Golden night of athletics at Manchester International

From up and coming athletes making their mark through to the 2004 Olympic 4 x100 champions digging out their spikes to return to the track there was a superb evening of action at the Manchester International.

Perhaps nothing typified the action on offer more than the women’s 800m. There was an epic battle between European Under 20 champion Khahisa Mhlanga (GB&NI Under 20, Chelmsford, Mick Judd), 2011 World Championships 1500m silver medallist Hannah England (England, Oxford City, Bud Baldaro) and British Universities 1500m champion Mari Smith (BAL/UKWL, Birchfield Harriers, Bud Baldaro). After a cagey opening England attacked off a slow pace with 200m to go and in a home straight battle looked to be edging away from Mhlanga before the Under 20 clawed back past to take the win in a crowd thrilling finish as England did just enough to hold off Smith by the smallest of margins – the top three clocking 2:11.70, 2:11.80 and 2:11.81.

The men’s long jump, too, saw a closely fought and very high quality competition. Adam McMullen (Northern Ireland and Ulster, Birchfield Harriers) opened with an excellent 7.94m (wind +2.4m/s), which led until Dan Bramble (England, Shaftesbury Barnet, Frank Attoh) matched his effort in round three, before winning it at the last with a legal 7.95m.

Another junior making the most of the competition was Joel Leon Benitez (GB&NI Under 20, Notts AC, Alan Richardson) who set a new meeting record in the men’s pole vault as he defied the blustery conditions to make a third time clearance at 5.50 before making three attempts at a GB Junior record of 5.60 which had the crowd showing their full appreciation.

At the other end of the spectrum the event saw Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis roll back the years to take victory in a fundraising Golden Relay. Having been called into action by Campbell the team were given an enthusiastic reception from the crowd and took the time to pose for pictures and sign autographs with many of the young, and older, athletics fans who had come along to see them. After racing Gardener said, “It’s fantastic, the support’s been great. Thanks to Darren for making this happen. It’s great that the guys came out and put on a show and of course we needed the competition from the other athletes out there who kept us on our toes.”

Darren Campbell joked about racing his son down the back straight, “I told him if he beat me he’d be walking home.”

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In other events Andy Robertson (England, Sale, Sam Robertson) and Diani Walker (England, Birchfield H, Lloyd Cowan) made the most of the strong following wind to take the maximum points in the 100m in swift times of 10.15 (+2.5) and 11.44 (+2.2) respectively. With the wind dropping to a legal level Alisha Rees (GB&NI Under 20, Edinburgh AC, Willy Russell) stormed to a lifetime best of 23.32 (+1.6) to take the women’s 200m clear of Beth Dobbin (Scotland, Edinburgh AC, Leon Baptiste) 23.50.

England Team captain Nathan Douglas (Oxford City, Aston Moore) led by example as he leapt out to 16.80 (+1.7) early in the programme to claim the triple jump from the 15.30 of Jonathan Ilori (BAL/UKWL, Blackheath & Bromley, John Shepherd).

Margaret Adeoye (England, Enfield & Haringey, Linford Christie) ran away from the field into the back straight headwind on her way to taking the women’s 400m in an impressive looking 52.70 ahead of European Under 20 200m champion Maya Bruney (GB&NI Under 20, Blackheath & Bromley, John Blackie) who ran 54.04. By contrast in the men’s race Ben Snaith (England, Enfield & Haringey, Mick Graham) edged past Jamal Rhoden-Stevens (Int Select, Shaftesbury Barnet, David Serrant, 47.53) and then Edmond Amaning (BAL/UKWL, Thames Valley, 47.25) to win by just one hundredth of a second with 47.24 in a great home straight tussle.

A strong kick at the 200m mark from Verity Ockenden (England, Swansea, Tony Houchin) carried her clear to victory as she came home in 9:10.70 ahead of Naomi Taschimowitz (BAL/UKWL, Shaftesbury Barnet, Charlotte Fisher, 9:13.70) and Amelia Quirk (GB&NI Under 20s, Bracknell AC, Beverley Kitching) who clocked 9:21.32 after setting the early running.

Charlene Thomas (Wakefield, Aaron Thomas) produced a front running display in the mile but was unable to run the finishing speed out of European Under 20 Champion Jemma Reekie (GB&NI Under 20, Kilbarchan, Andy Young) who charged for the line over the last 200m to take the win in 4:40.55.

Laura Whittingham (England, Sale, Mike McNeill) led the javelin with a first round 51.56 until the last round when New Zealander Tori Peeters unleashed a 51.72 to take victory.

It was another lifetime best for Iona Lake (England, City of Norwich, Pauline Ash) as she ran away from the field to win the steeplechase in a very impressive 9:48.89 to finish the year more than 20 seconds faster than she came into it.

Robert Sakala (GB&NI Under 20, Croydon, Piotr Spas) demonstrated his quality with a fine display of sprint hurdling in taking the 110m hurdles in 13.60 with a +3.5 behind him.