On a dramatic day of athletics at the Tokyo Olympics, four English athletes shone amid tough competition to progress to their respective finals.
Lizzie Bird became the first British woman to reach the final of the 3000m steeplechase at the Olympics. With 9:24.34, she was within two seconds of her best, narrowly missing out on one of the three automatic slots but going through on time in fifth. The Shaftesbury Barnet athlete said afterwards:
“I didn’t want to come here and just be here for the experience, I wanted to compete and get as high as I can and, this year more than ever, I knew I could be competitive. Conditions were hard but the shade on one half of the track really helped.”
However, her team-mate Aimee Pratt (Sale Harriers; Vicente Modahl) could progress no further as she clocked 9:47.56 for 11th in her heat. She said: “I’ve been training really well, there’s just something not right. I think I need to go home and speak to a doctor because since about half-way through the season my body’s just not been right and I’m really not sure what it is. After I ran my standard I came home, I got vaccinated, and since then I’ve just not been right and I don’t know what it is – it’s hard to say.”
On the long jump runway, Abigail Irozuru (Sale Harriers; Aston Moore), who was seventh at the last World Championships, needed a third-round leap of 6.75m - a season’s best - to make sure of going through automatically to the final. She said afterwards: “It looked like I didn’t need to do 75, but I’m so thankful, it was a nice confidence boost to get a season’s best, to finally jump over 6.70 this season, and to hit the auto qualifying because that’s literally what I came here to do.”
Jazmin Sawyers (City of Stoke) followed suit by saving her best for last to qualify for her second Olympic long jump final. Her 6.62m in the final round just proving enough. “I’m confident there’s a lot more in the tank,” she said. “To be honest, it can be ugly, as long as I am in the final, that’s what counts. We know how finals go, anything can happen, I’ll be back in two days’ time, ready to attack, because when I am in a final I’m there to try and take those top spots.” However, this year’s UK No.1, Lorraine Ugen (Thames Valley; Dwight Phillips), could not make it a trio of Brits in the final. She jumped 6.05m in the first round and then followed up with two no-jumps.
Meanwhile, the day ended unhappily for Zharnel Hughes with disqualification in the 100m final, but he had shown his best form for two years in the semi-finals to give himself a shot at a medal. Hughes (Shaftesbury Barnet; Glen Mills) suffered a sprinter’s worst nightmare when he clearly jumped the gun in a final surprisingly won by Italian Marcel Jacobs in 9.80. He had had high hopes in what had seemed an open final after a 9.98 clocking to win his semi-final, beating world No.1 Trayvon Bromell of USA. Explaining his mishap was caused by his calf cramping up in the blocks, he said: “I’m really gutted right now. I worked too hard to come here and false start. I just have to gather my thoughts together and try to refocus for the 4x100m.” Team-mate CJ Ujah (Enfield & Haringey; Ryan Freckleton) finished fifth in 10.11 in the fastest semi-final, in which 9.90 was only good enough for fourth. “I would have loved to come here and put out a season’s best to qualify for the final, but it’s just not to be,” he said. “Now, I have 24 hours to process what’s happened, get together with the guys and look ahead to the relay.”
Earlier, there was disappointment too for Reece Prescod (Enfield & Haringey), who was disqualified for a false start in the first semi. “To be honest, it’s just my fault, I’m not going to shy away from it, not going to blame anything, or make an excuse for it. I’m a professional athlete. I shouldn’t have false started – I was amped up,” he said.
In the final of the high jump, Tom Gale (Team Bath; Dennis Doyle) placed 11th in a high-quality competition in which 10 cleared 2.30m or higher. He had first-time clearances at 2.19m, 2.24m and 2.27m but then had three failures at 2.30m as Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi shared gold.
After watching the rest of what he called the best Olympic final since 1992, Gale said: “It's just frustrating, I’m in really good shape, I did everything I could to be in the best shape possible, and I feel like I let my family down, let my team down, by body just failed me a little bit. I had a knee operation last year, my knee is in agony, I can’t go up and down stairs right now, I rolled my ankle on my second jump. I did everything I could to get in shape but I just couldn’t do enough.”
The British duo in the 100m hurdles had to be content with making the semi-finals. Tiffany Porter (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) was first up in heat two and ran 12.86 for fifth.
Meanwhile, her sister, Cindy Sember (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), was a tenth quicker in the third heat. However, that time was unusually not good enough for the final as she was only seventh behind Jasmine Camacho-Quinn’s Olympic record of 12.26.
Sember reflected: “It was fast, but to be fair I didn’t feel like myself and execute the race as I have been all season, so that’s a bit unfortunate, but to be in such a quick race and go against so many competitive girls was a blessing, and to be here with my sister again is just amazing, so I’m very grateful.”
High hopes for the Brits in the men’s 800m faded as Daniel Rowden and Elliot Giles went out in the semi-finals. Rowden (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) found himself boxed in the home straight but nevertheless clocked a season’s best of 1:44.35 in fifth, ultimately missing out on the final by just five hundredths of a second. “I went for a gap coming into the home straight and the gap closed as soon as I went through it, I lost my stride and that was it,” said Rowden, who had been looking to cap an excellent season. “In 800m running, if there’s no space it probably means that you’ve put yourself in the wrong position and it’s disappointing because I knew my potential was to win a medal and it’s disappointing that I couldn’t make that a reality.”
Despite running most of his semi-final from the front, Giles (Birchfield; Jon Bigg) ended up third with 1:44.74. Giles, who earlier this year went to second on the world indoor all-time list, said: “I felt good until 50m to go then the lactic sniper kicked in and, wow, my body just flooded. I just couldn’t get my legs moving, it was tough. I should have been strong enough to hold on to a 44-low, even if I did lead, but I wasn’t and ran a 44.7 so there’s not much I can say about that. “I would have ditched all of the last few years to have made that final today. Our sport is about performing when it matters and today is the day that matters and I didn’t do that.”