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Beijing B qualifier for decathlete Dunford

9 September 2007

 

Ed Dunford (Birchfield Harriers) made a dramatic bid for a place at next year’s Beijing Olympics by winning the decathlon with a massive personal best of 7734 points at the UK Challenge Final and Home Countries Combined Events International at Northwood Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent, on 8 and 9 September.

 

Despite muscle-freezing winds, the 22-year-old set new personal bests in half of the 10 events to beat the B qualifying standard of 7700 points for Beijing. He ran his fastest ever 100m (10.95 seconds) and 110m hurdles (13.99 seconds), pole vaulted higher than ever before (4.25m) and threw the javelin his furthest yet (59.93 seconds) before rounding off with his quickest 1500m so far, 4:47.69.

 

“I never expected that,” Dunford gasped. “I knew I was better than my PB [7500 at the England Championships at the same venue in June} because when I did that I didn’t have such a good second day.

 

“But I never thought about 13.99 in the hurdles [a PB by 0.22sec]. I thought the discus would be the key event but it turned out to be the javelin – a 5-metre PB.”

 

Why the dramatic improvement from 7167 points last year? “I finished with university last year,” explained Dunford, who graduated from Birmingham in Sports Management. “I’ve been training at Birchfield full time since then.”

 

His victory also clinched the UK Challenge title, including a £300 prize for the athletes and a £500 bursary for his coach, his father, Edward, who said: “I’m quite pleased. I might crack open a bottle of champagne when we get home. I’ve had one or two set aside for when he gets to the Olympics. And then again, I might wait to see if he is selected next year. I was hoping he’d get a good score this weekend – over 7500. You always have great expectations but I was think 7700 might not come until next year.”

 

While the other guest, Ben Hazell (Baingstoke and Mid Hants AC) took second place with 7459 points, Kevin Sempers (Belgrave Harriers) in third with 7347 led England A to victory in the Home International.

 

Fourth placed Guy Stroud (Exeter Harriers) scored 7232 points to earn a place among the top 10 UK Juniors all-time, irrespective of the weight of implements used and wind speeds. “It’s been tough but fun,” said Stroud, who is coached by Ian Grant, UK Event Coach for the decathlon. “I’ve been doing really well in individual events, but this is the first time I have put it together.”

 

Completing the massive milestones, David Guest (Wales A / Bridgend AC) scored 6860 points – more than Dunford’s UK Under 17 record. Excessive wind speeds will prevent Guest’s mark being ratified as a record – even though the standards were high despite the chilly weather rather than because of it.

 

There was a similar encouraging story in the heptathlon…

 

Phyllis Agbo (Thames Valley Harriers) led England A to heptathlon victory, clinched the UK Challenge Combined Events first prize of £300 plus a £500 bursary for her coach – and then revealed she is about to move to Birmingham in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Denise Lewis and Kelly Sotherton.

 

Having finished her degree course in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, she is to devote the next two years to athletics under the guidance of Darrell Bunn, who coached Lewis to the 1994 Commonwealth Games title and many more successes on her way to triumph at the 2000 Olympic Games.

 

Agbo, who totalled 5514 points to follow her victory for Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland with 5621 at the Under 23 International in France on 4-5 August and her personal best of 5716 in the Netherlands on 25-26 August, said: “I’ve only been able to see Darrell once every two months. That was never enough. And I did so much training myself while I was at university.

 

“If I can make these improvements in those circumstances, I shall be interested to see what I can do when I get coaching full-time for the first time in four years. I’m giving the next two years completely to athletics, working up to the Commonwealth Games. Then I shall reassess the situation.”

 

Why are her generation hoisting UK heptathlon standards ever higher? “From a young age, we have been spurring each other on. Jessica [Ennis], Louise [Hazel] and me grew up together. We compete hard against each other but we are also always helping each other. There’s very rarely any negative energy.”

 

There were certainly no negative vibes from 17-year-old Meghan Beesley (Tamworth AC), who competed “for fun” and defied the increasingly wintry temperatures to record the only points PB of the heptathlon. Not just any old PB, either. She totalled 5271, a massive improvement of 501 points on her previous best, to rocket to second in the Power of 10 rankings for the year, just ahead of Jenny Lumley (Leeds City AC) who missed this match with a groin injury but carried off the UK Challenger Under 20 title having accumulated 15,454 points in her three previous heptathlons.

 

Having devoted the serious part of her summer to the 400m hurdles – she raced for Norwich Union GB&NI at the European Junior Championships – Beesley then took a week’s holiday before launching into three weeks of multi events training with her coach, Trevor Marsay.

 

Yet the multi-talented Midlander was modest about her achievements: “My PB last year wasn’t what I should have got. I mean, high jump – 1.60m! How long have I needed that? This year, I’ve just come into it for fun.”

 

Which is probably another reason why the heptathletes are so successful: even while doing seven events, they manage to keep their feet on the ground.

 

Beesley’s efforts earned her fourth place in the heptathlon behind the trio who secured victory for England A in the Home Countries International: 1 Agbo 5514; 2 Julia Bennett (Epsom and Ewell) 5367; 3 Grace Clements (Dartford Harriers) 5366.

 

England Athletics Performance Manager Alison Wyeth said: “The meeting has been tremendously worthwhile. It was great to see so many personal bests at this time of the season. It’s been a really positive competition as the result of cooperation with UK Athletics Competitions Department and Combined Events Management Group. We are looking to develop it further next year.”

 

European Junior Championships medallists Luke Fagan (Enfield and Haringey AC) and Anike Shand-Whittingham (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley) won the Track Athletes of the Match Awards as their teams won National Junior League Finals at Derby to claim places in next summer's European Junior Champion Clubs' Competitions. See the full results below.