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Thrill for Oni at UK Indoor City Challenge semi-final

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Women's Medley Relay
Birmingham won a thrilling UK Indoor City Challenge semi-final by a single point at the inspirational new Lee Valley Athletics Centre on Sunday 28 January after an afternoon of 31 lifetime bests including a qualifying performance for the SPAR European Indoor Championships to be staged in Birmingham on 2-4 March.

 

Birmingham led throughout the four and a half hour match – but had to withstand a fierce late charge by the home team, London North.

 

The match ended: 1 Birmingham 120; 2 London North 119; 3 London South 107; 4 Bristol 93; 5 Oxford 87; 6 Cardiff 86. It means that Birmingham, London North and London South qualify automatically for the final at the Sheffield EIS on 18 February at which they will meet the first three from last weekend’s semi-final, Manchester, Glasgow and defending champions Sheffield.

 

The field of eight teams for the final will be completed by the next-best two teams based on all of their individuals’ performances. This means that Bristol and Oxford will go through. The two semi-finals of the competition, introduced by UK Athletics to help athletes improve from club towards international standards, has so far produced 68 personal bests.

 

The highlight of the match close to site on which the London 2012 Olympics will take place was Samson Oni (Belgrave Harriers), who works full time for Southwark Council coaching athletics to hundreds of troubled youngsters. He cleared the European Indoor Championships elite qualifying height of 2.26m – a week after believing he had got over 2.28m at the South of England Indoor Championships.

 

Explaining how his championship medal was tinged with disappointment, the 25-year-old said: “I was off the landing bed and celebrating clearing 2.28. The stadium went mad. Then the bar dropped off and the judge put up the red flag. I was gutted because I have given myself this year to get things right.

 

“My coach, Trevor Llewellyn, has been working really hard with me. Strength and power are no problem, so we’ve worked more on the technical side. I’d like to think I’ve gone past my injuries now. I had five years of problems but John Allen, the physio, has done some great work on my knee.”

 

He fits weight training at Dulwich and jumps training at Sutton in Surrey around his full-time job, which involves going into schools and other youth groups as well as counselling young offenders throughout Southwark. “It’s not an easy life,” added Oni. “Which is all the more reason why I’m glad my work is paying off. I’ve always had the recognition from the kids. I would like to be a good role model to them. The least I can do is show them how it can be done.”

 

Amy Harris, only 19, gave the match exhilarating lift-off by improving her long jump PB four times – and ending up joint top of the winter’s Power of 10 rankings alongside Gillian Cooke (Edinburgh Southern Harriers).

 

Starting with an indoor personal best of 6.20m, the Birmingham ace fully justified the life-changing decisions she made last autumn by clearing 6.22m with her first attempt, 6.27m with her fourth, 6.29m with her fifth and 6.32m with her sixth.

 

“My target was just to do a PB,” she said. “I didn’t know how far it was going to be and I didn’t believe I would do four PBs today. I’m over the moon.”

 

She puts her improvements down to taking a year out of university to concentrate full time on athletics and moving to be coached by Ted King, UK Athletics High Performance Centre Manager at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham.

 

She explains: “Because I have been concentrating on changing a lot of things, I seem to be able to understand and learn all the things that Ted’s telling me. It seems to be coming together. I’m in a good group, too – Nathan Douglas and Nathan Morgan make sure I work hard!

 

“I’m not focusing on the indoor season. It’s the outdoors that matters – the European Under 23 Championships and hopefully the World Championships in the summer. The Under 23s qualifying distance is 6.35m … which might come at the European Indoor Trials” [in Sheffield on 10-11 February].

 

Another teenager to impress was James Brewer. In his first race of the year, he led virtually every step of the 800m for Bristol and won in 1:50.28, taking him to the top of the Power of 10 rankings for this infant season.

 

“I wasn’t expecting to be that quick,” said Brewer, who is coached at Cheltenham and County AC by Andy Beadle. “Under 1:52, I thought.”

 

Brewer, who has taken a year out of university to concentrate on striving to excel at this summer’s SPAR European Junior Championships, will now head for the Norwich Union European Indoor Trials “to see what I can do.” Seasoned observers here believe it is possible he can attack the UK Junior Indoor record of 1:48.53 set by David Sharpe at Cosford all of 21 years ago.

 

Yet another European Juniors aspirant, Perri Shakes-Drayton (London North) scored an excellent 200m victory, in 24.76 seconds, over vastly more experienced GB senior internationals Ellena Ruddock (Birmingham), who clocked 25.05, and Lesley Owusu (Oxford), third quickest in 25.29.

 

Celia Brown (Birmingham), a 30-year-old Research Fellow in Public Health at Birmingham University, was equally forthright in the Women’s 800m, leading all the way to win in 2:05.19, knocking more than one and a half seconds off her previous best, a week after earning the Scottish Indoor 1500m title – richly earned successes after she spent all of last year battling an injury to her right shin. Her new orthotics are working so well that she is now pondering which distance to race at the European Trials, firmly believing she is capable of going faster over both.

 

The run earned Brown the Birmingham Performer of the Match Award. The other recipients of awards were North London’s Jon Ramos for his landmark long jump PB of 7.01m; London South’s Martin Lloyd for his high jump PB of 2.21m; Bristol’s Louise Butterworth for her 3.90m clearance to win the pole vault; Cardiff’s Joe Maynard for his 800m PB of 1:53.02, which earned him third place in the race; and Oxford’s teenage Rachel Stringer for her 800m PB of 2:10.89, knocking almost two seconds off her previous best, which also earned her third place among older athletes.

 

Tina Brown (also representing Birmingham but no relation of Celia) put recent injury problems behind her by bursting away in the last two laps and winning the 1500m in a PB of 4:22.08 from Charlotte Best (London South), one of the young athletes being nurtured by Dame Kelly Holmes, who also clocked her fastest yet indoor time, 4:23.60.

 

Laura Turner (London North) lived up to her No.1 standing in the Power of 10 rankings in the 60m by winning in 7.32 seconds, pushed all the way by London South’s young Montell Douglas, who lowered her PB to 7.39.

 

William Sharman hit one hurdle badly but won the 60m hurdles in a season’s best of 7.87 seconds , holding off a strong challenge from Damien Greaves, back after taking a year out of the sport. Then Sharman dashed off to prepare for an examination at Loughborough University tomorrow morning as part of his Masters degree course in banking and finance.

 

The competitive nature of the match was illustrated in the Men’s triple jump. London South’s Tosin Oke won with 16.24m – just 1cm further than London North’s Julian Golley – thus whetting the appetite for many more close encounters in UK Challenges indoors and out.

 

Nadia Williams (London North) consolidated her status as the UK’s No.1 triple jumper by registering a PB of 13.29m – a performance that earned her an Athlete of the Match Award.

 

The Men’s Athlete of the Match was Emeka Udechuku (London South), who scored a thrilling victory in the shot, which produced by far the best two performances by UK putters so far this season. Chris Gaviglio (Bristol) looked to have secured victory with 18.12m – a massive improvement on his previous indoor best of 16.43m. But in the sixth and last round Udechuku came up with 18.13m.

 

And then there were the 60m races – events made so popular by the 6.56 clocking of Craig Pickering last weekend that extra heats were added to meet demand, in line with UKA policy to encourage athletes wanting to up the pace. Darren Chin (London North) won the Men’s match sprint in 6.69, three-hundredths of a second ahead of Mark Lewis-Francis (Oxford), who made a sluggish start. Chin then gave the SprintsFest final a miss and MLF won, again clocking 6.72, despite being last after the opening 20 metres.

 

MLF, desperate to reach this winter’s SPAR European Indoor Championships in his home city of Birmingham in March, said: “I’m as strong as an ox but I can’t get the start right. But today felt better than yesterday. Each race is a stepping stone.”

 

MLF's big test will come at the Norwich Union European Trials in Sheffield on 10-11 February and he said: "I feel good, I feel confident, it's just a question of putting it together. Meetings like this are a great help."

 

·  As a matter of interest, if the bottom three teams from each of the semi-finals had competed against each other, the result would have been: 1 Bristol 94; 2 Oxford 88; 3 Cardiff 84; 4 Newcastle 75; 5 Edinburgh 59; 6 Belfast 53. This is how Bristol and Oxford have been selected for the final

 

Full Results from the event can be downloaded below.