Men's British Athletic League (Match 1)
The first British League match of the season is always the most important. A top 3 placing can set the team up for a tilt at winning the league, while a poor day and a spot in the bottom 3 can result in very real concerns about relegation, even at this early stage. In that context, 4th place at this weekend's opener at the ever-delightful Copthall Stadium should be viewed as a satisfactory performance. However, in the context of the match itself, it was slightly disappointing (Birchfield beating us into 4th by just a single point), while in the context of the team selection problems experienced (on Wednesday we didn't have anyone for the B spots in the 800, 3000m, Chase, Triple Jump, High Jump or high hurdles, and any runners at all in the 1500m) it was a huge, unadulterated success.
It was actually a day which epitomised Sale Harriers as a club. On the one hand, there was absolute athletic excellence, the highlights of which were superb A string victories for new member David Hughes (running a superb 50.35 in the 400mH to beat the in-form Richard Davenport of Newham), Rimas Martisauskas and Alex Smith, while on the other, there was the incredible team spirit and/or love for the team and the club displayed by Matt Cullen, Dan Williams, Brian Hall, Chris Wakeford, Debo Ademuyewo and Andy Robertson, all of whom were prepared to put their bodies on the line in alien or unfamiliar events. And then there was Colin Gell. A member of the club since 2002, this was his debut in the British League; drafted in to run a 3000m in the absence of some more familiar names such as Matt Bond, off representing England, and Antony Ford, off representing GB in the European 10000m cup. Upon hearing that the team was struggling, he immediately volunteered to run anything that we needed him for. That we required somebody to triple up and run a total of 7500m on a very hot afternoon is extremely regrettable (and let's hope that we have a larger pool to pick from next time), but once there, Colin did himself and the team proud, navigating the unfamiliar steeplechase barriers and water jump with good humour, and never even looking like he wanted to give in. Our point's total, in the end, was just short of what was required to take us into the top 3, but it was still an excellent day (made even more interesting by Woodford Green ending Newham's 8 match winning streak).
We move on to Birmingham on the 3rd of July and, if we can produce something close to our best team, we have a chance of winning the match and putting a cat amongst the pigeons. Do let me know of your availability as soon as possible.
SPRINTS: Andy Robertson continued his excellent recent form to take a very good 4th in the A 100m with a 10.54 clocking, beating some BAL stalwarts such as Wade Bennett-Jackson and Julian Thomas in the process. Carl Dickinson ran the B and, the wind having turned into a healthy headwind, went one place better, taking an excellent 3rd and only 2/10ths behind Mark Findlay. It's great to see him back. In the 200m, Chris Craig took a strong second behind Ryan Scott to cement his growing reputation as one of the best half-lap runners around, while Debo Ademuyewo, a late draft into the team after Alex Nelson's unfortunate withdrawal, battled hard to edge out Eugene Ayanful for 7th in the B. In the 400m we had two debutants and they both performed very strongly indeed. In the A race, Rhys Smith ran a fine season's best of 47.83 to take 5th, while Patrick North equalled his outdoor pb to take 4th in the B. It's to be hoped that we see plenty of these two in Sale vests in the years to come.
HURDLES: In the high hurdles, the team was hit by an unfortunate injury to team regular Nick Gayle at last week's inter-counties, while Gabriel Akin is still injured. This meant that Chris Wakeford, a 400m Hurdler who is no stranger to the sprint hurdles, stepped into the breach. He produced a good performance to take 5th in 15.28 into a brisk headwind. Matt Cullen got his stepladders out and clambered over the barriers in the B race to take 6th place and some unexpected bonus points. The 400m Hurdles were an altogether different proposition. Dave Hughes, a new recruit from our friends at Trafford AC, was a 13.5 high hurdler and former European under 23 champion. He has made the transition to 400m hurdles and this was only his second proper race (he'd also ran a heat at the inter-counties before his win in the final), yet he produced a blistering performance, including 13 strides to hurdle 7, to win in 50.35. Chris Wakeford stepped off the track after the B race having felt a little weird, yet his second place in 53.92 was a pb and it was hard earned.
ENDURANCE: For some reason, finding willing or physically fit athletes who were not otherwise engaged for the endurance events was a real struggle this time, and it is something that needs to be addressed, possibly through heavy recruitment in the winter. Those that did turn out did extremely well and deserve enormous credit. In the 800m, Jack Hallas made his debut and found his opponents unwilling to take the pace. He took the initiative himself and went on to take a well-earned 4th, passing athletes in the home straight. Dan Williams, usually a 400m runner, answered the inevitable last minute call to step into the B 800, and ran an extremely sensible and tactically sound race to take 5th in a pb of 1:56.87, rewarding himself with blistered feet in the process. In the 1500m, in the absence of specialists, James Bailey stepped in after already having run a chase, as did Colin Gell. James was 6th in the A (he'd have done considerably better, fresh) while Colin, running about 98 and a half fewer km than usual sealed a hard-earned point. In the flat 3k, Dave Norman wisely decided not to go with a very brisk pace and settled for leading the second group, for 6th in the A. Colin, by now having already ran a chase and a 1500m, took another point. In that chase, James Bailey produced his best performance since 2007 to take second in the A, a bittersweet moment, as he was pipped on the line having almost sealed the win. In the absence of 2 athletes from the B race, first time chaser Colin took 3 points.
THROWS: The throws yielded some of our best points of the day. In the Hammer, Alex Smith reasserted himself as the UK number 1, with a great win in 70.93m. Floydy, having suffered back problems the previous week, still managed to come 5th overall and a very useful 2nd in the B. The Shot results mirrored those in the hammer. This time Rimas Martisauskas won a BAL match for the first time. That he was disappointed with a throw of 17m98 shows how far he has progressed over the last 3 years. Scot Thompson took a great second in the B, beating the chain-smoking, hard drinking (and that's just in the competition) Mark Wiseman of Belgrave in the process. In the Javelin, Matt Hunt just missed out on the win, but still took second, while Stephen Porter, another who had suffered from injury over the past two weeks took great points for second in the B. The discus saw a return to "Thompson Time", as Scot Thompson threw a brilliant SB of 53.66 to take 5th in the A (and celebrated with a "pull on the rope" dance routine), while Marcus Gouldbourne, having got a safe one in, suffered from no-throws to come 6th in the B. It really showed the importance of the safe one in league athletics.
JUMPS: In the Long Jump, Steve Small took a fine 4th in the A string, only being passed by JJ Jegede in the final round, while Jacob Brown struggled with his run up, taking 6th in the B. The Pole Vault was another event where the athletes had problems with their approaches, as Andy Sutcliffe and Matt Cullen incurred the wrath of their coach, Julien Raffalli-Ebezant, with vaults of 4m80 and 4m20 respectively. These were, nevertheless, good for equal 4th and 5th place respectively. In the High Jump, Brian Hall produced a season's best of 2m10 for 5th in the A, but in the absence of regular jumpers Rob Mitchell and Darren Hammond (injury) and Joe Lancaster (national combined events champs), Matt Cullen was forced to fill in in the B, for the single point. Brian showed excellent team spirit to rush over to the Triple Jump, where his jump earned him 4th in the B (James Hardy is still recovering from injury, while newcomer James McLachlan is also suffering from back problems), while new member Ricardo Twumasi suffered timing issues and could only manage 7th in the A.
RELAYS: In the 4x100m Debo stepped in at the last minute to run the lead off leg and passed to Chris Craig (just!), before Chris passed to Carl and on to Andy Robertson for 5th. The longer relay proved more problematic, as a succession of possible candidates for the quartet found themselves injured or unavailable. Just as it looked as though the team would have to withdraw, Andy Robertson stepped forward to use a leg as part of his warm down in order to secure at least the minimum points, but in the end, with disqualifications for Belgrave and Shaftesbury, 6th place was achieved. Patrick North actually got the team off to an excellent start as he brought the baton home in first place, and the only other accurately produced split showed Rhys Smith clocking a swift 47.2 on anchor.
Well done if you've reached the end - get along to Birmingham on July 3rd to support the team in match 2.
Posted 15/01/2012 13:26