and hammer thrower Andy Frost (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), 845.

 

The cash prizes in each event will be 1st £300, 2nd £150, 3rd £100, 4th £50, 5th £25. Athletes in the top threes will be presented with medals with each winner receiving a bottle of Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne.

 

Here is an event-by-event preview of the climax to another summer in which ambitious athletes strove to make the transition towards international standards…

 

100m / 200m: Teenager Jeffrey Lawal-Balogun (Kent AC), a European Juniors 4x400m hero, will continue his exciting learning curve against a British League Premiership handful in the 100m – Belgrave Harriers James Ellington and Darren Chin, Birchfield duo Jermaine Downie and Ryan James plus Daniel Plummer (Newham and Essex Beagles). Chin defends the 200m title from lane eight against, among others, a quartet that has beaten 21 seconds this summer: Tim Abeyie (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), Lawal-Balogun, European Under 23 bronze medallist Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC) and former European Junior 100m champion Leon Baptiste (Enfield and Haringey AC).

Ellena Ruddock (Northampton and Rugby AC) is the quickest of the Women’s 100m finalists and defends the 200m title in a line-up in which the swiftest is Helen Pryer (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC).

 

400m: Only 18 points have separated Graham Hedman (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) and Conrad Williams (Kent AC) in their ‘Fantastic Four’ races this summer. In decent conditions, they could push each other below the Power of 10 national standard of 46.00 seconds.

Carey Easton/Marshall (Edinburgh AC) is the fastest and most consistent of the Women’s entry, though she can expect strong competition from Lesley Owusu (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC).

 

110m hurdles: One of the most competitive track events – as ever – is expected to focus on UK No.2 William Sharman (Belgrave Harriers) and No.3 Richard Alleyne (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) though the experienced Dominic Girdler (City of Sheffield AC) and European Juniors bronze medallist Gianni Frankis (Newham and Essex Beagles) are as likely to figure.

100m hurdles: Former Under 23 international Gemma Bennett (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) will be the favourite to take the title, though Sarah Claxton (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) aims to be a speedy guest.

 

400m hurdles: Men’s title holder Ricardo Yates (Trafford AC) will start as marginal second-favourite to Ben Sumner (Enfield and Haringey AC), though guest Steve Green (Newham and Essex Beagles) will be out to build on the head of steam built-up while he won the silver medal at the Norwich Union World Trials in Manchester and reached the semi-finals at the World University Games in Bangkok.

The Women’s event is likely to be dominated by Nusrat Ceesay (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), the only sub-58 seconds performer in the field. But Welsh champion Anwen Rees (Carmarthen Harriers) has also beaten the Power of 10 national standard of 58.3 this summer.

 

3km walk: Dominic King (Colchester Harriers) is the favourite for the Men’s title, while England Under 20 Champion Rebecca Mersh (City of Sheffield) could become queen of the Palace.

 

High jump: Samson Oni (Belgrave Harriers), pipped by last year’s Challenge champion Tom Parsons (Birchfield Harriers) for a place in the Norwich Union GB&NI team in Osaka, knows victory will keep him on course for a share of the UK Challenge £5k. But he will have to fend off determined opposition from the likes of Under 23 international Adam Scarr (Enfield and Haringey AC).

Steph Pywell (Sale Harriers Manchester) will be the favourite to take the Women’s title at the age of 20 in an entry that includes three guests, most prominently Vikki Hubbard (Grantham AC), who only narrowly missed a medal at the European Junior Championships.

 

Pole vault: Joe Ive (Belgrave Harriers) hopes to have recovered from a hairline fracture of the kneecap – suffered at last month’s European Under 23 Championships – to take on a field that includes UK record-holder Nick Buckfield (Crawley AC). Ive and Paul Walker (Sale Harriers Manchester) have both improved their PB to 5.40m this summer, while Buckfield has still to go higher than 5.25m in an injury-ruined campaign.

In the Women’s final, defending champion Hilary Smith (Birchfield Harriers) will face tough competition from Norwich Union GB&NI Under 23 duo Louise Butterworth (also Birchfield) and Emma Lyons (Notts AC), England international Fiona Harrison (Trafford AC) and rejuvenated Northern Ireland record holder Zoe Brown (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers).

 

Long jump: In a final featuring eight athletes who have improved their PBs this summer, Indoor City Challenge Final winner Leigh Smith (Birchfield Harriers) could start as slight favourite – though European Under 23 Champs duo JJ Jegede (Newham and Essex Beagles) and Chris Kirk (Newham and Essex Beagles) will be dangers.

Gillian Cooke (Edinburgh AC), who has improved her PB to 6.39m this summer, is the overwhelming favourite to wrest the Women’s title from Sarah Rossiter (Forest of Dean AC), who has again reached the last eight.

 

Triple jump: This could be the highest quality competition of the afternoon – a real generation game featuring 1994 Commonwealth champion Julian Golley (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow), who could share the UK Challenge £5k if he retains the title; Tosin Oke (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), who will be keen to repeat the season’s best of 16.86m he achieved at last month’s Norwich Union London Grand Prix at the same venue; and Gary White (Cardiff AAC), the new European Under 23 Champion whose best currently stands at 16.33m.

Nadia Williams (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) is the favourite to defend the Women’s title, though 2005 Champion Becky White (Sale Harriers Manchester) will lead determined opposition.

 

Shot: This is the weaker of the two events traditionally dominated by Emeka Udechuku (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), who is concentrating increasingly on the discus. But he will be the favourite to win again, even though all his seven rivals have improved their PBs this summer.

Jo Duncan (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) is the overwhelming favourite to again see-off her younger rivals in the Women’s competition.

 

Discus: A decade after winning the European Junior title, Udechuku knows that if he maintains his 100% record in this summer’s Challenge, he will go home with the major prizes – an Alfa Romeo GT sports car for a year and at least a share of the UK Challenge £5k.

Udechuku’s training partner Philippa Roles (Sale Harriers Manchester) – similarly disappointed not to be at the World Championships but determined to reach next year’s Olympics – is an equally firm favourite to win the Women’s competition and a share of the UK Challenge £5k.

 

Hammer: Andy Frost (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) will be favourite to complete a hat trick of Challenge successes – and will be eager to take his season’s best of 72.27m closer to his lifetime best of 72.62m. Of his rivals, five have thrown PBs this summer: Simon Bown (Newham and Essex Beagles) 68.42m, Glenn Kerr (Bedford and County AC) 65.53m, Matthew Bell (Birchfield Harriers) 64.22m, Matt Lambley (Trafford AC) 63.06m and Amir Williamson (Newham and Essex Beagles) 61.55m.

Victory in the Women’s event will keep Zoe Derham (Birchfield Harriers) on course for a share of the UK Challenge £5k – and a big throw could earn her the Alfa Romeo GT sports car for the highest points scorer through the summer. But first she has to continue her winning run against the likes of defending champion Shirley Webb (Trafford AC).

 

Javelin: Stand by for a dramatic shoot-out in the Men’s final. Defending champion Neil McLellan (Stevenage and North Herts AC) accumulated 707 points – just one more than Mervyn Luckwell (Marshall Milton Keynes AC) – in his ‘Fantastic Four’ Challenge throws this summer. But Luckwell’s PB has gone out to 75.68m compared with McLellan’s 74.92m, leaving them second and third in the UK rankings behind Commonwealth champion Nick Nieland (Shaftesbury Barnet), who is giving this one a miss.

First-year Under 23 Lianne Clarke (Cardiff AAC) heads the Women’s entry at the end of a consistent summer in which she has won – in this order – the British Universities silver medal (49.64m), England Under 23 title (50.96m), Welsh Senior silver (48.32m) and Norwich Union World Trials bronze (52.42m, a PB).

 

For previews of the endurance events please click here

 

 

For more details of UK Challenge Finals Day, please click here