HALF a dozen Stratford Athletic Club young guns were in action for Warwickshire at the English Schools’ Athletics Association Track and Field Championships in Gateshead at the weekend.
This national event is the fourth biggest athletics competition in the world and features more than 1,700 athletes from 45 English counties, competing annually over two days at the championships.
To achieve the rigorous entry standards is hard enough but, because of limited entry numbers per county and with Warwickshire only able to take 25 athletes, to actually win selection for the county team is very hard.
The Stratford AC six – Issy Cain, Emily Madden Forman, Jack Sumners, Jodie Watson, Imogen Sheppard and Oliver Cresswell – did just that to represent Warwickshire schools at this year’s championships.
Two others – Rory Dwyer and Zephan Boxall – also qualified but Dwyer is going to the World Junior Championships and Boxall was injured.
Day one saw Watson compete in the junior girls’ high jump and, if being a first-timer in a competition at this level and only just coming back from a severe ten-week hamstring injury was not daunting enough, she had to endure a very heavy downpour in the middle of the competition.
However, Watson jumped comfortably through the early rounds and finally went out of the competition at 1.54m.
During the same downpour Cresswell ran in the intermediate boys’ 100m hurdles and comfortably finished in third place in 13.39secs in his heat to qualify for the final.
Sumners had the unsettling effect of two false starts by other athletes in his heat but maintained his composure to finish second in his heat in a superb new personal best of 13.06secs.
The two training partners felt confident going into the final as they lined up alongside each other. Cresswell thought he had got away to a flyer at the start but the starter called it as a false start, which seemed to unsettle the other athletes.
At the second time of asking they were off, but Sumners did not get away well and was off the pace, although Cresswell stayed in contention with the leaders and finished just outside the medals in fifth place.
Next up was Madden Forman in the intermediate girls’ triple jump and, despite being extremely nervous, the plan was for her to post an early big jump in the first round.
As it panned out, she had to wait for the ‘big one’ which proved to be her third round jump of 11.16m, which got her into the final and gave Madden Forman a further three jumps.
She was unable to improve on her third round jump but she had produced her second biggest jump of the season to finish a very impressive fifth out of a field of 22.
Cain was jumping in the senior girls’ high jump but struggled to get any rhythm in her run-up in the windy conditions and was disappointed to go out of the competition at 1.63m.
Sheppard was another first-timer and competed in the junior girls’ 800m. The first lap of her heat was evenly placed and she was just off the leading pack, which surged ahead on the final lap, leaving Sheppard to battle through to the finish.
Stratford coach Paul Bearman said afterwards: “To step up to this level is very hard, but once again Stratford athletes formed the backbone of the Warwickshire team and they can all be proud of themselves and come away with varying degrees of satisfaction with their performances.
“All of them will have gained invaluable experience for the future.”