Day six of the track and field competition at the Olympics witnessed a number of positive performances by English athletes in Tokyo. Nick Miller placed sixth in the hammer, Liz Bird finished ninth in the steeplechase with a UK record and Jodie Williams qualified impressively for the 400m final.
Williams (Herts Phoenix; Ryan Freckleton) climbed to sixth on the UK all-time list as her time of 49.97 took a massive 0.97 seconds off her PB. In her first international championships over the distance, the former 200m sprinter came in second behind defending champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
“I’m so happy. It’s just sinking in when I was walking just then and I started crying!” said Williams. “It’s been such a long journey and I needed to come here and make that final and I’m glad I’ve got that first part done; that’s the hardest part – and being in that final anything can happen so you’ve got to be there to challenge for medals.”
Regarding the time, she added: “Crazy because three weeks ago I broke 51 for the first time, and now I’ve come here, I saw that first heat. I saw all of those girls go 49 and I was like ‘you have no choice now’ and I ran for my life.” Ama Pipi (Enfield & Haringey) would have needed an even bigger PB to go through from the first semi-final. Sub-50 seconds was required to make the final here, but she ended up seventh in 51.59.
In the hammer, Miller gained the highest placing at the Games by a British male since 1924 with a 78.15m mark. The Border Harrier had started well with 77.88m in round one and then had two other throws over 77m before his final effort. He then consolidated sixth with a 78.15m, the fourth best of his career, as Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki took gold. However, the Tore Gustaffson-coached athlete, who was also sixth at the 2017 World Championships, wanted better. “I’m a little disappointed. I don’t feel I quite found the throw,” he told BBC Sport afterwards. “The last throw was good and, I think it was the third turn, I got a cramp in my calf, so that kind of put an end to that good feeling. After a pretty bad year of injury, sixth isn’t bad, but I’m capable of more.”
Bird took more than three seconds from her British record, clocking 9:19.68 for a great ninth place. The Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier, who was already the first Brit to reach an Olympic steeplechase final, stuck to her game plan as the pace hotted up in the second kilometre and Peruth Chemutai of Uganda eventually sped away to the title.
“I’m happy with that,” she said. “I think I had to reset after making the final as that was my main goal, and I chatted with my coach (Pat McCurry) and we thought on a good day 6th-10th would be a really good result, so I was just trying to race the best I could. My legs felt pretty tired after the heat, so it felt a bit tougher than I was maybe expecting it to, but I’m happy with that.”
Andrew Pozzi (Stratford upon Avon; Santiago Antunez) went through to his first global 110m hurdles final. He finished fourth in the first of the three semi-finals, but after an anxious wait, the world indoor 60m hurdles champion discovered he was one of the fastest non-automatic qualifiers. Pozzi, who got out well but drifted back slightly to clock 13.32 — nine hundredths behind winner Ronald Levy, said:
“That wait was horrible, excruciating. It’s the first time I’ve had to go through that wait, hopefully it will be the last, and I’m so happy to make the final… I’m happy to go again but let’s be clear, it will need to be better, and I feel confident that I’ll do that, so let’s move forward.”
David King (City of Plymouth) could not follow him as he finished seventh in his heat with 13.67. “It was messy from the start,” he admitted. “I kind of stumbled out of the blocks and, when you don’t set up your hurdles race right, it’s really hard to come back from it. My only goal today, however, was to go out and enjoy it and I definitely did. It was nice to be around the guys running super-fast. It’s definitely nice to surround myself with these people and, yeah, it’s an Olympic Games – it’s a great experience.”
There was heartbreak for heptathlon medal prospect Katarina Johnson-Thompson who was forced to withdraw through injury. Johnson-Thompson had come into the event with uncertainty hanging over her due to an injury to her left Achilles sustained last December. The world champion’s challenge for the medals ended with a different injury as she pulled up on the bend of the 200m at the end of the first day. She had started positively with 13.27 in the 100m hurdles, the second best of her career. Her high jump of 1.86m was below par, but a 13.31m shot – also her second best-ever – left her fifth going into the 200m. However, her agony was clear halfway through the sprint as she hopped to a standstill and then sat on the track. She made her way to the finish in order to allow herself the chance to complete her heptathlon but, in a further cruel blow, she was disqualified for having stepped out of her lane. She then announced she was pulling out with what was confirmed as a right calf issue.
After setting a PB in the heat, Katie Snowden (Herne Hill Harriers) was just outside that with 4:02.93 for ninth as she missed out on progressing from the fastest ever 1500m semi at the Olympics. Faith Kipyegon led five auto-qualifiers under four minutes with only two others to go through in total. The Daniel Stepney-coached athlete, who has taken nearly three seconds from her PB this season, said: “I think four minutes is my limit, but I think when you’re going through 800 that quickly I felt a bit stretched a bit earlier than I wanted to, and just couldn’t give a big last lap which is what I needed to qualify. “I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t run another PB there, because I really feel in shape to go a little bit quicker, but the 1500m is such high quality this year. It’s exciting to be a part of it and hopefully I can build on this.”