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Five Medal Flurry at Euro Juniors

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Chris Clarke wins 4x400m relay
Just made it - Clarke holds on to bring home the gold

 

26 July 2009

In the final session at the European Junior Championships, the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team continued their medal run, adding a further five to their tally, with one gold, three silvers and a bronze, taking the overall total to 15.

And most memorable of these was the race that closed the championships, the sight of the GB & NI men’s 4x400m relay team storming to a hard fought victory ahead of Germany.

With Louis Persent (Colchester), Ross McDonald (Birchfield Harriers), Nathan Wake (Herts Phoenix) and Chris Clarke (Marshall Milton Keynes) hoping to defend the title GB won in Kaunas, it looked to be a strong start with Persent taking out the long lead leg and bring the team round in first place. Next up was McDonald, who held off Germany’s Benjamin Jonas as best he could before relinquishing the lead in the home straight, but maintained his form to ensure the team stayed in touch.

In the flurry of change over madness, Wake found himself suddenly in third with the Polish squad exchanging slightly quicker, but the World Youth fourth placer used his strength to hold off the Pole into the bend and regained the inside line.

Running almost conservatively, the German team were stretching away, but Wake had boxed clever, leaving plenty of energy left for the home straight, where he handed Clarke the baton just 15 metres behind Marco Kaiser.

Clarke made up the ground within 80m but instead of sitting in, he attempted to overtake Kaiser  – a manoeuvre which took the best part of the back straight as the German resisted backing off.

Round the final bend and Clarke had five metres, and although tiring which gave the German squad hope, raced through the line for a thrilling victory.

Afterwards it was all they could do to stop grinning following a lengthy lap of honour:

“It was a bit painful,” admitted Persent, but it’s so good to go out on a high.”

McDonald agreed: “I tried not to let the German guy get to far away,” he said “I might have gone off a little bit fast, but the guys bought it round.”

Wake, who was fourth in the World Youth Championships just three weeks ago was clearly proud to make the podium:

“That was good. I was strong at the end because we discussed tactics and running smart. The final 50m in the 4x400 is the most important, so I made sure I had something. To come here and medal is great.”

Finally, a shattered Clarke found his breath to say: “At 100m I was dead. After overtaking and having to gradually force myself in I used more energy to do that, and I was gone on the home straight.

“All I could think was I didn’t want to let the guys down, I’m so glad but so beat.”

It was a golden finish to an afternoon where silver had been the dominant theme, with the endurance athletes stepping up to the plate in impressive fashion.

James Wilkinson (Leeds) stunned followers when he took a surprise silver medal in the men’s 3000m steeplechase, and with it a seven-second chunk off his personal best.

Wilkinson, who hadscraped through to the final with a fastest loser placeadmitted even he didn’t mark himself down as a medal prospect, but knew once the race had started he would be in with a chance.

“I wasn’t pleased with the semi and I knew I must have got it wrong as I didn’t feel right. I had a long think about it and worked out I’d done a bit too much work which took it out of me,” he reasoned.

“So my plan was to sit in and let other guys do all the work, and I let that happen until the bell. I didn’t mind letting the Spanish guy go (Antonio Abadia) as I didn’t want to lose a medal trying to chase him down. So it was me and two others going for two medals.”

And just when it looked as though Wilkinson was going to come a valiant fourth, he accelerated into the final water jump, taking two or three meters out of his rivals and strode down the home straight for a sacred silver medal.

“I’ve always had a good water jump, and I have done lots of work doing it at speed. I was lucky – as I went round the bend in the approach I thought I would have to move out, but then they both did and the inside was clear for me to go through.

“I knew I could PB, that’s a big PB - quite a few seconds and I knew it was there.”

Abadia took the title with 8:47.45, with Wilkinson timed at 8:51.54 and third place going to Jeroen D’Hoedt in 8:51.76.

Not long after Wilkinson there was a further endurance medal as Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot Farnham & District) won the silver in the 5000m.

As predicted, Norway’s Karoline Grovdal took out the pace and Purdue was the only other athlete capable of following her impressive lap times. Within several laps however, Purdue was stranded, detached from Grovdal but way ahead of the pack and putting on an impressive solo time trial. Grovdal took gold with 15:45.45, with Purdue getting 15:55.96 and Lithuania’s Veronica Inglese securing third.

It was a welcome end to a long week where Purdue had to wait almost the entire length of the athletics programme to get on the track:

“It’s been so hard waiting,” she laughed. “Today I had to sit in my room whilst most of the team headed for the beach! But that’s okay as I can do the beach anytime.

“I planned to run my own race – I knew I would probably have to although I got a bit carried away with some faster laps earlier when Grovdal went off.

“I watched my training partners Simon Horsfield and Louise Small win medals yesterday – both bronze – so I had to make sure I went at least one better – I really wanted to win, but there’s always next year, I’ll still be a junior.

“I’ve bought myself about six pounds of pic ‘n mix as I made a bet with friends that I could give up sweets until the European Juniors, and that ends today! I think it’s been about fifty days so I’m looking forward to it!”

The silver theme continued  throughout the afternoon. Niall Brooks (Sale Harriers) won silver in a relentless 800m race, taking home a medal in his less preferred event. Team – mate Robbie Schofield (Newham & Essex) finished fifth in the same race.

Brooks, who is coached by Norman Poole, had appeared to be swamped by the athletes at the break, but calmly made his way to the outside of the pack, and held his position until about three hundred to go when the lead three athletes pushed on the pace.

Off the final bend , the field broke out wide and Brooks pushed out into lane 5 in order to find space and worked his way past the Portugese and Russian athletes  with his trademark strong finish. By this time, the race winner from Spain, Kevin Lopez was safe, and crossed the line in 1:48.25, with Brooks on 1:49.21 and Schofield fifth with 1:50.07.

Despite his achievement, Brooks appeared frustrated he had not performed better:

“I’m happy to get a medal. I’ve not been feeling well today since I got up,” he revealed. “I should have gone with the pace earlier, I couldn’t get on to it at first and you have to be in it to win it.”

Schofield was more philosophical with his review:

“I’m not sure what to feel,” he said. “A medal would have been a dream, but I beat some really good guys out there. I thought I ran a good race, I didn’t go to the back – I stayed in mid pack. And I kicked with about 300 to go and tried to stay in contact.

“I’m a senior next year so I’m up with the big boys. But today was good, and Niall did great to come away with a silver in that race.”

In the men’s 4x100m final the foursome of Andy Robertson (Sale), Junior Ejehu (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), Deji Tobais (Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Eugene Ayanful (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) won bronze with a series of slick changeovers and a personal best time  of 39.78 for the quartet.

In an aim to unsettle other squads, Andy Robertson was placed on the first leg, and took a slight lead into the first change. Through to Ejehu and then Tobais, the Brits were still in contention despite the strong German and Czech challenge beginning to stretch ahead.

In receiving the baton in third place, Ayanful ran a storming anchor to put some fresh air between the GB team and fourth place, and the team were delighted to come away with something to show for their hard work. Germany won with 39.33 and the Czech Republic was second with 39.57.

Robertson who was pipped for bronze by Ayanful in the individual race was delighted: “That was great – we got the best start in the field. I was worried as my legs felt wooden having not raced yesterday,” he admitted.

“Being fourth in the 100m was so hard – especially when I thought I had bronze until the result came up showing Eugene, but this makes up for it and it’s great to be taking something home.”

Ejehu – the team captain - said: “We knew this morning that we had played it safe. But our changeovers are a good standard, we’ve been doing so much work back home. It’s been great to captain this lot – they’re a great bunch. I just have to say let’s get out there and get it round and they all come together.”

Tobais, who was the unlucky fourth man not to make an individual 100m slot, said: “I’ve done the business. I got over the 100m disappointment – there was no way I was going to be the odd one out and stroppy with the other guys. I can go away now and perhaps work towards a place in the individual 100m at the World Juniors next year.”

Ayanful finished off: “It was close, we wanted gold but they were good teams and to come here and take a medal is great. That time is a PB for our four, and that time has won gold in the past so I’m not disappointed.

“We wouldn’t have made it without the work our relay coach Harry King has been doing with us, this is for him as much as us he really deserves it. Also we all want to thank Jason Gardener who has been mentoring us as a group, and Funmi Sobodu who ran in the heat this morning, we wouldn’ t have done it without him and he’s as much a part of this.”

Jo Moultrie (Victoria Park, City of Glasgow) put in an accomplished performance in the women’s 1500m final, coping with the irregular pace and finishing in a creditable seventh place.In a race that surged and slowed like the tide, Moultrie kept her wits about her, and crossed the line in 4:21.53. Winner was Russia’s Darya Yachmeneva, in 4:14.64.

“Everytime I felt I had a good position someone would cut me up or I’d get pushed. The stopping and starting was so hard to run with,” she said.

“I’ve been in races that I thought were pushy… but they were nowhere near to that one. But it’s good to experience it and I’ll take that away with me.

“I’m a senior next year but my next aim is to see how close I can get to the Commonwealth Games qualifying time, I’ll have a good go at that and see if I can get myself in consideration – it would be a good aim especially with Glasgow 2014 on the horizon”

Earlier, in the hammer, Peter Smith (Kingston Upon Hull) struggled to produce the form that saw him take the UK junior record just two weeks ago in what turned out to be a high quality final. Despite sitting in tenth position after two throws, he managed to pull out a 72.16m throw to elevate himself into the top eight and ensure an additional three throws.

Despite this however he could not further improve and eighth place was his final position. The medals were taken by three monster throws exceeding 79m, with Ukrainian Andriy Martynyuk setting a championship record of 79.54m.

However it was better news for Andrew Sutcliffe (Sale) representing GB & NI in the men’s pole vault final. He managed to vault within 5cm of his personal best, clearing 5.05m and secured a worthy fourth position. Germany’s Nico Weiler took the gold with 5.25m ahead of Russian Dmitriy Zhelyabin who also cleared 5.25m

Katarina Thompson (Liverpool Harriers) finished the heptathlon in eighth position after a difficult 800m where heavy legs took some of the spring out of her stride. Finishing the two lap finale with 2:24.02 and 770 points, she finished with a total of 5375 points, 106 down on her best, but mature in her outlook of the two days that came in close proximity to her recent World Youth Championship win:

“I feel far more experienced as a competitor now, “ she said. “It has been really hard to do two big ones back to back, but I’ve got no regrets and it has taught me loads.

“I’ve learned not to compete with myself and beat myself up comparing what I did in other competitions – sometimes you just have to judge the competition around you and not think ‘I did this then, why haven’t I done it today?’.

“I’ve loved it and I’ve learned. I have got three more years as a junior, the Worlds next year, then Europeans and then World Juniors in 2012, so I’ve loads to go for.

“I have to say thanks for the medical team who have managed to keep me cool through the week – without them I would have melted and their advice and help was brilliant.”

Taking gold in the competition was Germany’s Carolin Shafer with 5697 points.

There was heartbreak for the GB team earlier in the afternoon as the two 400m hurdles finals proved one step too far for the GB contingent. In the women’s 400m hurdles, Lauren Bouchard (Chelmsford) was running the race of her life coming in to the home straight and the pre-event favourite Inga Muller was not out of reach in what was building to be a blanket finish for the field. Then disaster struck, Germany’s Anja Bork clattered her hurdle, and as the sprint for the line began in jest Bouchard over-balanced and landed in a heap just 20m from the line. Team mate Ese Okoro (Birchfield) could not improve on yesterday’s PB and finished sixth in 1:00.64.

Then, in the men’s final, it was hoped Niall Flannery (Gateshead) would repeat the dominant form he had displayed in winning his two previous qualifying races. He too was running to his very limit alongside the German pairing of Tobias Giehl and Marc John Dombrowski. But at the last hurdle although all three took it cleanly, the Brit lost ground on the pair as they raced towards the line.

Clearly upset through his last few strides he was then dealt the final cruel blow when he was pipped for the bronze by Russia’s Nikita Andriyanov. It was a terrible result for the 18 year old, who has appeared to be in amazing form all season and his 51.50 for fourth so disappointing to him.

“I’m devastated,” he said. “I’ve been working all season for this moment – to have something hanging round my neck but now it just isn’t there.”

Despite the individual heart aches, GB & NI team leader Alison Wyeth was delighted with the achievements of the team through the week in Serbia:

“I’ve been impressed by the way the team has conducted itself both on and off the track. Although it wasn’t a good week for every individual, the overall figures are superb. 15 medals, and third position on the placings table,” she said.

“Half the team will still be in the junior age group next year and I know that they will be able to take a lot from this experience. This would have been the first time many of them experienced competing in these sort of temperatures, let alone in the forum of a major championship. From the twenty championships we have only exceeded this amount of medals on four occasions.

“Every credit must be given to the support staff who have sent each and every athlete out to compete well prepared, and without them the results would almost certainly not have been the same.”

The Aviva GB and NI team medal role of honour: Simon Lawson 10,000m silver, Sophie Hitchon hammer bronze, Eugene Ayanful 100m bronze, Chris Clarke 400m gold, Louis Persent 400m bronze, Lawrence Clarke 110m hurdle gold, Louise Webb 3000mSC bronze, Simon Horsfield 1500m bronze, Kate Avery 3000m silver, Louise Small 3000m bronze, Niall Brooks 800m silver, 4x100m men bronze, James Wilkinson 3000m steeplechase silver, Charlotte Purdue 5000m silver, 4x400m men gold.

Previous Session reports can be seen on www.uka.org.uk