England’s athletes stormed to an emphatic victory in the historic Loughborough International on Sunday as some of the country’s top names relished the long-awaited chance to wear an international vest again.
With 15 victories, England’s athletes amassed 122 points compared to the 92 of runners-up Loughborough. As well as facing the host side, the team were taking on Wales, Scotland, Great Britain & Northern Ireland U20s in this meeting which had taken place every year since 1958 until last season. The pandemic-enforced break not only meant this event being missed from the 2020 calendar but also that this was the first chance of an England vest on home soil in nearly two years.
Due to the ongoing Covid uncertainties, the only spectators permitted were the athletes and coaches, but the relative lack of support on the grass bank of the Paula Radcliffe Stadium failed to take the edge off the athletes’ performances.
Jessica Mayho continued her superb form in the hammer, setting another PB, this time at 67.10m. The John Pearson-coached Birchfield Harrier had already thrown over the Commonwealth standard of 65.00m three times this season, although she struggled to find her rhythm with four fouls from the off. However, a 66.18m in the next took her into the lead before she set a new best by three centimetres in the final round. The next target must be 70.00m and an Olympic qualifying mark. Scotland’s Rachel Hunter was second with 65.32m.
The men’s hammer was similarly impressive. Representing England, Craig Murch (Birchfield Harriers; Lorraine Shaw) set a season’s best of 72.63m to finish third. However, it was Taylor Campbell, an England athlete competing for Loughborough, who stole the show with a PB of 76.97m. This leaves him just 53cm short of a qualifying standard for the Olympics and fifth on the UK all-time list. Both athletes have already gone well over the qualification standard for the Commonwealth Games next year.
Still in the throws, although not wearing the red and white, England athlete and 2012 Olympian Lawrence Okoye stood out in the discus. Now back in the sport after his American football sojourn, he won with 64.61m, while England representative Greg Thompson (Shaftesbury Barnet; Neville Thompson) was third with 59.70m.
England enjoyed a couple of expected wins in the 800m. First up was Kyle Langford (Shaftesbury Barnet; Jon Bigg), who bided his time before attacking in the home straight and coming home to 1:49.37 to hold off Loughborough’s Max Wharton (1:49.54). Already having gained the qualifying time standard for the Tokyo Olympics, the win will have been a useful competitive outing for Langford ahead of next month’s national trials.
His female counterpart over 800m, Isabelle Boffey, then made it a double in very different style. Leading from the front, the European junior champion was unchallenged over the final lap and clocked 2:03.91 to finish more than five seconds ahead of Loughborough’s Amy Griffiths. "It was windy and I just tried to push with the pacer and get round the first 400m in a decent time. I haven't done an 800m in a while so ultimately a good opener for me and two seconds off my PB,” said the Enfield & Haringey athlete, coached by Luke Gunn.
Eleven-time British champion Scott Lincoln, of City of York, was among the most experienced athletes in an England vest and he led by example with a win in the shot. His 19.61m in the second round left him comfortably ahead of guesting runner-up Youcef Zatat (18.09m), although he has thrown further six times already this year. The Paul Wilson-coached athlete reflected: “I feel in great shape, it just didn’t quite click today. I feel like I am close to big things and I’m sure it will come. It’s good to be back throwing and I’m really looking forward to the next 12-months.”
James Weaver had to work hard for his win in the 110m hurdles but it paid off with a PB. The Enfield & Haringey athlete, who is coached by Michael Baker, had already gained the Commonwealth standard, thanks to his improvement this season from 13.80 to 13.62 and he was even quicker again with 13.55. He was pushed all the way to the line by Loughborough’s Cameron Fillery, who was just outside his best with 13.57.
Earlier, Alicia Barrett (Chesterfield; Benke Blomqvist) had won the women’s sprint hurdles for England. She crossed the line in 13.46 with guest Jenna Blundell second in 13.58.
High jumper Laura Zialor (Marshall Milton Keynes; Jade Surman/Julian Reid) has been in great form in the high jump and continued with first-time clearances up to and including 1.85m. Having secured victory, she missed out a would-be new PB of 1.90m with three failures.
Also in the sprints, Andrew Morgan-Harrison (Kingston-upon-Hull; Alex O’Gorman) won the 200m in 21.00, finishing 0.15 in front of GB Juniors’ Toby Makowayo.
In the 1500m, Revee Walcott-Nolan was another convincing winner. Having already gained the Commonwealth 800m standard, the Luton AC athlete stepped up to 1500m to clock 4:20.06.
England had a couple of wins in the javelin with Joe Dunderdale (Sheffield & Dearne) and Freya Jones (Newham & Essex Beagles; David Calloway) registering 72.98m and 54.81m respectively.
George Heppinstall was a late call-up for his Sheffield & Dearne clubmate Adam Hague but proved to be a worthy stand-in, winning the pole vault with a 5.15m clearance. The Trevor Fox-coached athlete added 14cm to his outdoor PB.
Jahisha Thomas had earlier got the England team off to a flying start with victory in the triple jump. The Blackheath & Bromley athlete, coached by Clive Roberts and John Shepherd, went out to 13.09m, two centimetres short of her best this year.
What had started out well finished with a couple of wins in the long relays. The women were convincing winners with 3:35.50, assisted by 800m winner Boffey. The men were pushed harder on their way to 3:08.62 over second-placed GB Juniors.
Rory Leonard was rewarded for a brave race with second after being caught over the final lap by Loughborough’s Matthew Stonier, who clocked 8:30.67. The Morpeth Harrier in the England vest was timed at 8:32.43.
With coach Linford Christie watching, England’s Ama Pipi gave a good account of herself against Worlds semi-finalist Beth Dobbin. The Enfield & Haringey athlete finished second in 23.48 behind the Scot (23.19).
Jacob Paul (WSEH; Marina Armstrong) was also second, clocking 51.69 behind Loughborough’s Alex Knibbs (50.73).
Also second was Sophie Cooke (Halesowen; Scott Simpson) in the pole vault, jumping 4.20m behind Molly Caudery’s 4.30m.
Slightly up the distances, Amy Hillyard (Birchfield Harriers) clocked 53.51 for second behind Scotish winner’s Zoey Clarke’s time of 52.57.
With the race of her life, Zoe Pollock (Oxford City; Nick Dakin) took nearly a second off her best with 57.69 for second, pushing Loughborough’s GB international Meghan Beesley (57.45) to the line.
Joel Clarke-Khan (Worcester; Deirdre Elmhirst) was unable to match his season’s best in the high jump, finishing third with 2.19m behind winner William Grimsey of Scotland, who recorded a PB of 2.25m.
Jack Roach (Newham & Essex Beagles; Lukasz Zawila) was third in the long jump, his 7.31m leaving him behind Loughborough’s Sam Khogali (7.49m).
Chris Perry (Vale Royal) was second off the final barrier of the steeplechase but put in a great finish, albeit just missing out by 0.08 to Jonathan Glen (9:08.69).
In a keenly contested 1500m, England's Jeremy Dempsey (Shaftesbury Barnet; George Harrison) was not far off his PB in third, clocking 3:44.42. However, it was guest Tom Mortimer (3:42.90) who came home in front of Loughborough's Ossama Meslek.
Serena Vincent (City of Portsmouth; Andrew Vincent) was second in the shot with 15.77m behind Wales’ Adele Nicoll (16.14m).
Also second was Sarah Astin (City of Norwich; Geoff Watkin) in the 3000m, clocking 9:21.73. Wales’ Beth Kidger won with 9:21.02.
GB international heptathlete Holly Mills (Andover; Laura Turner-Alleyne) was a late stand-in the long jump and finished fourth with 6.03m behind guest Alice Hopkins (6.41m). She had earlier won the guest 100m hurdles in 13.07, which would have been a PB if not for an illegal following wind of 2.5m/s.
Third-placed Yasmin Austridge (Blackheath & Bromley; Luke Gunn) set a massive PB in the 3000m steeplechase, clocking 10:45.04 to revise her figures by 46 seconds. She had clung on to the two in front of her for so long but eventually had to let Scotland’s Sarah Tait go away to 10:28.17 for the win.
Amy Holder (WSEH; Neville Thompson) was third in the discus with 54.33m behind Scotland’s Kirsty Law, the winner with 58.59m.
After two earlier guest runs, Cassie-Ann Pemberton (Birchfield Harriers; Sharon Morris) finished fourth in the 100m with 12.12 behind GB Juniors’ Success Eduan’s PB of 11.72.
Jonathan Ilori (Blackheath & Bromley; Aston Moore) could take only one jump (13.26m) before having to pull out, eventually placing seventh behind Jonathan Reid (16.07m).
England’s women placed third in the 4x100m relay in 45.74 but both men’s squads failed to finish.