Tense, tight and quite simply amazing competition at day 1 of U23 and U20 championships

With GB team slots the main focus for many, tense, tight and quite simply amazing competition was always going to be on the agenda at the England U23 and U20 championships and European trials and so it proved.

For the U23s, Gävle in Sweden is the target in mid July, while just a few days later, also in Sweden the best U20s will have Borås as their preferred summer destination, both age groups challenging for glory at the European Champs.

And to confirm just how important this event has become on the calendar, for the first time ever the BBC picked up Vinco’s live feed for its web page, meaning this championships can now reach a truly global audience. And that audience wasn’t disappointed with the action. As always on the first day of these championships, the 100m provides some great races. Through the rounds, a troublesome headwind, gusting up to to -4m/s on occasion made the results look a little erratic, but come the final it was a very different story.

Given she’s won three titles in a row, many people’s favourite was Amy Hunt (Charnwood, Joe McDonnell) and she got things rolling in the women’s U20 100m with a runaway 11.78 win – not the fastest time around but given the unusual-for-Bedford headwind, very good indeed. Title number 4 in the bag. Determined to get things really rolling, the women’s U23 100m was all about power, superbly demonstrated by Kristal Awuah (Herne Hill Harriers, Matthew Thomas) who won in 11.58. Again, she’s run much, much quicker, but the wind refused to play ball! Over to the men. Could they fare any better, or more accurately, be a bit luckier? Cardiff’s Jeremiah Azu (Cardiff, Helen James) might not use that phrase ‘lucky’ to describe his victory given he emerged a clear winner in 10.76, although he did survive a hamstring tweak in the final two strides. Finally, the men’s U23 100m and over to World Junior finalist Dominic Ashwell (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, Marvin Rowe) with a best of 10.20. He started superbly and held off all-comers for the win, but again the clock tells the story: 10.60. You had to be there. If the wind was its usual friendly self and not -1.9m/s as it was in that race, well records would fall.

Needless to say, the distance races were tactical affairs, although no-one appears to have told Kristian Imroth (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, Stephen Murphy) that. He was a clear winner of the U20 men’s steeplechase, which on its own is impressive enough, but throw in the fact he surged hard late on to nick inside the European qualifying time with a personal best of 9:03.42 and he beat all the U23s in this combined age group event as well. Not a bad afternoon’s work!

Amy Hunt 100m

Notes from the form book

Such has been the meteoric rise of Dominic Ogbechie (Highgate, Marcus Guei/John Herbert) that all eyes were on him in the men’s U20 long jump given the various titles he has already won in the that event, the high jump, not to mention the 200m as well as the multi events; few paid much attention to Stephen MacKenzie (Giffnock North, Linda Nicholson). But it was the Scot who flew out to a lifetime best and more importantly a European qualifying 7.59, finding his best form at exactly the right moment; further than Ogbechie has ever jumped outdoors. To make things worse for the selectors, Ogbechie, the world age record holder for high jump (2.22) injured himself on this occasion and limped off with the first aid team after an early 7.57 mark, his best ever outdoors. He returned smiling for the medal ceremony, so fingers crossed it’s just a niggle and we’ll see him in Sunday’s high jump. Watch this space!

Metzger and Leonard 2019Like Ogbechie, the men’s U23 triple jump featured a stand-out performer – but unlike the long jump it all went very much to expectation and the pre-event favourite took home the gold medal. It was always going to be Kevin Metzger (Sale, Keith Hunter) as already he has won England titles in the U15, U17 and U20 age groups. Make that the full set now, as he dominated the competition from the early rounds, slowly edging further ahead of his rivals as the competition unfolded to take the title with 15.17.

The men’s U23 high jump was a much closer affair as Joel Khan (Worcester, Deirdre Elmhirst) and Tom Gale (Team Bath, Dennis Doyle) both scaled 2.18, a season’s best for Khan. Thanks to a second round clearance it was advantage Khan as they moved the bar to 2.22, a height Gale had bettered indoors this year. But from that point onwards it was Gale who seized the initiative and breezed over the European qualifying height at the second time of asking as Khan had to call it a day. Gale then cleared a season’s best 2.25 before calling it a day at a PB-equalling 2.30.

Alice Hopkins (Oxford City, Marcia Marriott) was also in Euro qualifying form in the U23 women’s long jump, touching down at 6.51 after consecutive 6.39 jumps in round one and two.

Rising to the occasion

The women’s U20 pole vault was a fascinating affair with literally nothing separating the two main contenders at the end of the competition so it went to a jump-off which started at the final height, 3.95. Sophie Ashurst (Sale, Andy Ashurst) failed at what would have been a PB, while Felicia Miloro (Sutton in Ashfield, Henrietta Paxton/ Scott Simpson) went clear. Tense? Yes. Tight? Yes. Exciting? Definitely!

After what former British hammer record holder Paul Head described as a slow start, given the 60m+ talent taking part, the women’s U20 hammer burst into life in the fourth round with Charlotte Payne (Newbury, Paul Dickens) finally hitting form with a 59.90 effort. That edged her ahead of Charlotte Williams (Blackburn, Michael Hitchin) who had been leading with a third round effort 58.34. Form suggested it would be between these two for the final three throws and so it proved with Williams unleashing a monster PB in the final round of 62.84, the seventh best of all-time just 90cm short of the CBP. It may have been a slow start, but like so many events on this great day there was a hugely exciting finish. The men’s U20 hammer mirrored the women’s event in that it was exciting right to the wire, with one of the longest throws ever (10th best all-time) needed to win as Ben Hawkes (Worthing, Eric Davison) threw 73.15.

Competition like this often produces some amazing performances but few could match Temitope Ojora (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, Danny Sawyers) who touched down at 13.08 in the women’s U20 triple, one of the longest jumps on record. Windy (it was +3.1m/s) or not, just three have ever gone beyond the fabled 13-metre barrier, which even last year must have seen a long way away given Ojora’s 11.71 best.

A familiar tale

Sarah Omoregie (Cardiff, Gareth Lease) was in dominant form in the women’s U20 shot, taking the lead early on to add the 2019 crown to the one she won in 2018. Her 15.41 winning mark was just 4cm shy of her PB but significantly a Euro qualifier and well ahead of her 2018 performance. George Armstrong (Newham and Essex Beagles, Zane Duquemin) also had repetition on his mind as he won the men’s U23 discus for the third time thanks to his 56.98 in the fifth round, rare indeed in this age group. Mind you, tell that to Max Law (Havering, Sam Harrison) who knew a decent throw in the men’s U20 javelin would give him a fifth title in a row. He’s won two U15s, two U17s and now thanks to a 67.58, a European qualifying mark, he has the full set.

Keen to get in on the title retaining act was Morgan Lake (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, Fuzz Caan) in the women’s U23 high jump. After a stuttering opening, the red-hot favourite for the title duly obliged with a 1.92, which is an encouraging return to form following a mediocre early Diamond League campaign and superior to her 2018 mark of 1.90.

Alex Knibbs (Amber Valley and Erewash, Nick Dakin) clocked a controlled looking 51.24 to win the men’s U23 400m HUrdles comfortably.

It was that kind of day as Lewis Byng (Stratford, Stuart Carlaw) won the U20 men’s shot …. again. He won in 2018 with 17.31 and now has another gold in 2019. This time, his 18.94 not only won him the title, it was better than the Euro qualifier mark.

It’s a story we’ll be certainly be hearing again – and again – tomorrow as Sunday is packed with finals. The event starts at 9.50am at Bedford International Stadium if you fancy watching some thrilling action. Plus it will be live online on the BBC Sport website, mobile app, Connected TV and iPlayer

Action photos by Mark Shearman