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Weekend preview

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Craig Pickering
Craig Pickering

For many athletes with aspirations to earn places in Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland teams at this summer’s major Championships, the pursuit of impressive form will begin in earnest this weekend.

 

The UK Challenge series begins at the British Athletics League (BAL) matches at Barnet, Cardiff, Chelmsford and Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday 5 May; the British Universities Sport Association (BUSA) Championships take place at Bedford on 5-7 May; eight members of the UK Athletics Combined Events National Squad contest the first IAAF World Combined Events Challenge meeting of the summer at Desenzano del Garda, Italy, on 5 and 6 May; and Under 18s seek inspiration in the opening UKA Young Athletes League matches throughout England and Wales on 6 May.

 

This will be the last time BAL’s opening matches clash with the BUSAs, which many students view as an early step towards the World University Games in Bangkok.

Among those with higher sights on the IAAF World Championships in Oaka is Craig Pickering (University of Bath / Marshall Milton Keynes AC), the reigning European Junior 100m champion who won the European Indoor 60m silver medal in Birmingham a couple of months ago.

Of field eventers, Under 23 Lee Doran (UWIC / Enfield and Haringey AC) competes on Monday fired-up by a 73.75m at the end of warm weather training in Tunisia – closing on the European Under 23 target of 75m.

 

While all league team managers welcome the decision to defer the start of BAL to June next year and complain they have lost key performers this weekend, most will still be able to call upon athletes who aim to be in Norwich Union GB&NI teams at IAAF World Championships in Osaka, European Under 23s in Debrecen or European Juniors in Hengelo.

 

The BAL Premiership at Copthall Barnet (11.30am start) will mark the start of Belgrave Harriers’ campaign to win a 10th title in 11 years. Bill Laws, who will be manager for the 180th successive match since 1980, says it is “a bit of a lottery” to identify the squad but predicts: “As usual, we will be reasonable in the throws and jumps; and some distance events should be OK. But the hurdles and the sprints are going to be pretty iffy.”

 

Last year’s runners-up Woodford Green with Essex Ladies field two of the throwers who made a massive impression on the chase for UK Challenge overall honours last season. Andy Frost will throw the hammer while Emeka Udechuku will double-up in shot and discus. In addition, Tim Abeyie is sprinting and Christian North will pole vault before dashing up the M1 for his BUSA battle on Sunday.

 

Sale Harriers Manchester, who many believe can improve on their third place of last summer under the guidance of 26-year-old manager Dean Hardman, include 18-year-old Alex Nelson, who won two sprints bronze medals at last summer’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing. Their mix of experience and immense potential is epitomised in the hammer, in which Mike Floyd lines up alongside teenager Alex Smith.

 

Newham and Essex Beagles, who finished fourth last summer, will be as depleted as any other team by the BUSAs and elite athletes who are away warm weather training. “It's a moving famine,” says manager Bob Smith. However, he expects to include Mark Findlay, Gianni Frankis and Chris Tomlinson in the sprints. Rabah Yusef in the 400m. National Under 23 champion Samater Farah in the steeplechase,. Abdul Buhari in the discus, Simon Bown in the hammer, team captain Duncan Malins in the 110m hurdles and Stephen Hepples in the 5000m.

 

Birchfield Harriers, out of the top four last year for only the third time in Dave Lawrence’s 26 years as manager, have Nathan Morgan sprinting, Dale Garland in 400m and 400m hurdles, Jonathan Moore and Oliver McNeillis long jumping and Scott Rider doubling-up in shot and discus.

 

Meeting hosts Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, sixth at the end of last season, give a 5000m debut to Phil Nicholls, whose outstanding winter campaign ended with him running in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa. The triple jump demonstrates the team’s experience span: Larry Achike, former Norwich Union GB captain, lines up alongside junior Daniel Lewis.

 

While Trafford AC arrive at Copthall as Division One champions, City of Sheffield AC will make their first-ever appearance at the highest level of BAL. Last year’s Division One runners-up will field Jason Ward in the 5000m, Dominic Girdler in the 110m hurdles and Jamie Williamson in shot and discus.

Manager John Woods has no doubt, however, about his team’s target this summer: “Survival will be a better achievement than the promotion we earned last year.”

 

Action in the other divisions begin at 12.30pm with all athletes bidding for UK Challenge points – and prizes – for their performances as well as league points for the positions they attain in their events.

 

National One at Cardiff features relegated Thames Valley Harriers and Enfield & Haringey facing Blackheath & Bromley, Border, Cardiff and Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow against promoted Harrow and Kent AC.

 

In National Two at Chelmsford, relegated Bedford & County and City of Edinburgh confront Herne Hill Harriers, City of Liverpool (aka Liverpool Harriers), Southend and Swansea plus promoted Gateshead and Derby.

 

The National Three match at Stoke-on-Trent gives the relegated hosts home advantage against Crawley, who descended with them, Basingstoke & Mid Hants, Kingston & Poly, Medway & Maidstone, Notts, Rugby & Northampton and Team Southampton.

 

Meanwhile, over in Desenzano, Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield AC) will be contesting the heptathlon along with Phyllis Agbo (Thames Valley Harriers), Dominique Blaize (Kingston and Polytechnic), Katia Lannon (Sale Harriers Manchester) and Gemma Weetman (Oswestry Olympians). Ben Hazell (Basingstoke and Mid Hants AC), Kevin Sempers (Belgrave Harriers) and Dean Showler-Davis (Winchester and District AC) are in the decathlon.

 

They are the biggest UK contingent yet to qualify for such an important event. And there could have been one more: Ros Gonse (Bedford and County AC) is injured and has decided to opt to compete at Arles in France next month.

 

The UKA Young Athletes’ League opens on 6 May with Northern Premier League matches at Bebington Oval, Derby, Herringthorpe and Gateshead; Midland Premier matches at Yate, Cheltenham, Cannock and Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium; Southern Premier matches at Bournemouth, Bromley, Crawley and Copthall Barnet; and fixtures in 18 more divisions.

 

For more information, visit the Young Athletes' League website.