THREE athletes won medals and almost everyone recorded personal bests as the England Athletics Under 15, 17 and 20 Indoor Championships proved to be one of the most fruitful yet for Stratford Athletic Club.
Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport played host to the cream of the UK’s young athletics talent over two days and just meeting the stringent qualifying standards for these championships is testament to the talent of the Stratford AC juniors.
This year, eight athletes made the trip north, with some making their debuts in this level of competition.
Lewis Byng was the hot favourite in the U20 shot and lived up to that billing with another gold medal-winning performance, but he did not have it all his own way.
With Byng not producing the big 18m throw he hoped for, Daniel-James Thomas from Eastbourne AC kept the pressure on throughout the competition but, with a best of 17.79m in the first round, Byng hung on to deservedly win his first championship as an under 20.
The hurdles is arguably the toughest track event to master – needing speed, precision, guts and a high level of technical ability to be able to perform at the top level. Stratford has had a strong reputation for hurdling for a number of years and once again these athletes showed their pedigree.
Freddie Clemons only returned from a school skiing trip 36 hours before lining up for his heat in the U15 60m hurdles, winning in 8.71s to reach the final.
With his main rival Jacob Blanc from Havering AC lining up alongside him in the final, Clemons blasted out of the blocks and never looked like losing from gun to tape, winning the gold medal in a new personal best of 8.52s and leaping back to the top of the UK rankings.
Clemons had earlier competed in the long jump and reached the final, finishing eighth with 5.36.
UK’s finest in action
U20 Jack Sumners has an amazing record over the last few years – winning medals in championships – and his hurdles race was set up to be the big finale of the championships with most of the leading UK-ranked contenders in the field.
In his heat Sumners was a comfortable second in 8.02s and in the most nip and tuck race of the whole championships the final lived up to its top billing. In a thrilling race that was unbelievably quick, a tidal wave of athletes swamped the finish line and Sumners finished in the bronze medal position in a new personal best time of 7.92s.
Cole Williams has been Mr Consistent throughout the indoor season and looked odds-on for a medal in the U17 hurdles but he had a day when not much seemed to go his way.
Throughout the championships, the electronic starting gun caused one problem after another and, being furthest away from the speaker in his heat, Williams did not hear the gun and failed to start.
However, almost from a standing start, he showed his class and blasted his way down the track and still managed to catch the field to qualify for the semi-final.
The semi-final went to plan, qualifying for the final in a time of 8.24s and right from the start in the final Williams was looking good to be in the mix for the medals until he battered the third barrier and his race was over.
Hurdles is an unforgiving event and one slight error of judgement usually means the race is over and after working so hard to get into peak condition for the championships it was a disappointing end to his indoor season.
However, Williams said: “I’m looking forward to the outdoor season now.”
U17 Harry Sugden is a relative newcomer to hurdling and after working hard in training in recent weeks to refine his technique he was looking more comfortable in the event.
However, with perhaps a bit of over-exuberance and nerves in his first major championship, he too clattered a hurdle in his heat but even with nearly coming to a standstill he still managed to finish in a time of 9.51s, just outside his personal best.
Maddie Clark is one of the club’s combined-eventers and she competed in an individual event at a major championships for the first time in the U17 hurdles and finished eighth in her heat in a new best of 9.69s.
U17 Nick Butler was also a debutant in the U17 60m and he raised his game to finish sixth in his heat with a new best of 7.49s.
Millie Leighton was another making her debut as an U17 and in the triple jump she finished in 13th place with a best jump of 10.52m.