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european under-23 championships final day

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Holly Bleasdale

17 July 2011

UK record holders Holly Bleasdale (coach: Julien Raffalli) and Lawrence Okoye (coach: John Hillier) are now European champions after winning their first major titles in the pole vault and discus respectively at the European Under-23 Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic (14-17 July).

It was a day of celebration as the men’s 4 x 400m relay team also delivered impressively with gold in the final event of the day to make it a record medal haul (19) for the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team in this event, worth second in the medal table overall.

But while the individual gold medal winning pair were delighted to win, both were slightly disappointed with their own performances which is testament to their ability and high expectations.

“It was really windy out there, it was fine in warm-up, but at 4.50m I could really feel it,” said World Junior bronze medallist Bleasdale who recorded a best height of 4.55m. “I really wanted to beat the Championship Record (4.65m, set by Yelena Isinbayeva in 2003) but I’ll put it down to the windy conditions because I felt really good.

“I’ve been watching the guys on the podium this week and I really wanted to be there, it really inspired me and ultimately you come to Championships to win medals, so I’m really happy.”

Okoye, similarly, wished he’d thrown further than his 60.70m winning effort, but was delighted to win gold.

“I’ve been waiting all week for this final,” he said. “I was disappointed with the distance but over the moon with the result. I didn’t throw well today but it’s about winning titles and I think if I’d been more relaxed I might have thrown better.

“I’m looking forward to the World Trials now and I’ll hopefully show everyone how well I can throw and make it onto that plane to Daegu.”

The men’s 4 x 400m relay team - Nigel Levine (coach: Simon Duberley), Thomas Phillips, Jamie Bowie (coach: Piotr Haczek) and Luke Lennon-Ford (coach: Linford Christie) - fifth in this event in 2009 with three of this year’s title winning quartet, led from start to finish to win the third gold medal of the night in 3:03.53.

“It’s been an honour to run with these guys,” said US-based Phillips, the fourth fastest man in Europe (under-23) over the 400mH this season. “My own form came together at the right time and we’ve adapted this line up to play to our strengths.”

“After losing out on a medal two years ago we’ve come back stronger and hungrier,” added Bowie.

There were a further three medals on the last day of the competition.

European Team Championships bronze medallist James Shane (coach: Martin Brown), who was ranked only seventh coming into the race, won silver in the 1500m after a burn up over the final 300m saw him overcome a late challenge from Spain’s David Bustos to finish second in 3:50.58 behind Florian Carvalho of France (3:50.42).

“I really didn’t think I’d got it (second place),” said Shane, who probably didn’t expect to dip for the line after a slow 1500m, either. “I felt much better than yesterday, so much more relaxed and comfortable.

“I just stuck to my race plan; I’d planned to get into a good position then at 300m to go I was just going to fight. I knew it might be the worst 40 seconds of my life, but it was going to be worth it!”

There was also silver for the men’s 4 x 100m relay team (39.10) - Andrew Robertson (coach: John Smith), Kieran Showler-Davis (coach: John Davis), Richard Kilty (coach: Linford Christie) and Danny Talbot (coach: Dan Cossins) - who finished behind Italy (39.05), and although they felt they could have won gold, they should be reassured by two well executed races in both the heat and final.

“We’re a little bit down because on paper we should have won it,” said 100m bronze medallist Robertson, “but we did our best and the changes were solid. It definitely wasn’t a disaster, we’ve medalled and we’ve got a really great team spirit here.”

Stevie Stockton (coach: George Gandy), in only her second 5000m race, used her 1500m pace to take bronze in a hard fought last 200m in a PB time of 15:58.51.

In complete contrast to the majority of endurance events at this Championship, Azerbaijan’s eventual winner Layes Abdullayeva took the race on from the gun and within seconds her lead was significant with only two Russians for company. Abdullayeva’s gap continued to increase but the third place Russian was gradually coming back to pack, which was led by Stockton.

She eventually moved into third with two laps to go and in spite of a late challenge from Clemence Calvin of France, she found another gear to move back into a podium position.

“When I was passed on the back straight coming round to the finish I was thinking “no, no, no”, I really wanted a medal,” she said, “but the majority of my training has been for the 1500m so I was pretty confident when it came down to the sprint finish. I still don’t really know how to pace myself over this distance, but the 1500m training really came into play there!

Emma Pallant (coach: Mick Woods) and Hannah Walker (coach: Bud Baldaro) finished seventh (16:12.57) and eighth (16:13.06) respectively, while Stacey Smith (coach: Mick Woods) in the 1500m and the women’s 4 x 100m relay team were also disappointed not to medal on final day of action.

European leader Smith finished seventh in the women’s 1500m after being caught out tactically in a very slow race.

Starting out comfortably at the back of the pack which had gone through 800m in 2:31.51, she moved through into a better position with two laps to go but was boxed in when it mattered.

“It was so slow,” said Smith who clocked 4:23.53. “I was happy to sit at the back early on to stay out of trouble, but even when I moved up the field I could feel them crowding round me; when they kicked with 300m to go I just couldn’t get through, I had a tactical nightmare.”

The 4 x 100m relay quartet of Annabelle Lewis (coach: Stephen Wymark), Emily Diamond (coach: Jared Deacon), Torema Thompson (coach: Frank Adams) and Asha Philip (coach: Mike McFarlane) qualified for the final as second fastest from their heat in 44.42 but they were unable to replicate that in the final when finishing fourth in 44.34

“We’re disappointed as a team, but I’m only slightly disappointed,” said former World Youth 100m champion Philip, who was pleased just to be back in Championship action after a serious knee injury. “We should have got a medal but it’s experience and it’s made me realise just how much I want this.”

John Herbert, Aviva GB & NI Team Leader, was delighted to be part of such a successful team: “It’s been a brilliant week all around,” he said. “Right from the start I wanted everyone to buy into the word ‘team’ and we’ve absolutely done that.

“As a staff team we were here to support a really talented group of athletes and we had great respect for one another, while the athletes have been one of the nicest groups I’ve come across.

“Right from the start we all connected and everyone knew that they were here to raise their game and perform, and there’s no doubt they did that with six gold medals, five silver and eight bronze. We’ve broken our previous medal record and for me as Team Leader it’s been a privilege and an honour to head up a team that’s achieved that.”