Keely Hodgkinson calls it the perfect building block to a senior career.
Along with the much-coveted national titles, the England Athletics U23 and U20 Championships rewards the winners with competition which was intense for slots available at three major championships.
There were team places on offer for the European Athletics U20 Championships in Jerusalem, Israel, the European Athletics U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland, and finally for the U18s, the Commonwealth Youth Games this summer in Trinidad and Tobago.
So, it was no surprise then there was a wonderful stream of fantastic performances at this newly refurbished facility in Chelmsford.
Headlining it all was Keely Hodgkinson (coach: Trevor Painter, club: Leigh), the British record holder over 800m. She dropped down a distance to run the U23 women’s 400m as part of her season’s plans to qualify for those championships.
Minutes before Hodgkinson took to the track, the Red Arrows flew over as part of the Trooping the Colour ceremony which was taking place in London. And looking every bit as smooth and powerful as the jets that passed overhead, Hodgkinson cruised to a championship best performance. Her time of 52.24 – a PB – improved a certain Olympic champion Christina Ohuruogu’s mark of 52.43.
“These championships are fantastic,” she said, a fan of the way they help athletes prepare for a senior career. “They’re the perfect building block.”
For once the 100 metre races so often the highlight of day one, were number two on the bill although tell that to Teddy Wilson (Tamunonengiye-Ofori Assi, BFT Track Academy) who eased back on the throttle in the U20 men’s semi-final and still clocked 10.44, the third fastest ever U17 time.
A shift in the wind direction from a favourable following breeze to a -1.4m/s headwind meant his winning 10.50 was slower than his semi-final performance. But Wilson even had time for a wave so he could be excused on this occasion. “Have fun,” was his simple conclusion after that. He definitely is doing just that.
In the women’s races, a loaded U20 event was won by Nia Wedderburn-Goodison (Harrow) in 11.53 into a -1.0m/s headwind, defending the title she won last July (and the year before that as well). “I’m happy with that time,” she said.
Next up was the U23 race which was won by Aleeya Sibbons (Coral Nourrice, Newham and Essex Beagles) in 11.46, just 0.4sec covering the first four.
The highlight in the field was a monster personal best of more than four metres in the first round of the U20 men’s javelin for Michael Allison (Tom Dobbing, Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow). His 76.97 wasn’t just an improvement of more than four metres, it was also good for No.4 on the UK all-time list, and a massive improvement on the 1986 championship best performance of 73.68.
The U20 women’s hammer saw Lily Murray (Gareth Cook, Swale) put a shaky start to the season behind her with three throws further than her best going into the competition. She opened with 54.20 before her winning throw of 55.53 in the second round.
“That was very consistent,” she said. “In fact, I was surprised how far it went really,” she laughed. “It made me realise I’ve got much more to come.”
That was a sentiment shared by the U20 men’s champion Kai Barham (Paul Head, Dartford) who described his 70.04 winning throw as “scruffy, but I’m pleased to get another qualifying standard. I just need to tidy a few things up with my technique,” he said.
In the U20 women’s shot, Cleo Agyepong (John Hillier, Blackheath and Bromley) was equally consistent, throwing 14.44, 14.81, 14.79 and 14.83 with her final throw. “I’m pleased to get the qualifying standard,” she said. “And I’m also pleased with the way it went as I’ve been out with exams, but now I’m back.”
It was also a case of recovering from exams for Isaac Delaney (Michael Kiley, Preston Harriers).
“That’s me back in the right direction,” he said after his 18.01 gold medal-winning throw. “I’ve had a nightmare outdoor season so far juggling studying for Chemistry, Biology and Maths and being an athlete. Just four exams to go,” he laughed.
Day one at these Championships tends to be about the qualifying rounds for the distance races, but there were one or two straight finals for the crowd to enjoy. In the U23 women’s 800m, Steph Driscoll (Trevor Painter, Liverpool Harriers) ran a solid 2:05.92 never looking troubled.
Not the case in the U23 men’s 3000m steeplechase which was all about who cleared the final barrier the best. That was Thomas Bridger (Mark Vile, Cambridge and Coleridge) who eased away for an 8:51.66 victory. Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgins, Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) won the U20 race, which was run at the same time, his 9:10.18 easily the fastest in the UK this season.
The U18 events weren’t about winning national titles as this age group doesn’t have that status, but they were great competitions given the incentive for anyone who secured the qualifying mark.
That intensity was apparent from the very first event as in the U18 400m hurdles, Arabella Wilson’s (Andrew Fisher, Winchester) 60.86 saw her secure a Commonwealth Youth Games qualifying time and potentially book a place on the plane to Trinidad and Tobago. Similarly, Oliver Parker (Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) was in personal best form, stopping the clock at 50.22 – also inside the mark needed.
Ayesha Jones (Janina Pownail, Marshall Milton Keynes) confirmed her No.1 status in the U18 women’s javelin with a qualifying distance of 48.72 to cap a superb series.
Photos by Mark PainDay 1 results on Roster