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UK Athletics

Juniors shine at Bedford International Games

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While many of Britain's elite were competing in Gateshead, the Bedford International Games on Sunday 11 June saw some encouraging performances from some of Britain's up and coming junior athletes to round off a busy weekend in the UK Challenge.


In warm, sunny and ideal conditions, and in front of an enthusiastic crowd, many athletes increased their chance of international action later in the year. The women's high jump was certainly one of the highlights. Last year City of Manchester's Stephanie Pywell's best was 1.70m. Last week she advanced to 1.83 in the UK Women’s League and this week she sailed over 1.86m, giving herself plenty of leeway over the world Junior qualifying mark of 1.83m.

Pywell looks a certainty for Britain's team as she moves up and up the UK all time junior lists. She had first time clearances all the way up to 1.86 before some good attempts at 1.89 and her 1.86 scored her 200 UK Challenge points.

'I've been working on my technical training with Terry Lomax and conditioning with Steve Hughes and it seems to be paying off. Last week I attempted 1.85 and it was close. The 1.86 felt good but I wasn't hitting my marker right at 1.89 - I don't feel I can check it when I'm trying the higher heights and I didn't quite give myself enough space.'

Pywell wasn't alone at attempting 1.89m as University of Wales and Cardiff's Irish high jumper Sharon Heveran pushed her all the way. Only 8th last year with 1.66, Heveren cleared a personal best of 1.82m on her third attempt before 1.86 on her second, and was extra delighted as the latter guarantees her funding from the Irish Federation.


Another talented Junior making exciting progress is Birchfield's Amy Harris. Already the owner of the Beijing qualifying mark of 6.15, she virtually guaranteed a place for China with a fine opening round leap of 6.37m which scored 177 challenge points. That moves her into the all-time top 20 junior lists and dominated the competition, but she is sure there is much more to come.

'It's going well and I'm running faster into the board than ever before but because I'm going faster, I have a tendency to collapse on the board at that speed, and did a bit on the 6.37. I want to jump 6.50 this year and will need to, to get a medal.'

Alex Smith (Kingston upon Hull) took advantage of the lighter 6.25kg hammer to launch a consistent series with 4 throws in the 69.42-69.78 range and another who starred in the junior ranks was Gianni Frankis (Basildon) in the sprint hurdles. The 18-year-old SPAR Sprints scholar in 2005, had not been inside 14 seconds before but here he smashed the barrier with one of the fastest ever times over the 3 foot 3 inch barriers with a classy 13.76, which is well inside the Beijing World Junior standard of 14.00 seconds.


'I should have broken 14 seconds before now this year but it all came right today and felt great,' he said.


Another junior breaking barriers and moving closer to being part of the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team at the World Juniors in China was Leicester Coritanians' Grant Baker. After a seemingly gentle start, and chasing Zimbabwean Lloyd Zvasiya, he finished full of running and was delighted when he saw the 46.85 seconds time (166 points) as 47.00 also doubles as the UKA qualifying standard. 'I had a terrible bend and drifted too wide but felt good in the straight and now just me and Martyn Rooney have the time so it's looking good.'

Missing the time but impressing all the same was 17 year-old Perri Shakes-Drayton, who won her first serious 400m hurdles in style in 59.91 (161 points). The English Schools 300m hurdles winner (41.48), blessed with great speed and her technique looked good too as she went inside 60 seconds and the UKA time for Beijing (59.20) looks a formality. 'I like the event and I felt good until the last 100m.'


The best performance from a Senior athlete came in the Men's high jump. The 21 year-old Adam Scarr (Enfield & Haringay) only cleared 2.10 in this meeting last year but he moved up a gear last week with a 2.20 PB in the British League Premiership match at Manchester.


The improvement continued at Bedford. His PB advanced when he cleared 2.22 on the third attempt. That wouldn't have been enough to win though as Tom Parsons (Birchfield) cleared that height first time. Scarr sealed the win with his second PB by sailing over 2.25 (225 points), which equals the UKA development standard for the European Championships and was the highest individual score of the day.


'The 2.25 felt the best I've ever jumped. Everything's going great. After last week I thought I'd jump 2.25 this year but maybe not today.'


An athlete almost certain to be in Gothenburg is Commonwealth heptathlon medallist. Jessica Ennis, (City of Sheffield) who was third in the long jump with 6.13 but fared better in the 100m hurdles, where she just got the better of Sara McGreavy's (City of Manchester) personal best of 13.31, with a fine 13.28 (201 points). Ennis was also close to her shot put best with her 12.12m. She said afterwards:


'I'll probably do the high jump at next week's Northern Championships but things are going well. I felt fast on the runway in the long jump but couldn't quite hit the board and I felt strong in the hurdles.'


Faring less successfully in her Gothenburg preparations is Janine Whitlock (Belgrave) Last year she set a British record of 4.46 with Ellie Spain (Shaftesbury Barnet) a distant second with 4.15. Spain again cleared 4.15 but this time beat an out of sorts Whitlock, who managed just 4.05. Spain did well as she was suffering from injury and is looking to go much higher later in the year but her 4.15 was still the highest women's performance score of the day (205 points).


The other athlete in the headlines last year was Craig Pickering (Marshall Milton Keynes). He preceded his European junior success by beating Darren Campbell (City of Manchester) in the 2005 BIG. He won again, but was less impressive, to narrowly edge Wade Bennett Jackson (Belgrave) in 10.46 seconds.

'My start is going well in training but just isn't working in races,' he lamented.


The quickest sprinter in action on time was Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets) who sped to a windy 10.37 (186 points), a metre up on junior Rion Pierre (Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow).

Fifton continued his good form in the 200m, where he clocked 21.07 seconds though he was narrowly beaten by fellow 20-year-old Somto Eruchie (Leicester Corithians) who set a PB 21.01 (179 points) but Eruchie was disappointed as the finish clock originally showed 20.99.


Emeka Udechuku (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) had an impressive winning double in the shot and discus. In the shot he was consistent with all six throws landing between 18.29and 18.82 (220 challenge points). In the discus he showed less early form with three no throws but he improved on each of his last three throws to end with a 58.11 effort (199)

Earlier in the meeting Zoe Derham (Birchfield) had her best throw of the year in the hammer with 65.07m (170) and that just held off Trafford's  Shirley Webb's final throw of 64.44m.


Ashley Swain (Newham & Essex Beagles) set a season's outdoor best of 5.30 (200 points) to beat Christian North (Woodford Green wirh Essex Ladies)  in the men's pole vault.


20 year-old Chris Kirk (Wakefield) dominated the long jump to back up his 7.63 (173) at Loughborough with a winning 7.62 jump while Tosin Oke (Woodfield Green with Essex Ladies) was an easy winner of the men's triple jump (16.08, scoring 183).

David Parker (Shaftesbury Barnet) set a season's best in the javelin (73.02 - 180 points) and chasing him hard was 21 year-old Mervyn Luckwell (Marshall Milton Keynes) who's 72.37m was a new personal best. James Campbell (Cheltenham & County) surpassed the UKA qualifying standard for the World Junior Championships with a fantastic throw of 71.60m, to break the Scottish junior and Senior record. Jo Blair (Birchfield) was an easy winner of the women's javelin and her 51.07 consolidated her second place on the UK rankings for 2006.


Another good battle was in the senior 100m hurdles where Dominic Girdler (Belgrave) (14.05 - scoring 186 points) just edged Duncan Malins (Newham & Essex Beagles) by one hundredth of a second. Matt Douglas (Belgrave) was an easy winner of the men's 400 hurdles in 50.79 (205).


The UK Challenge series provides British athletes just below that of international standard and aspiring athletes, with top-class competition throughout the summer and throughout the UK.


Altogether there are 48 events throughout the season to score points in culminating in the UK Challenge final at Manchester on the 27 August.