As athletics seasons go, they don’t get much more bigger than the summer of 2017. With not only qualification for London 2017 at stake for English athletes, but selection for the England team for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, hitting the ground running in May this year has taken on more importance than ever.
Many members of the England team therefore headed to the Loughborough International, the traditional curtain raiser to the European season for domestic athletes, hoping to either produce qualifying performances or to set down markers on which to build as the season progresses.
The event was also a chance for the team support staff to begin preparations in earnest for the Gold Coast; establishing new working relationships and building on existing ones.
Always closely contested between the hosts, Loughbourough Students AC, GB Juniors and England, the team made a strong start, with a win in the women’s 4x100m in the first track event of the day, followed by strong performances from a host of athletes as they tune up for the challenges ahead. In the end the England team ran out winners overall as well as in both the men’s and women’s matches.
It was the field events that provided the first victories of the day, as Jade Ive (Club: Sutton and District; Coach: Allan Williams) took the win in the pole vault and Scott Lincoln (City of York; Paul Wilson) placed first in the shot put.
Ive cleared 4.15m to edge out Wales’s Sally Peake, while Lincoln, fresh from competing in Europe just 24 hours previously, hurled the shot out to 18.71m.
Elsewhere on a day that provided both cool and overcast and warmer, more favourable conditions, there were fine wins from Alex Bell (Pudsey and Bramley; Aaron Thomas) in the 800m and Cheriece Hylton (Blackheath and Bromley; Ryan Freckleton), both of whom were pleased with their runs.
“I’m delighted with the win today,” beamed Bell, following a 2:02.71 clocking. “It’s only the second race of the season, so I’m pleased to be hitting some consistent times front running.”
“I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks competing in Europe, where I can hopefully be pulled round and break the 2:00 barrier. Today was a good indication, showing I’m fit, in good shape and ready to roll!”
Hylton, too, was feeling positive, her 23.44 200m a qualifying mark for this summer’s European U23 championships.
“I’m really pleased,” she explained. “”Especially for the 200m, I just wanted to execute the race. I wasn’t chasing times as such, I just wanted to get the win, so I was over the moon with the win.”
“I want to get the 400m qualifying for the U23s and it’s goal of mine to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. My coach and I have targeted running into September to try to qualify.”
While Joel Fearon (Birchfield Harriers, Michael Khmel), the 2016 England senior champion who dazzled at Bedford last summer, had to settle for third place in the 100m in 10.23, there was considerable success for English athletes in the men’s hurdles races.
Jack Green (Kent AC), competing as a guest, ran a Commonwealth qualifying time of 49.27 to edge out England’s Seb Rodger (Shaftesbury Barnet; Stephen King), who just missed out on equaling that feat, with 49.78, while the sprint hurdles saw a double showdown between Andrew Pozzi (Stratford Upon Avon; Benke Blomqvist) and Dave King (Plymouth; James Hillier).
In the first of two 110mH races, Pozzi won comfortably, speeding to 13.47 with King “only” managing 13.72, while in the second race was even better. This time the Stratford AC athlete breezed to 13.35, another World and Commonwealth qualifier, while King improved to 13.51, under the mark for the Gold Coast and close to the required time for London.
“The first race was a disaster, but the second was much better,” explained King. “I wasn’t a million miles behind Andrew, so I’m pleased. Commonwealths is a big aim. I think I’ve done the minimum of what I need to do already, running two standards. It’s a massive aim.”
Other notable performances from English athletes came from Sinead Gutzmore (Birchfield; Aston Moore), who scored maximum points in the match triple jump (13.16m) and Corinne Humphreys (Orion; Darren Braithwaite), who was 2nd in the 100m (11.42).
1 England 97 (men) + 93 (women) = 190
2 GB & NI Juniors 72 (men) +71 (women) = 143
3 Loughborough Student 72.5 (men) +67 (women) = 139.5
4 Scotland 47.5 (men) +57 (women) = 104.5
5 British Universities 59 (men) +44 (women) = 101
6 Wales 43 (men) +55 (women) = 98