ONCE again Stratford Athletic Club members formed the backbone of the Warwickshire team which competed over two days at the New Balance English Schools’ Athletics Association Track & Field Championships at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium.
This is the fourth biggest athletics competition in the world, with more than 1,700 of England’s top young athletes from 45 counties in action in the second city.
To achieve the stringent entry standards and then gain selection for the Warwickshire county team is tough, but once again Stratford AC had a fine number of athletes in action including Issy Cain, Emily Madden Forman, Jack Sumners, Jess Sheppard, Lewis Byng, Cole Williams and Oliver Cresswell representing local schools.
Despite meeting the entry standard, two others – Dani Horton and Beth Cate (Gloucestershire) – were not selected.
Sumners declined the opportunity to compete after returning from the international schools competition in which he helped England become world schools athletics champions and with only a week to go before he jets off to the Bahamas to represent England in the Commonwealth Youth Games.
A year ago Williams was going through the motions in training but a change of attitude to his training through the winter and into 2017 has unlocked his potential as a sprinter and hurdler.
Putting those two things together, he lined up on day one on the biggest occasion of his athletics life to produce his fastest ever race at the perfect time in his heat of the junior boys’ 80m hurdles.
His concentrated training regime focused on getting a good start paid dividends and he shot off to finish second in a new personal best and national standard time of 11.54s and into the final.
The final against the top hurdlers in the country had Williams drawn in lane eight, which is tricky, especially as the race produced the fastest ever run by an under 15 boy when Joe Harding from Essex won in an incredible time of 10.50s.
Williams had a good start and was in the medal hunt for the silver and bronze until fading over the last hurdle to finish sixth, far exceeding his expectations and a massive achievement and confidence boost for his future.
Cresswell had a very comfortable run in his heat of the intermediate boys’ 100m hurdles and finished comfortably in first place in 13.23s to qualify for the final.
A faulty start in the final did not have an unsettling effect on Cresswell who got away to a flyer out of his blocks and was leading up to the fifth hurdle when he got some company in the form of Josh Zeller from Berkshire, who went on to produce the run and time of his life to pip Cresswell on the line with a dramatic dip.
Slightly disappointed at not getting the gold, Cresswell said afterwards: “I’m really pleased to win silver in the second best time I’ve ever run, but I’m particularly grateful, honoured and blessed to be going to Dublin to represent my country in the Home Countries International.”
Next up was Madden Forman in the senior girls’ triple jump and just at the right time she produced her best series of jumps this year.
She started confidently and her first jump of 10.84m was followed by a jump of 11.22m which was good enough to reach the final alongside seven other highly talented girls for another three jumps.
With three of the finalists jumping more than 12m and battling for medals, Madden Forman slightly improved her best to 11.23m to finish eighth and was “very surprised and happy to have jumped well and to have reached the final”.
Sheppard was another ‘first-timer’ and competed in the senior girls’ 400m. In a very competitive field for her heat, Sheppard was just off the leading pack on the final bend as they surged ahead, leaving Sheppard to battle through to the finish in typical fashion, finishing seventh just outside her personal best.
Day two started with another medal-winning performance when first-time ESAA competitor Byng won silver in the intermediate boys’ shot put.
His first throw just under 14m was good enough to set his stall out to the other competitors and in each round he consistently pounded the 14.5m line to win a fully deserved silver behind the leading thrower in the UK this year – George Hyde from West Cheshire.
Afterwards Byng was smiling from ear to ear after having his selection confirmed to represent England schools in the Home Countries International and was quick to praise his training regime at Stratford, particularly throws coach Sandy Green, in helping his transformation into one of the leading throwers in the country.
After missing training for a few weeks, Cain was jumping in the senior girls’ high jump and struggled to get any real rhythm in her run-up, leaving her disappointed but philosophical about going out of the competition at 1.58m.
Williams, Sheppard, Madden Forman and Cresswell all ran legs in their respective relays as the senior girls and intermediate boys reached their respective finals.
Stratford coach Paul Bearman said: “To step up to this national level is very hard, but once again Stratford athletes formed almost 30 per cent of the Warwickshire team.
“The English schools is a very tough competition whichever event an athlete competes in and our athletes can all be proud of themselves and their achievements.
“They have come away with varying degrees of satisfaction with their performances and all of them will have gained invaluable experience for the future.
“We wish our new England international athletes Ollie and Lewis well in Dublin and Jack in the Bahamas.”
Report courtesy of Paul Hawkins.