Manchester International: report

England retained the title they won two years ago on an action packed 50-plus event programme that produced a seemingly endless string of personal bests, a stadium record, the odd UK leading performance and a national record.

England took on Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, a National Athletics League (NAL) squad and lastly but by no means least, a formidable GB Junior team in this now traditional Manchester fixture.

To really spark things up, the team result added together the junior and senior results meaning every race, every throw and every jump counted. Take the one lap action for instance. It provided a set of races that produced a full set of lifetime bests and a selection of home country winners. First up was Scotland’s Rebecca Grieve (Pitreavie, Francis Smith) who shattered her own mark to win the U20 race (despite being an U17!) in 55.37. “I never thought I’d be able to run that,” said Rebecca. “That was over a second PB. It’s massive,” she laughed. “The team spirit helped in this competition; this is the highlight of my season.” Later in the evening she then anchored the Scots to a national U20 record in the 4x400 of 3:43.08.

Not to be outdone England’s Sam Reardon did likewise in the U20 men’s one lap, winning in a PB of 47.03. Just five minutes later, it was the turn of the senior women, this time Wales’ Amy Odunaiya (Trevor Painter, Wrexham) taking it in 53.96 – heading up a string of PBs in that race. “I’m enjoying my first season racing 400s as I’m getting quicker with every race,” said Amy. “This bodes well for future races. I’m really excited.”

England’s Efe Okoro (Birchfield, Tony Hadley) concluded a great set of 400s in the senior men’s event with a barrier breaking 45.93 PB, his first venture inside 46 seconds. It was that kind of meeting. “Thanks to my coach Tony Hadley, the plan is coming together,” said Efe. “My coach sets it up so that I peak at this time of year and I’m ecstatic about breaking 46. This is my favourite competition of the year, so I’m over the moon,” he laughed.

Talking of barrier breakers, what can you say about England’s Nia Wedderburn-Goodison (Harrow, Andre Williams). The senior and U20 champion is actually in the U17 age group, so for her to win the senior 100m in a massive PB of 11.56 (-0.4w) is nothing short of remarkable. Statisticians will confirm she’s out there on her own (no U17 has ever been so dominant in the senior age group) and truly is a name to watch for in the next few seasons, the Commonwealth Games even? “It was great to come here and win,” she said. “I focussed on running my own race and it’s good to get a PB to end of the season.” She then won the 200 in another PB of 23.59 just to really put the icing on the cake. In the men’s 100m Wales’ Jeremiah Azu (Cardiff, Helen Patricia-James) nipped it with 10.48, 0.09 covering the first three in a tight race.

It was far more clear-cut in the walk. Guy Thomas (Tonbridge, Verity Snook), and Bethan Davies (Cardiff, Andi Drake) were both intent on chasing times as they did the double for Wales in the 5km Walk, Guy winning in 20:50.64. “It was a good race and a great opportunity for some speed,” said Guy who usually concentrates on the 20km. And speedy it was as his winning time was a cool 40 seconds faster than he’s ever walked before. Bethan was equally happy with her 22:25.27 and loved walking in front of a crowd as her usual competition venue involves an industrial estate, she said, with a smile.

A final round 73.53 from England’s Daniel Bambridge (Shaftesbury Barnet, Michael McNeil) was just 20cm short of his lifetime best and took him from second to first just when it counted most! “I’m absolutely delighted to end the season on a high. And to win it with the last throw is amazing. Thanks to the crowd; they were great,” he said, echoing everybody’s sentiment. It’s great to see the crowds back. In the women’s competition it was over much earlier as an early round effort from The NAL’s Ioanna Malli (Loughborough Students, David Turner) proved too much for her competition. Significantly, the Cypriot’s 55.33 throw not only earned her the five points offer, it was a personal best to boot and the best by a UK resident in 2021. “I can’t believe it, I did not expect to throw that far,” she said.

There was no time to draw breath. As while all this was going on, history was being made by Northern Ireland’s Ellen McCartney (Woodford Green and Essex Ladies, Kate Roone) who took top spot in the women’s pole vault. “It was close to a PB and I’m really happy to produce a jump like this as it’s always good to end the season on a high,” she said, adding “no woman from Northern Ireland has ever won the pole vault before at this event, so fabulous!” Fellow Northern Irishman Neil Johnstone (Harrow, Mark Kirk) could also claim that as the part-time sheep farmer kicked away for a 14:04 victory in the 5000m. “It was decent through 3km and then slowed down before that last 400 metres,” he said. “As for sheep farming, I was helping out on my family farm and a news crew saw me and filmed it so from now on I’m the sheep farmer to my mates,” he said, adding he is actually an electrical engineer.

Perhaps the stand-out run in the distances came from England’s William Battershill (Ereme Valley, Luke Gunn) who won the 3000 steeplechase with a gun to tape 8:32.91. The England champ said: “It was a great time and I knew I had it in me,” he said. “I’m super happy with the time as it’s a Commonwealth qualifier. It sets me up for a big next year and I now go into the winter and build up the mileage.”

For England’s Chris McAlister (TVH, Marina Armstrong) it was all about performing well in the 400 hurdles after falling the last time he was in Manchester, “so I just tried to find my rhythm and let the line come to me,” he said, describing his runaway 49.65 victory. “It was a lovely atmosphere and there’s a real buzz in the stadium,” he added. The NAL’s Nicole Kendall (TVH, Marina Armstrong) made it a club and coach double as she saved her surge for the line until the final two strides to take the women’s 400 hurdles nipping the five points on offer on the line with 56.78. “I was really pleased with that,” she concluded.

Ditto for GB Junior Owen Merrett (Yate, Matt Spicer) who was on fire in the U20 hammer. Using the lighter 5kg implement, he hauled it out to 70.31 and then a massive 73.00 to secure a comfortable win. England’s Jess Mayho (Birchfield, John Pearson) threw 68.72 to win the women’s hammer. “It was a really good atmosphere out there,” she said. “I started poorly but progressed through the rounds nicely. I fouled two big throws, but was happy with the 68m effort.”

England’s Sophie McKinna (Great Yarmouth, Mike Winch) was equally magnificent in the women’s shot, her fifth round 18.47 securing her the win. It was a great return to form for the Olympian and just seven centimetres shy of her season’s best. “I’m really pleased to get an outdoor season’s best and a stadium record,” she said.

Last word and perfectly summing up the tension and excitement of this meeting has to go to Alex Haydock-Wilson (WSE, Earl Herbert) who ran an official 44.7 in the 4x400 on the anchor to haul the NAL back from an impossibly distant second to win by just 0.03sec in 3:06.80. “To be honest, that time is where I want to be right now – running in the 44s – but I am surprised to run it here,” he said. “But it’s the result of all those nights training.”

Photo by Mark Shearman