More medal success for Team England on Thursday evening session

With six Commonwealth Games titles up for grabs, Thursday’s evening session saw Team England’s athletes secure three medals – two silver and a bronze.

At Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, silver came in the men’s discus when Lawrence Okoye (coach: John Hillier; club: Croydon), a former NFL American football player threw 64.99 in the fifth round.

Okoye has slowly been returning to the form he showed last season where he threw 67.13. In qualifying he had recorded 63.79, better than his World Championships mark of 63.57, but in the final, he looked loose and ready to go even further and in the second round, after a foul in the first, his discus flew out to 64.97.

But up front, Australia’s Matthew Denny was proving the man to beat with all his throws good enough to win him the gold. He saved his best for last and threw 67.26, a lifetime best after Okoye had edged slightly closer in the fifth round with 64.99 for what was his first-ever major championships medal.

Earlier in the evening, England’s fast finishing Zac Shaw (Leon Baptiste, Cleethorpes) also won a silver medal, his coming in the men’s T11/12 100m.

He clocked 10.90 behind the Paralympic silver medallist Ndodomzi Ntutu who took the gold medal with 10.83.

“It’s been a tough year; last year my mum got diagnosed with cancer and personally I missed out on the Tokyo Olympics [he ran under 11 seconds for the first time ever, but too late to qualify], but now my mum has just been told she is cancer-free, so this medal is for her,” said Zac, proud to have put a smile on her face.

“And I get to do a victory lap. I’m so excited. I’ve never done that before.”

England’s final medal of the evening came in the last event, the men’s 110m hurdles which was rightly given top billing.

Before the race, there was much talk about how fast Jamaica’s Rasheed Broadbell would go after his smooth looking run in the heats. The capacity crowd didn’t have to wait long for the answer as he equalled the Games record with 13.08.

It was, as is almost always the case in the high hurdles, a dramatic race as close behind was England’s Andrew Pozzi (Stratford-upon-Avon) who saved his best race for his biggest final of the year.

For nine of the ten hurdles he looked like he might just get silver or even gold. But he caught the last hurdle and had to lunge, tumbling for the line to hang on for a great bronze medal, clocking 13.37.

Behind him, Joshua Zeller (Steve Rajewsky, Bracknell AC) was equally good, finishing fourth in 13.39.

“I’m really happy. It’s been such a tough season and I haven’t quite got on top of things, but the crowd has given us all energy, so it gave me heart to get there,” said Pozzi, overjoyed to find that elusive form he’s been searching for all season. “I’ve not been quite getting those finer points and that’s what’s needed in hurdling. To have a home championship is everything,” he added.

After the morning’s three events in the men’s decathlon, Harry Kendall (David Hull, Tonbridge) was looking to build on a solid start and improve on his sixth place. His evening began with a solid rather than spectacular clearance in the high jump with 1.91. But that kept him in equal sixth spot before the final event of the day was the 400 which saw Kendall surge hard in the final 80 metres to cross the line in fourth. His time of 49.20 saw him move back into sixth on his own with 3924pts behind the leader Lindon Victor from Grenada who finished the day with 4327pts.

It was all about progressing to the final as smoothly as possible in the women’s 400m hurdles semis, which Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong, Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) duly did with a third-place finish in 55.88. Knight said:

“I’m so excited about the Commonwealth Games. It was so hard to stay focused because the noise was so amazing. I did have a few mistakes in this race, but if I get it right on the day, I think I can get in the medals.”

But it was the first semi that really caught the eye. Simply reading the numbers: eighth, 58.95 might not appear too noteworthy. But for Lina Nielsen (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers), much faster on so many occasions they were very pleasing and perfectly illustrated what the friendly Games are all about.

Earlier in the week she revealed she has been fighting multiple sclerosis and that it flared up during last month’s World Champs. “It’s been such a hard 10 days to navigate everything my body has gone through,” she told the BBC afterwards. “I couldn’t even walk properly a week ago, but I knew I didn’t want to give up and I’m pleased,” she continued, adding that her career is all about inspiring people.

The evening kicked off in style with a world record in the women’s F42-44/61-64 discus. Raza scoring based on the athlete’s level of impairment is used to determine who wins the gold medal as not all athletes, for instance, can use full rotation.

In turn, this means a points table is used to calculate what a throw should score, and longer distances don’t always end with medals. But not the case in this competition as Nigeria’s Goodness Nwachukwu opened up with a World Record of 34.84 and then promptly followed that with an even further throw of 36.56, both easily the longest throws of the event. “I still can’t believe it. I’m so surprised. I didn’t come here thinking I could throw those distances,” Nwachukwu said.

England’s Stacie Gaston-Monerville (Alison O’Riordan / Taz Nicholls, Enfield and Haringey) finished sixth with 27.37, which is a personal best.