Sunday was all about keeping the intensity high given the England team vests on offer for the World Combined Events Tour silver label meeting in Tallinn next month and, of course, the glory of a national title.
It made for some superbly dramatic competition, which for the women resulted in a Championships record, while for the men, it was a case of dusting themselves down after day one and launching a charge for the line. Here’s how it all unfolded:
Senior women’s pentathlon
Abigail Pawlett (Coach: Ashley Bryant, Club: Trafford) got things going with a smooth looking and very encouraging 8.32 in the 60m hurdles. That’s just 0.02sec shy of her best time ever and hinted that this could be a very good day for the U17 national record holder for the pentathlon. It was a similar story in the high jump in that Pawlett cleared 1.72, again close to her best of 1.76. The event winner, Anna McCauley (Sheffield and Dearne) saw her 1.75 consolidate her third place just behind Wales’ Lauren Evans who clocked 8.59 in the 60 hurdles and like Pawlett also cleared 1.72.
That theme continued in the shot as Pawlett opened with a close-to-a-PB 13.75 to increase her lead after her closest two pursuers. As any combined eventer will confirm, nothing is ever a done deal when there are five disciplines to deal with, but it was beginning to look comfortable for the Trafford athlete given that on her best she’s a 6.09 long jumper and that was the next event. And like every event beforehand, she was just shy of her absolute best, jumping 5.93 with her first effort, great considering she had previously fractured her take-off leg, and this was an early-season test to see how things are going. Jordanna Morrish (Rafer Joseph, Basingstoke and Mid Hants) led the way in the long jump with a superb 5.97.
Given the form Pawlett is clearly in, it’s perhaps no surprise the final event, the 800m followed the script pretty much spot on in that she cruised around untroubled in 2:22.93. Again, it was close to her PB, although on this occasion in the right direction in that it was almost two seconds faster than she’d ever run before. But more significantly, it was a Championships record, removing the 1998 figures of Julia Bennett from the books. A perfect way to sign off on what had been a superb weekend for everybody involved.
“I’m really excited with that,” said Pawlett. “That was my first combined events in four years because of injury so to get a Championship record (4325 points) was really pleasing. I’ve been concentrating on the hurdles because of a fracture in my jumps take-off leg so I was also really excited about where I am. That’s pretty much perfect for this time of year.”
Senior men’s heptathlon
Sunday morning sparked into life in dramatic fashion in the 60 hurdles. The clock stopped at 8.23 for Sam Talbot (Coach: John Lane, Club: Sheffield and Dearne) for the overnight leader and winner of the first event. But that barely told the whole story. First, there was that winning time: on another day, it would be vaguely concerning for Talbot as it was way below what he is capable of (he ran 7.85 last season on his way to the gold medal and 7.96 just 10 days ago) and with a charging Lewis Church (David Hull, Tonbridge) in the field and in form in the vault things could change in an instant.
Talking of ‘in an instant’, there was the not insignificant matter of the third barrier incident. Talbot’s third hurdle nudged Church’s which resulted in the Tonbridge athlete crashing to the track, apparently ending his Championships before most of us get up on a Sunday. However, 10 minutes later Church, the 2022 champion found himself on the line, granted – rightfully – a reprieve and he soloed a solid, if not somewhat controlled 8.41. Game on given that in a roundabout way all this helped Church who after the re-run was only just behind his best, while Talbot had to be content with his slower than usual time.
All of which meant the pole vault became really, really interesting. Talbot had been struggling in training with his technique so had to be happy with 4.30 on this occasion, while Church needed a big clearance to really apply the pressure. He comfortably cleared 4.40 and followed that with a third time clearance of 4.50. He gambled by moving the bar to 4.70 but on this occasion, it wasn’t to be although he was well clear on his third attempt, hitting it on the way down. That meant the two headed to the final event, the 1000m, with 76 points separating them. As ever, the vault is always full of drama and it didn’t fail as medal contender and Commonwealth Games Team England member, Harry Kendall (David Hull, Tonbridge) no-heighted.
No-one likes to leave it to the final event, five laps of the track, so credit to Talbot who seized control of the race for gold after just 400m and simply ran away from a Church for a superb victory, crossing the line in 2:42.52, but more importantly retaining the title he won last year.
Loughborough student Oliver Adnitt (Kingston upon Hull) took the bronze with a PB of 5194 points after a solid set of sprint times and vertical jumps heights and a fast final 1000m which saw him finish ahead there if the other two medallists.
“I was a happy at the end of day one,” said Talbot. “I was where I wanted to be; then in the hurdles I think I ran my worst race of my life. I didn’t get out well and hit that hurdle and from there I struggled to get going. I have been struggling with the pole vault this year because of a shin issue, so I’m not where I want to be there, but it’s great to win. Now I just have to reset and get ready for Tallinn in a few weeks.”
U20 men’s heptathlon
The first event of the morning wasn’t quite as dramatic as the men’s crash-filled race, but it did give overnight leader Conrad Winter (Coty of Norwich) something to think about. He ran a solid enough 8.59 while Sam Wright (Simon Hemmings, Chelmsford) closed the gap slightly thanks to his 8.30. Ordinarily that wouldn’t appear that significant but given Wright is the National Indoor champion in the high jump that was the very next event, alarm bells perhaps began to ring. As it transpired, those bells did signify something as it was in fact Welshman Lolo Grant (Mike Guest, Cardiff Archers) who snuck into the lead by just six points thanks to his first-time clearance at 1.90. Wright went one height better and nipped over 1.93 at the third attempt, while Winter could go no better than 1.84.
So, it would be down to who could run five laps of the track the quickest. Grant led the way in terms of points with 4278 with Winter on 4272 and Sulaiman Ouiles (Paul Wray Cheltenham and County) appearing almost unnoticed on the scene in third with 4260 thanks to a quietly impressive series of 8.61 in the hurdles, and a 1.93 high jump to add to his hugely significant 4.40 in the pole vault on the Saturday.
However, as early as the first lap Winter confirmed his pre-event favourite status and opened up a significant lead on his closest challengers before a superb final 400m saw him cross the line in second in 2:53.00 to easily take the title.