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UK Athletics

Norwich Union London Grand Prix

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AT the finish of the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace tonight, Lord Sebastian Coe, Britain’s former 800m world record and the chairman of London 2012, was interviewed.

The crowd listened in awe - and how fitting that the two-lap race had brought a glorious evening for Britain.

It was one of several highlights for the crowd of home stars, but at least gave encouragements in the countdown to the European Championships.

Becky Lyne, (Hallamshire Harriers), went to the same school, never mind the same club, as Coe, and she is fast becoming the star of British athletics this summer. As Janeth Jepkosgei won in 1:58.54, Lyne never gave up to finish second in 1:58.69 with Jamaica’s Kenia Sinclair third in 1:58.76. But how impressive were the events behind her as Amanda Pritchard, in fifth, and Marilyn Okoro, in sixth, made huge breakthroughs. Pritchard clocked 1:59.74 with Okoro recording 1:59.75, with the third spot in the European Championships still to be decided.

“Wow,” said Pritchard. “I don’t know where that came from.”

Okoro added: “Everyone has been talking about breaking two minutes since January...so it’s fantastic to have finally done it.”

The men’s 100m did not bring the world record we might have expected from Asafa Powell, but was still a spectacle.

He won the final in 9.91. The evening only dampened by no GB presence - Tyrone Edgar, Craig Pickering, Marlon Devonish, Mark Lewis-Francis and Mark Findlay all having to settle for places in the heats. Later however, Lewis-Francis led GB A home to win the 4 x 100m relay in 39.18 with him and Devonish managing to securely pass the baton on their changeover.

Christian Olsson won the triple with 17.42m, on his first jump, and while he will be the favourite in Gothenburg - his home city - Phillips Idowu, was second in 17.06m. And it could be some competition between them two at the European Championships. Nathan Douglas was 4th with 16.89, whilst Larry Achike, improving with each performance on his way back from injury leapt 16.74.

But in the women’s long jump there was disappointment for Jade Johnson, the European silver medallist. She needed 6.65 to make the European team, but her fourth effort of 6.44m was her best and will have to rely on selectors discretion to reach Gothenburg. She has been recovering from an operation to cure a kidney complaint but she said: “The last year has been a really hard time. It has been really tough, I would not change anything. It will make me really stronger.”
Kelly Sotherton faired better however, with 6.52m to take second.


All the build up to the 200m was about Xavier Carter, the new sensation of the event, who has been edging towards Michael Johnson’s world record. But the sprinter known as The X-Man had to settle for second as he was beaten by a stunning performance from his fellow American Tyson Gay.

Gay won in all-comers record of 19.84 followed by Carter, second in 19.98, with Wallace Spearmon third in 20.11. Devonish, who is Britain’s big hope for the distance in Gothenburg, had a tough night when he finished sixth in  20.85. Though he had earlier run in the 100m, failing to make the final.


In the men’s 400m, Tim Benjamin ran a season’s best time of 45.38, but unlike a year ago when he beat America’s Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner, it was never going to be the case tonight. Wariner was in such control, a command performance from the world’s No 1 as he soared around to win in 43.99 from Andrew Rock. However Benjamin was upbeat; “I am getting there, I’m still just a little bit slower than I want to be. In a couple of weeks’ time, I hope to be under 45, as I’ll need that to win it. I will give it my best shot.” Robert Tobin was last in 45.90 behind Martyn Rooney in 7th with 45.67.


It was a disappointing night for Christine Ohuruogu, the Commonwealth 400m champion. She has been returning from injury, but probably would have wanted to finish better than 7th  in her key event, but she did so with her fastest time since injury to show it is slowly coming back. Nicola Sanders however ran a storming 50.68 – another PB this outdoor season.


Janine Whitlock was sixth in the Pole Vault with a season’s best of 4.35m, still short however of the elite entry standard for Gothenburg – but Kate Dennison, also clearing 4.35 did so producing a fine personal best to take 8th.


In the men’s high jump, Stefan Holm, another Olympic champion from Sweden, won with a season’s best of 2.34m. Germaine Mason proved he is a great acquisition for GB with a season’s best of 2.31 whilst Adam Scarr managed 2.20. Martyn Bernard was 11th, and last, with 2.15m.


It is proving a superb year for Mo Farah. Tonight was no different as he achieved another pb, this time of 3:39.02 in a tough 1500m race where Great Britains strongest 1500m runners could not cope with the  pace.


Jo Pavey ran a season’s best in the 3000m of 8:38.80, but such was the quality of the field of an Ethiopian clean sweep led by the brilliant Tirunesh Dibaba, of Ethiopia, broke her personal time with a run of 8:29.55. Second was Berhane Adere, the former world 10,000m champion, in 8:33.17, with Ejegayehu Dibaba, third in 8.35.94, also a pb. “That will do me good before the European Championships – but I was disappointed with the time,” admitted Pavey.


In the Javelin, Goldie Sayers finished third in 56.83m, hinting at an njury niggle which disrupted her performance. Sayers explained: “I caught my Achilles tendon in the second round which meant I could not get my foot down.”


One of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for an athlete who had been retired for a year now, but who still remains perhaps the most popular in the country. Kelly Holmes, was announced to the crowd prior to the 800m On Camp With Kelly race for the girls she is mentoring towards stardom. Great cheers rang out for Holmes, and equally loud support for the race itself which proved a real thriller.

Danielle Christmas, did just enough along the final 20m, battling away to win in 2:06.70 from Hannah England, of Oxford City, in 2:06.85 with Linzi Snow, of Woodford Green with Essex Ladies, third in 2:07.74, a pb.

David Weir, a Flora London Marathon champion, is such an outstandingly consistent competitor and in the 800m Paralympic race, that proved no different. Showing the form which has seen him power to two world records this summer over 200m and 400m, he won by 0.20 in 1:41.03 from Switzerland’s Marcel Hug with Jordan Bird, of the USA, third in 1:42.77.


Natasha Danvers-Smith, the Commonwealth silver medallist, is one of Britain’s leading hopes for glory in Gothenburg and tonight, she was happy despite defeat in the home straight in the 400m hurdles. Danvers-Smith looked like she was going to hold on but she lost her rythm and was overtaken by Dominiqe Darden, of the USA, who won in a pb of 54.88. Danvers-Smith was second in 55.26 with Lee McConnell third in 55.43. Both looked good and would hope to be among the medals in Gothenburg. Danvers-Smith had no doubt there is still work to do. “I have some work to do on the 10th hurdle. I need to really attack it, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I will get it right in time for the European Championships.I tried a new pattern today.”


There was a great breakthrough by Emma Duck however, with a 4th placed 55.70 – a second off her lifetime best, repaying the selectors faith in her 3rd spot in the 400m hurdles places.


Earlier in the evening had produced a fine race as Richard Hill, in 1:46.34, beat Jebrah Harris, of the USA, by 0.18 with Jimmy Watkins third in 1:46.99, in an 800m where places were at stake for Gothenburg. “It was very dry out there,” said Hill. “But that was an awesome run, possibly the best tactical race I have run. I have been sick of British runners sitting in behind me and then running fast times, so today I changed my tactics.

“I have been told it was winner takes all today so now I hope to be off to the European Championships.”


In the Spar Sprints 200m under-17 for women, Ashlee Nelson, of the City of Stokes, won in a personal best of 23.87 ahead of Tamworth’s Megham Beesley, also in a pb of 24.47 with Robyn Rashford, of Sale Harriers Manchester, third in 24.61.

Joice Maduaka, who won the sprint double in fabulous fashion at the Norwich Union European Trials in Manchester earlier this month, was even more impressive in the senior 200m tonight.

Maduaka soared away to victory in 23.22 ahead of British teammates Emma Ania, who was second in 23.48 with Emily Freeman third in 23.48.

But Maduaka had to chase hard for seventh in the 100m. She finished in 11.45 in what proved to be one of the best races of the night as Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson ran 11.00 to hold off a strong and constant challenge from the legendary Marion Jones, of the USA, on outside.

There were pbs all the way a classy Spar Sprints 200m under-17 for men which Chris Clarke, of Marshall Milton Keynes, won in 21.16, beating Olufumi Sobodu, of Worthing, who was second in 21.50 in front of Havering’s Eugene Ayanful, third in 21.91. All three were in lifetime best performances, among six of eight of the athletes in the race to achieve such a distinction.


It was also an evening which Newham’s Tom Bilham will long remember. He won the under-20 3000m in 8:16.26, a pb, from Adam Hickey, who was second in 8:24.50 with Mike Tallis, of the IFF Group, third in 8:30.04.


In the women’s equivalent race Sian Edwards, triumphed in 9:16.38, doing so by 8.23 to beat Jessica Coulson, of Stockport Harriers, with City of Norwich’s Ruth Senior third in 9:32.72.