It was a day of sun, smiles and celebrations for the England Athletics team as their athletes lit up the Paula Radcliffe Stadium in front of a bumper crowd.
Hundreds took to the grassy banks that line the stadium for the competition’s 65th Anniversary, to watch some of the best track and field athletes the nation has to offer.
Most eyes were keeping track of World and Commonwealth heptathlon champion, Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Aston Moore, Liverpool Harriers), who was representing England in the 4*400 relays and guested in the 100 metre hurdles and shotput.
Speaking after the conclusion of the competition, which England won overall with a team score of 202 points with Loughborough in second (154) and the NAL third (153), Johnson-Thompson said:
“I really enjoyed it. It was my first time competing since the Commonwealth Games so I felt a bit rusty, but I was really happy with my shot put and my relay leg. The hurdles still need a bit of work but there was a big headwind so hopefully next week will be better.
“Loughborough is one of the staple events for me. I remember being on the GB Juniors team as a junior athlete, competing and getting in the mix. It’s been great going through the different events and, apart from the Commonwealths, it’s one of the biggest crowds I’ve competed in for a long time. (Next week) is my first heptathlon of the year, so today has been the perfect prep for it.”
Johnson-Thompson began her day clocking 13.73 in the 100m hurdles, before heading onto the shot put paddock to throw 13.13m. Her final contribution came in the final race of the day as part of a winning England 4x400m team, Johnson-Thompson taking the baton on the second leg and holding her own to hand over in first place. The England squad’s winning time was 3:37.03 which capped off an extremely positive day.
Perhaps the closest finish of the competition came in the men’s 4x400m relay, as Ed Faulds (James Wright, Rugby and Northampton) pipped the Loughborough team after a battle down the home straight. Faulds, behind coming into the final 100m, found a gap on the inside and clawed his way through to take a victory in a time of 3:04.73.
Faulds’ 4x400m teammate Sam Reardon (Nigel Stickings, Blackheath and Bromley) said:
“3:04 is a crazy time. We’re all buzzing. It was a great race from everyone - not just England. Everyone is in a good mood and the conditions are right to run well. The atmosphere has been great.”
Another box office moment for the England team came when Kate Axford (Charles Dickinson, Belgrave Harriers) powered away from stiff competition in the women’s 3000m. She clung onto Kaur Milan Bains and the much-fancied Innes Fitzgerald before passing them on the final lap and holding off the challenge of a resurgent Bains in the home straight. Axford won the race with a time of 9:06.02.
“I knew that there were some really strong shorter distance runners in there, so I knew they’d have a kick left in them at the end,” Axford said. “I managed to save something for that last lap, but it wasn’t easy.”
England’s Blake Moore (Craig Winrow, Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow) came home a creditable eighth in a race where eight of the fifteen athletes achieved a PB.
There was further success for the England team in the 3000m steeplechase. A dominant performance came in the women’s event as England debutant Stevie Lawrence comfortably took the win in a time of 10:06.56. The 26-year-old was understandably pleased with her race.
“I really wanted to get out and win. I’ve really enjoyed the experience as well. I was nervous before the race and the adrenaline that comes with a debut for England meant that when it got tough I tried to keep going faster.”
Thomas James Bridger (Mark Vile, Cambridge and Coleridge) was second to another dominant showing by Finley Daley in the men’s steeplechase. His time of 8:57.60 was close to what he had posted in Loughborough a year earlier.
Marli Jessop (Scott Grace, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) crossed the line to post an identical time to her outing in Loughborough last year. With a time of 13.74, she finished in third place in the women’s 100m hurdles. Also claiming third in the sprint hurdles was Joseph Agbodza (Colin Corless, Southend) for England. Running a 14.21, Agbodza was just shy of his PB which he set last time out in Loughborough.
England’s Jade Spencer-Smith (Richard Humby, Harrow) had a spectacular showing in her return to Loughborough. After setting a personal best clearance of 4.15 in the pole vault a year prior, she cleared 4.20 on her second attempt and 4.25 on her third. Despite attempting a height of 4.30, she couldn’t quite clear it, but still left her easily in first place. 25-year-old George Heppinstall (Trevor Fox, City of Sheffield and Dearne) cleared 5.10 in the pole vault to take second behind athlete Rubem Miranda. The England athlete failed his first attempt at the 5.10 mark, allowing Miranda to pip him on count back.
Much like the pole vault, the high jump proved lucrative for England. Commonwealth Games athlete Laura Zialor (Julian Reid, Marshall and Milton Keynes) looked a class above in the women’s high jump, entering the competition at the 1.75m mark and completing a flawless set of jumps until a couple of failures at 1.84m. The 24-year-old, whose personal best stands at 1.91m, couldn’t quite clear a height of 1.87m, but still claimed a strong victory for England. Divine Duruaku (Adam Gallie, Harrow) followed up with a third place in a strong showing for England in the high jump. After clearing a height of 2.12m at the first attempt, he couldn’t make 2.16m - just above his PB.
In the men’s 800m, England’s Angus Harrington (Philip O’Dell, Blackheath and Bromley) was margins away from a new personal best. He completed his race in 1:48.63.
Smiling after his win, Harrington said:
“I was absolutely delighted to win. I’ve done a lot of races in the last few weeks so I’m a little sharper than some of these boys who are coming out fresh into the season.”
Over the shorter distance, England stormed to victory in the men’s para 400m due to a dominant performance by European Para T20 champion, Columba Blango (Chris Zah, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers). Blango recorded a time of 49.61 which was a season’s best run, and gave his thoughts on his race and the event.
“I’m enjoying the process of learning in the build up to the World Champs in Paris,” Blango said. “The history behind it [Loughborough International] shows that athletes come here and prove themselves and be the best that they can be.”
Dan Putnam (Blackheath and Bromley) couldn’t quite match his England colleague, posting a time of 46.95 to just miss out on second place in a 400m race won by Loughborough’s Rio Mitcham.
While assessing his race, Putnam said:
“It was a tight one. Didn’t set it up as fast as I would have liked. I finished nice and strong but just left myself a little bit too much to do. It’s still early season though, so it’s promising.”
Louise Evans (Linford Christie, Blackheath and Bromley) also missed out in fourth place with a time of 54.42.
In the always tough 400m hurdles, Nicole Kendall (Richard Holt, Harrow) brought home third place for England in a close race which saw the top three breach 58 seconds. Kendall finished with a time of 57.93 to kick off her season. Another third place was produced by George Seery (Stew Marshall, Blackheath and Bromley) as well as a new PB. Seery cut his previous best time of 51.82 to 51.64 in the men’s 400m hurdles.
In the men’s 200m event, Richard Akinyebo narrowly missed out on a third place finish while Cassie-Ann Pemberton (Clarence Callender, Birchfield Harriers) set a super personal best time of 23.61 to win the women’s 200m, just nipping ahead of Sale’s Success Eduan.
The Birchfield Harrier said about her race:
“It was really good. Not the perfect execution but I got most of it done well, especially considering it was my third race of the day.”
In the men’s 100m, Oliver Bromby (Marvin Rowe, Southampton) surged to a first-place finish, clocking a time of 10.56, outdipping Loughborough’s Elliot Jones on the line.
The one-to-watch in the women’s 100m was England team captain, Imani-Lara Lansiquot (Ryan Freckleton, Sutton and District). The European, Commonwealth, World and Olympic medalist didn’t disappoint the crowd, burning down the track to win in a time of 11.35 seconds. Lansiquot shared her thoughts after the race.
“I was happy with how I put things together although it’s a bit windy today. It’s amazing to be back home - I’ve been racing at Loughborough since I was 16, so it’s great to be back to start my European season.”
On her role as team captain, she said:
“I was quite shocked actually. They called me yesterday and it really means a lot. I’ve got a lot of experience now so I hope I can pass that on to the younger kids.”
The England men’s 4x100m relay squad featured in a highly competitive race, placing second with a time of 40.10 seconds. With five teams finishing under 40.50, the team had to be at their best. Changeovers were clean, resulting in minimal interruption, but the GB and NI U23 quartet took a close victory. The women’s race resulted in an unfortunate DNF for England after injury. England were in the lead after a strong first leg, but their race came to a disappointing end down the back stretch.
In the shot put, England’s male team captain Youcef Zatat (Woodford Green & Essex Ladies) was shy of his winning throw last year- an 18.48m- but was still a metre clear of second place with 18.4m.
Speaking on his experience as England team captain, Zatat said:
“It’s quite a unique feeling. I’ve tried to give everyone a little motivation- there are some new faces in the team wearing the England vest for the first time so if I can pass on some experience, hopefully they can take some of that away.”
Amelia Strickler (Zane Duquemin, Thames Valley Harriers) pipped last year’s winner Michaela Walsh to triumph in the shot put. She was almost two metres clear of the two athletes behind her with a throw of 17.25 on her final attempt. However it did fall short of her PB of over 18 metres.
There were PBs galore in the women’s javelin event, as England’s Lauren Farley (Mark Chapman, Blackheath and Bromley) had a massive throw of 56.73m on her first attempt to clinch first. A year earlier at Loughborough, she failed to break the 50 metre mark. She was pushed closely by Rebekah Walton, who had to settle for second. Daniel Bainbridge (Tom Dobbing, Shaftesbury Barnet) couldn’t better the PB he set a year prior of 74.73m in the men’s javelin, which was won by Joe Dunderdale. Bainbridge found his best form on his third attempt, with a throw of 67.34m.
Kevin Santos (Mike Utting, City of Norwich) knows his best form is yet to come. He clocked a swift 11.35 seconds to win the men’s para 100m. The Norfolk-based athlete ran a smooth race and even had the energy to wow the Loughborough crowd with a backflip after the race.
About his performance, Santos said:
“I still need to peak for the World Champs. I need to gain more experience and work towards executing the perfect race.”
Next it was the turn of another England debutant, Victoria-Jade Levitt, who (competing in the women’s para 100m) came a respectable third place from the outside lane, finishing in 13.74 seconds. Following the race, Levitt explained how she evaluates performance.
“I’m really critical with all of my performances, so I can guarantee that (the race) will be watched and watched. To go back and look at a performance is the best part of my training.”
Para athlete Kieran O’Hara (Patrick Gahagan, Havering) brought home second place in the men’s para 1500m after being pipped by Steven Bryce of Scotland. The top two broke away from the pack during the final lap, before Bryce pulled ahead of O’Hara who finished with a time of 4:07:50.
This year marks the first in which para-athletes have competed in each team as part of the match competition.
A highly competitive men’s Gandy mile saw England’s Jeremy Dempsey (Philip O’Dell, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) place secondwith a time of 4:06.85. A moment’s silence was observed for both George Gandy and Shaun Pickering during the competition.
A veteran of the Loughborough International, Dempsey shared mixed thoughts about his race:
“It was a mixed bag. I had higher hopes coming in but it was nice to be in a competitive race.” Dempsey, who led the race heading into the final lap explained: “I have a bit of a problem with sitting in. I get too excited to hit the front, but I’m not an all-out speed man so I wanted a hard last lap.”
Lauren Church (Mark Booth, Reading) also finished in a well-earned second place in the women’s mile with a time of 4:51.93.
“I’m really pleased with how I ran,” she said. “I tried not to make it too slow to play to my strengths. I really wanted to win but I’m really pleased with second. I loved it.”
England’s triple jump athletes will also be pleased. Adelaide Omitowoju (Benjamin Davies, Harrow) posted a jump just centimetres behind her personal best to finish third in the women’s competition. Omitowoju posted three successful jumps - her second leap of 12.51m being the furthest. Jude Bright-Davies (David Johnson, Thames-Valley Harriers) then posted the leap of his life in the men’s triple jump, smashing his personal best by ten centimetres to post a jump of 16.28m. Bright-Davies’ jump was enough to claim victory, ahead of Archie Yeo, who also bested his PB, jumping over 16 metres for the first time.
Hammer thrower Jake Norris (Paul Dickenson, Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow) waited until the final round to launch a personal best throw of 73.43m to take victory in the men’s hammer. Norris was flirting with his PB throughout the competition, breaking it with his second throw before nudging it forwards by three centimetres at the end. Not to be bested by her teammate, Charlotte Payne (Paul Dickenson, Reading) completed the one-two for England in the hammer, her fifth round throw of 66.33m enough to secure a win.
Narrowly missing out on a win was Jack Roach (Lukasz Zawila, Newham and Essex Beagles), who posted 7.65m in the long jump on his final attempt. At 7.65m, this was equal to eventual winner Alexander Aaron Farquharson’s first two attempts. However, it was short of his winning result last year. Brooke Ironside (Zak Kerin, Bournemouth) posted her best long jump at the first attempt: a 5.82m.
In the discus throw, Phoebe Dowson (Mark Chapman, Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow) came fifth in the women’s event with a throw of 52.80m. Dowson couldn’t quite get over the 53 metre mark, peaking with her fourth throw. Scottish thrower Kirsty Law won with a strong effort of 56.30m.
The men’s event followed later in the day, with Chukwuemeka Osammor (James Taylor, City of Sheffield and Dearne) also claiming fifth place. His best throw came on the fourth time of asking at 53.64m. Scotland again won with a 60.73m throw from Nicholas Percy.