SHEFFIELD’S English Institute of Sport played host to the cream of the UK’s young athletics talent for the England Athletics Under 15, 17 and 20 Indoor National Championships.
In 2016 some five Stratford Athletic Club members met the stringent qualifying standards for these championships and this year 12 youngsters made the trip to the Steel City, with five of them making their debuts in this level of competition.
The hurdles is arguably the toughest track event to master as it requires speed, precision, guts and a high level of technical ability to be able to perform at the top level.
As two of the top ranked U17 hurdlers in the country, seasoned championship performers Ollie Cresswell and Jack Sumners were looking to impress the Commonwealth Youth Games selectors ahead of the outdoor season in the hurdles and they did not disappoint.
They both qualified for the 60m hurdles final comfortably alongside each other in their heat and then SAC history was made when they were joined by Zephan Boxall in the final after he finished third in his heat.
It is rare to see two athletes from the same club in a national final but to have three is virtually unheard of.
When they are racing Jack and Ollie are so evenly matched they are like two boxers standing toe to toe, with neither of them giving an inch. After Ollie pipped Jack to the Midland title two weeks ago, it was Jack’s turn to have the edge.
With the top four U17 hurdlers in the UK lining up side by side, the final was unbelievably quick. Ollie usually has the better start but this time Jack hit the ground running just a bit quicker than everyone else and despite the best efforts of Ollie and their rival Sam Bennett, of Basildon AC, Jack held on to win in a photo finish by a hair’s breadth, with Bennett winning the silver and Ollie the bronze.
Zephan finished in eighth place in a personal best time of 8.56, which is some going after his first major competition as an U17 and showed his undoubted talent, which with consistent training is very encouraging for the outdoor season and the future.
Earlier the U17 men’s long jump was equally exciting, with Jack Sumners putting himself firmly in medal position right from the outset.
One of the leading jumpers in the country – Ben Sutton of Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC – put the pressure on the rest of the field early on with his mark of 6.60m.
The final round was superb as Jack literally saved the best for last and jumped a winning 6.63m – a personal best and good enough to take home the gold as Sutton could only respond with a foul after leading for so long.
Ollie went into the championships with an objective to beat his personal best in the high jump and this he duly did after a mature series of jumps.
He had the best high jump competition he has had for a while as he moved through the earlier heights, with a few wobbles, until he produced the jump of his life that saw him soar over 1.92m, fractionally missing 1.95m and finishing fifth – a performance that put a big smile on his face.
Emily Madden Forman warmed up for her favourite event, the triple jump, with a run in the under 20 60m hurdles in which she finished seventh in 9.29, a PB.
The triple jump did not really go according to plan and after a good, solid opening jump of 11.01m in the first round her next five jumps were “disappointing”, but she still finished fourth, only 10cm outside a medal.
Under 17 hurdler Georgia Clark was another athlete who stepped up a gear in her heat, finishing third in a PB of 9.21 to qualify for the semi-final. She could not quite replicate the same performance but can be satisfied with another confident performance in a good indoor season.
Under 15 60m hurdler siblings Jasmine and Cole Williams were also first-timers and had nervous introductions to this level of competition. Jasmine had a fine run in her heat, clocking a PB of 9.85s, and surprised herself by qualifying for the semi-final where the occasion slightly got the better of her and she finished eighth.
Cole just happened to be in a very fast heat, finishing sixth, and like his sister also posted a PB of 9.34.
The under 17 female 60m is extremely competitive and Dani Horton typically flew out of the blocks in her heat and was holding her position in the pack until the last ten metres. She finished sixth in a much-improved season’s best time of 8.15, just outside her PB.
Two very nervous debutants at this level of competition lined up for their heats in the under 15 60m. Beth Cate finished her heat in fifth place in 8.25s, which qualified her for the semi-final and unsurprisingly she ran the quickest race of her life to finish in 8.16 in the semi, finishing fifth and only just outside qualifying for the final.
In her heat Grace Fairweather also really upped her game and finished sixth in 8.39, another personal best.
Beth has run quicker every time she has run the steep banks of the indoor track this year in the 200m and once again she rose to the occasion and in a very fast heat finished third in 26.82 to qualify for the semi-final.
The semi-final was as expected very quick and Beth was in contention for the lead throughout the race but, as the stagger unfolded, she just could not hold her form to stay with the leaders but still ran 26.99s. Two semi-finals at this level is a superb weekend’s racing.
Despite posting a best jump of 1.60m, which was the fifth highest jump of the competition along with six other athletes, under 17 high jumper Jodie Watson equalled her season’s best but had to settle for 11th place on countback.
A similar situation occurred for under 20 high jumper Issy Cain who also equalled her SB of 1.65m, the sixth highest jump of the competition, but she finished eighth on countback.
Carolyne Johnston, one of the Stratford coaching team, overheard a comment from a coach from another club say “the turnout and performances of the athletes from Stratford was amazing”.
Carolyne added: “The coach was referring to a time in the day when the Stratford supporters were watching Emily (triple jump), Jodie (high jump) and Cole (hurdles) competing at the same time.
“Not many clubs could say they had that much going on over what was a truly remarkable weekend, with great performances and athletes raising their standards to produce PBs, semi and final places and medals.”
Reflecting on a weekend of excellence and high drama from the Stratford athletes, lead coach Paul Bearman said: “These championships have been a very good experience for everyone involved and all the athletes were really on their game over the weekend.
“To be good enough to qualify for the championships is tough enough but to be able to perform so well on a national stage and produce medals and so many PB/SBs is testament to how hard the athletes and all the coaches have worked during the winter.”