European Champion Clubs Cup
Vila Real De St Antonio, Portugal. The European Champion Clubs Cup Group 'A'. Sale Harriers Manchester. Unfinished business. It was 4 years ago that, having won the British Athletics League, the club's men's team won group B of the European Cup in the pleasant Portuguese coastal town and after that fine victory, hopes were high that we might return the following year reap the rewards of our endeavours and to mix it with the continent's best clubs. Unfortunately, a 3rd place finish in the 2008 BAL meant that it was Newham and Essex Beagles who were able to grasp that opportunity.
Fast forward 4 years and, with a much changed squad, City of Manchester were finally able to take their place amongst Europe's elite. Having witnessed the standard of this competition 4 years ago, we knew that finishing in the top 6 and outside of the relegation places was the primary target, but with a youthful but high quality team, hopes were high of a successful weekend of competition.
12 of the team arrived in Portugal on the Thursday before the match and quickly set about acclimatising to the conditions, with the chief concern being the lack of freely available wifi internet connections. Most of the rest of the squad arrived on the Friday, inconvenienced but not perturbed by the airport delays caused by air traffic control strike action and ready to perform in the two-day competition.
First up for the team in the field was Alex Smith, who was up against some high quality competitors in the hammer. He wasn't overly happy with his 71m68, but his 4th place was excellent, especially considering that he was up against the European silver medallist and the 2009 world bronze medallist.
First on the track was Chris Wakeford in the 400mH, with David Hughes having had to withdraw through injury. Chris has made huge strides, literally, this year and showed how much he has improved by taking some big scalps to place third. The TV interviewer assumed he had international experience and would likely be going to the European Championships this summer. If Chris was any nationality other than British, he probably would be.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a fine victory for Andy Robertson over the experienced Italian, Simone Collio, who is a veteran of many major championships. That it was by just 1/100th of a second and was 10.24w was extremely impressive. Unfortunately, his winning streak didn't stretch to the card school later in the weekend. Carl Dickinson, back from injury and taking nicely to the roles of chief motivator, entertainer, dancer and spiritual leader for the team, ran 10.76 for 2nd in the guest race, while Ryan Oswald also blew away the cobwebs with a guest run out.
Nick Samuels, in good form only the previous weekend, then had an inexplicable blow-up in the 1500m, feeling drained of energy despite a relatively slow pace, but, to his credit, ensuring he completed the race to earn the team a point.
By this point, Nick Newman, making a rare visit to Europe, had completed his long jump competition. Hampered by gusting winds behind, he jumped a very solid 7m40 to take 6th place in a competition won in 8m21 by the Spaniard Meliz and in which multiple global triple jump medallist Marian Oprea could only manage 5th.
By now it was apparent that the gusting winds were really hampering all the runners besides the short sprinters, but 17-yar-old Clovis Asong stepped up to take on some very experienced competitors, including at least 4 with quicker bests than him and a Russian who had ran 45 seconds not that long ago. Showing no fear, Clovis ran in his customary style to take a superb 4th place in 48.01. Earlier, George Caddick, also 17, and Josh Oguntayo, the veteran at 18, had ran well in a guest 400m, George winning the race by a street in 48.2.
Gareth Raven may be at the other end of the age spectrum, but he ran a very sensible race in his first track appearance for over a year to take 6th place, comfortably ahead of the Czech athlete in 7th.
In the field, Rimas Martisauskas found himself throwing the Shot against some very accomplished athletes, with the top 2 athletes throwing well over 20m and third place throwing "only" 19m29. Rimas therefore produced the maximum one might have expected from him to take 4th with a strong 17m66.
Chris Baker, making his debut for the club, jumped an outdoor personal best of 2m14 to place 5th in the high jump, where again, a good quality field meant that the first 4 were all over 2m20. He appeared to settle in well with the rest of the squad, combining odd socks with a hat worn at a jaunty angle.
The final event of the first day was the 4x100m, where at least 50% of Italy's national side prevailed in 39.56. A team comprising of Carl Dickinson, who prowled about at the start like Presto's answer to Maurice Greene and appeared to engage in an altercation with an official, Chris Craig, Ryan Oswald and Andy Robertson ran 40.64 for 5th, narrowly missing out on 3rd and edging out 6th thanks to an Andy Robertson dip.
All this meant that at the end of day 1 we were ahead of schedule in 4th place, just one point clear of the Portuguese, with the Turks ominously waiting in 6th.
Day 2 began with Andy Sutcliffe in the vault. He wisely entered he competition at 4m80 and cleared at the third attempt, but subsequently struggled with a fierce cross wind. The fact that a Russian with best in excess of 5m70 could only manage 5m tells its own story. Thankfully the 4m80 was good enough for 6th place.
Nick Gayle had been inked in to run the 110mH but had had to withdraw on the Wednesday with a swollen knee. Luckily his replacement was European and Commonwealth Champion and 2011 World Bronze medallist Andy Turner, who endured a torrid day of travel after competing just 48 hours earlier in Ostrava to turn out for the team. It was worth it, as he broke the championship record in searing to victory in a season's best 13.41. Hopefully there will be even more to come later in the year.
In the absence of any of our specialist discus throwers, Rimas volunteered to throw and produced a personal best of 46m00 in what was, according to the European Athletics website, the best competition of the weekend.
Team captain, James Bailey, had been feeling under the weather all week and the last thing he probably needed was a 3000m steeplechase in searing heat and with gusting winds every lap, but he put his body on the line and ran extremely sensibly to take 6th. The Turkish team had a suspiciously high number of Kenyan names in their squad, and their man won the chase as they began a charge up the table.
Niall Brooks followed James and, unfortunately, mirrored his health, but did also mirror his placing. With the Swiss and the Czech athletes consistently placing in the bottom two, a 6th place finish at a minimum was looking increasingly assured.
Ben Williams, Stoke's leading Pokemon player and fashion guru, made a safe start to his triple jump competition, recording a very decent jump of 15m43 in the first round. He was then the victim of a freak incident in which a rival threw a spike at him, causing him to twist his ankle and putting paid to further progress. Still, again, he finished above the Czech and Swiss athletes.
Chris Craig, never shy to walk around in a state of semi undress, ran the 200m and produced a season's best of 21.45 for, you guessed it, 6th. The final three events of the day brought with them three strong fifth places. Matt Hunt, returning from a year of injury hell, started to find some rhythm and produced a promising 61m55, while Dave Proctor ran a tactically superb 3000m only to be edged out in the final burn up but still came away with 8:19.26 to pip the Portuguese athlete.
The final event of the match was a keenly contested 4x400m, in which our team was the youngest in the race by some distance. A team of Clovis, Chris Wakeford (the old man at 22), Josh and George ran 3:14.35, the club's best for some time and only 1/100th from 4th.
In the final reckoning, the team ended up in 6th place overall, avoiding the dreaded 7th place by a massive 36 points, which was a fantastic achievement. In truth, there were three separate competitions taking place: a three way battle for 1st, a three way battle (involving us) for 4th, and a fight for bragging rights between the final two teams. That we held our own in such exalted company should be cause for celebration and, indeed, was, although a report of the post race activities is probably best left for another time (Written by team manager Dean Hardman)
Posted 29/05/2012 14:57