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Indoor City Challenge semi-final 1 report, results
29 Jan 2006 20:26

London North clawed back a 20-point deficit two-thirds of the way through the meeting to score a stunning victory in a pulsating semi-final of the UK Athletics Indoor City Challenge at Sportcity, Manchester, on Sunday 29 January.

“It was nerve-wracking,” exclaimed London North Team Manager Geoff Morphitis after his squad shrugged off the loss of five original selections to England internationals and the Norwich Union International in Glasgow to total 114 points. They were followed by: 2 Birmingham 111; 3 London South 104; 4 Glasgow 101; 5 Belfast 86; 6 Edinburgh 72. The leading three teams go through to the final at the EIS, Sheffield, on 19 February.

Morphitis, better known as the manager of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers’ British League team, went on: “A league is OK because if you have a dip over a season, you know you have time to claw it back. But this is a one-off and at one point we were 20 points down. Gemma Bennett turned it around for us. She won two really gutsy races by hundredths of a second.”

The 60m / 60m hurdles double earned Bennett one of the athletes’ kit packages for outstanding performances. The other teams’ Athletes’ of the Match were Alison Rodgers (Glasgow) for a shot personal best of 15.29m, Kirsty Maguire (Edinburgh) for getting to within 1cm of her lifetime best and a new Scottish Indoor pole vault record; Chris Gearing (London South) for beating his outdoor shot best; Paul Brizzel (Belfast) for winning the 200m, finishing third in the 60m and contributing the 300m leg to the medley relay; Jessica Leach (Birmingham) for coming in as a last-minute replacement and winning the high jump with two PBs.

Polar Heart Rate Monitors for the best statistical performances of the day went to Gearing and Julie Dunkley, who won two good class shot competitions.

Here’s how the drama panned-out…

Women’s long jump: Heptathlete Louise Hazel continued her preparations for Norwich Union GB’s combined events international in Prague next month by winning with a modest 5.86m then said: “It was terrible! It was a funny atmosphere; too early to be rocking, more like a training session. I couldn’t hit the board for a start but did so in the third round for a nice 5.80. I’ve been working on other events in training. This tells me I have to work on my long jump run-up before I go to Prague.” Result: 1 Louise Hazel (Birmingham) 5.86; 2 Leandra Polius (London North) 5.72; 3 Mandy Gault (Belfast) 5.68; 4 Nony Mordi (Edinburgh) 5.64; 5 Phylis Agbo (London South) 5.63; 6 Jennifer Wilkie (Glasgow) 4.99.

Women’s high jump: Despite losing her way to Sportcity and arriving only five minutes before the warm-up was due to begin, 18-year-old Jessica Leach achieved two indoor personal bests and kept her nerve through a jump-off to chalk-up Birmingham’s second successive victory. Hustling into the meeting with a PB of 1.65m, she cleared 1.69m to force the jump-off with Scottish Champion Gillian Black. And then Leach clinched victory at 1.70m before saying: “I didn’t expect to win it but I got fired-up. I jumped much better than I have been doing.” Result: 1 Jessica Leach (Birmingham) 1.70; 2 Gillian Black (Glasgow) 1.69; 3 Jayne Nisbet (Edinburgh) 1.69; 4 Catriona Forrest (London South) 1.64; 5 Claire Wilkinson (Belfast) 1.59; 6 Eloise Newman (London North) 1.59.

Men’s shot: Chris Gearing, the Norwich Union GB Junior Team Captain for the last IAAF World Junior Championships, came up with the Man of the Match performance. The 19-year-old powered out an indoor PB of 17.33m and then, even more brilliantly, a lifetime best indoors and out of 17.89m to secure victory for London South – and then made an impassioned plea for more Indoor City Challenge meetings: “It’s good! We need a few more teams, I reckon, then we could have our own grand prix series. I didn’t feel very well at the Southerns last week because I hurt my back when I was warming-up, so I wanted to get a good one out today. It’s set me up nicely for next weekend’s National Squad in Birmingham. Mike Winch is running it and everyone is turning up. People like Mark Proctor are passing on lots of good advice. That’s how it should be; it’s the only way we’re going to make things better in this country and compete with the best in the world.”

Scottish Champion Neil Elliott took second place for Glasgow despite chipping a bone in his foot and tearing three ligaments while training last Monday night. “He is so committed to team events that nothing is too much trouble,” said Glasgow Team Manager Brian Donaldson, who backed-up his confidence by making Elliott his banker – meaning that he scored double points. “Neil was here last year and got us off to a brilliant start and he has got us off to an inspiring start again,” added Donaldson. After being restricted to standing throws rather than spins, Elliott said: “I slipped on the corner of the stopboard and heard two almighty cracks. When I went to hospital on Tuesday morning, I was in a fair bit of pain and they told me it would take six weeks to mend. To come here and throw is a bit crazy, but I am Team Captain. I am also the old man in a pretty young team and I have come to cheer on the young lads.” Result: 1 Chris Gearing (London South) 17.89; 2 Neil Elliott (Glasgow) 15.50; 3 Anthony Soalla-Bell (London North) 15.26; 4 Stephen McAuley (Belfast) 14.30; 5 Willie Falconer (Edinburgh) 14.10; 6 Ed Dunford (Birmingham) 13.80.

Men’s pole vault: Leigh Walker won a tense competition on count back to continue London South’s good start. Result: 1 Leigh Walker (London South) 4.60; 2 Alex Williams (Birmingham) 4.60; 3 Steve McLennan (London North) 4.40; 4 Douglas Winch (Glasgow) 3.60.

Men’s long jump: John Carr, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Christmas Day, surprised himself by winning for Glasgow. Having jumped 6.78m at this meeting last year, he went out to 6.92m to underline how he enjoys the ICC format: “Nobody goes out for second place, but I knew I was up against it with some good seniors here today. I just like the team atmosphere. We have fun and it all athlete-focussed.” Result: 1 John Carr (Glasgow) 6.92; 2 Ryan James (Birmingham) 6.82; 3 Sean McMahon (Belfast) 6.79; 4 Levi Edwards (London South) 6.78; 5 Adrian Phillips (London North) 6.75; 6 Richard Hurren (Edinburgh) 6.55.

Women’s 400m: Only the three outside lanes were used to reduce the handicaps of tight bends. In only her second indoor 400, Kelly Massey (Birmingham) held on strongly to hold off Jennifer Culley (London South) in her heat – and was then delighted to discover she had also run faster than the winner of the other heat, Elaine McCaffrey (Belfast). Massey, in her final year of a Sports Science degree course at John Moores University Liverpool, said: “I have not been too confident so I went off a bit slower than I might have done. But I felt strong so I think I cam in faster.” Her views on the ICC: “This is the first time I’ve done it and I think it’s good for everybody to get on as much as they can.” Result: 1 Kelly Massey (Birmingham) 56.5; 2 Elaine McCaffrey (Belfast) 57.2; 3 Ashleigh Kennedy (Edinburgh) 57.5; 4 Jennifer Culley (London South); 5 Alyssa Fullelove (Glasgow) 57.7; 6 Nicola Martell (London North) 60.0.

Women’s shot: In a South v North (London) shoot-out between the UK’s top two on their way to the Commonwealth Games, Julie Dunkley got the better of Jo Duncan just as she did last summer outdoors at Sportcity, at the Norwich Union World Trials and AAA Championships. Only 5cm separated them after six rounds of close competition in what Dunkley described as “quite a good opener”. Her best of the day, 16.11m, was within 2cm of her lifetime best, which arrived way back in 2000. “There is still a lot more to come,” she added. “It will be nice to beat my PB; it’s stale now.” Maybe the best will arrive next Sunday at Cardiff, when the two clash again; but Dunkley is a fan of the ICC concept: “It’s brilliant! You can’t really fault it, can you? It would be good if it developed into an indoor kind of league system.” For Duncan, 16.06m was “a slight improvement on last week’s South of England result but there is still a lot more to come.” Result: 1 Julie Dunkley (London South) 16.11; 2 Jo Duncan (London North) 16.06; 3 Alison Rodger (Glasgow) 15.29; 4 Louise Hazell (Birmingham) 11.40; 5 Rhiannon McNally (Belfast) 10.84; 6 Jane Nisbet (Edinburgh) 7.13.

Men’s high jump: Darryl Stone scored a win on count back at 2.12m over Norwich Union AAA Under 20 Champion Nick Stanisavljevic. “It’s the highest I’ve ever jumped indoors,” said Stone. “2.12 after 2.10 last week … and hoping to improve again at the AAAs. I did 2.20m at last summer’s AAAs and I want to get back up there. I’m still in my heavy winter training at the moment; in a couple of weeks I hope to be up there. I was disappointed not to be selected for the Commonwealths after doing the entry standard at the Trials but I’m only 22. There’s always a few years’ time.” He reckons the ICC competition set-up is “brilliant”, explaining: “There’s a good bit of rivalry among all the teams, particularly North London and South London. I live in Essex but I’m more than happy to get involved!” Stanisavljevic shrugged: “It was the first comp of the season so I’m not too upset, not too pleased.” The ICC concept? “It’s good; we need more competitions.”  Result: 1 Darryl Stone (London North) 2.12; 2 Nick Stanisavljevic (London South) 2.12; 3 Matt Roberts (Birmingham) 2.04; 4 Caolan Flanagan (Belfast) 2.04; 5 Stuart Livingstone (Edinburgh) 2.04; 6 Andrew Allan (Glasgow) 1.95.

Men’s 400m: As with the Women, only the outside three lanes were used for the two heats. Andre Fernandez held on determinedly to win the Battle of London by a couple of metres from Conrad Williams – then discovered to his delight that both had run faster than the other heat winner, IAAF World Indoors Bronze medallist Paul McKee (Belfast). “I’m well pleased with that,” smiled Fernandez. “I was pleased with the performance, and times are going to get quicker. I want to make the World Indoors team and I’m loving the Indoor City Challenge. When Geoff called me last year, I was up for it and I have been looking forward to this one ever since then.” Result: 1 Andre Fernandez (London North) 48.5; 2 Conrad Williams (London South) 48.6; 3 Paul McKee (Belfast) 48.85; 4 Kris Robertson (Glasgow) 49.12; 5 James Marshall (Birmingham) 49.5; 6 Craig Robertson (Edinburgh) 51.36.

Women’s 800m: Claire Robinson, a clinical scientist at the Royal Brompton Hospital, won in a PB for South London after taking the lead on the back straight of the final lap, and said: “I got a bit boxed in. This is my first winter of 800m running and I am still learning.” Of the ICC concept, she said: “I like it. I came here last year and there were fewer people. Hopefully it will grow. If you can get the timing right, you can get a good race in.” Result: 1 Claire Robinson (London South) 2:09.35; 2 Ellie Childs (London North) 2:09.88; 3 Celia Brown (Birmingham) 2:12.05; 4 Lauren Peffers (Edinburgh) 2:13.28; 5 Christine Long (Belfast) 2:13.62; 6 Alison Reid (Glasgow) 2:27.31.

Men’s 800m: Kevin Kane from Cumbernauld scored a run-away victory for Glasgow, leading by 40m at the bell and crossing the line 25m clear of his nearest rival. “The first lap was too slow; it was only 27,” he said. “I had planned to run from the front but when I heard the bell for the chasers, it was scary! Why didn’t they follow me? They probably thought I would fade.” And he said of the ICC concept: “It’s brilliant – fantastic! You would think there is a bit of solidarity between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there’s anything but. We were even happy to arrive in Manchester before them!” Result: 1 Kevin Kane (Glasgow) 1:53.24; 2 Gareth Hill (Belfast) 1:55.39; 3 Jamie McCullagh (London South) 1:55.48; 4 Darren St Clair (London North) 1:57.10; 5 Danny Stevens (Birmingham) 1:58.27.

Women’s triple jump: Disaster struck London North with Leandra Polius, the event favourite, suffering a back injury and registering three no-jumps and therefore no points. Scotland reigned supreme with Gillian Kerr winning from teenager Nony Mordi. Result: 1 Gillian Kerr (Glasgow) 12.29; 2 Nony Mordi (Edinburgh) 12.17; 3 Anna Kelly (Birmingham) 11.81; 4 Grace Clements (London South) 11.76; 5 Stephanie Keys (Belfast) 9.80.

Women’s 200m: Only the outside two lanes were used to minimise any handicaps of the tight bends but nobody went faster than heat one winner Ellana Ruddock. Result: 1 Ellan Ruddock (Birmingham) 24.8; 2 Sabina Astarita (Glasgow) 25.1; 3 Louise Dickson (Edinburgh) 25.3; 4 Kara-Aretha Graham (London North) 25.8; 5 Janine Whitlock (London South) 26.0; 6 Leigh Whiteside (Belfast) 26.5.

Women’s pole vault: This was a case of ‘so near yet so far’ – twice over. Both Kirsty Maguire and Zoe Brown went close to clearing 4.10m. For Maguire, it would have been a Scottish record. For Brown, who went closest in that she had landed on the bed long before the bar decided to wobble off its stands, it would have been a perfect springboard towards the Commonwealth Games. “It was a good competition,” said Maguire. “The starting height was 3.50m, which was tremendous for a domestic meeting. I have a lot of respect for Zoe. She is a great vaulter. She was really unlucky with her last attempt at 4.10; she had a stack of height.” Of the Indoor City Challenge, she added: “I like the way it is athlete-centred. The officials have been very accommodating. And it’s nice to be part of a local team. Edinburgh is my home city and I’m proud to represent it.” Result: 1 Kirsty Maguire (Edinburgh) 4.00; 2 Zoe Brown (Belfast) 4.00; 3 Jennifer Graham (Glasgow) 3.80; 4 Catherine Macrae (London North) 3.70; 5 Hilary Smith (Birmingham) 3.50.

Men’s 200m: The vastly experienced Paul Brizzel (Belfast) sped to his expected victory and joined the chorus of praise for the Challenge concept: “It’s a good competition. You’ve got inexperienced athletes but it’s a stepping-stone towards the internationals. There’s Janine, Paul McKee, myself, several more Irish and Scottish internationals here – athletes in good nick – and that’s beneficial for the younger competitors, too. In fact, the Challenge is beneficial for anyone aiming to step up to the Worlds. It’s good preparation for the AAAs or the Irish Championships, which are open. The Odyssey is a fast track, if anyone is interested!” There was a downside to this race. Leon Grant, called up by London North only yesterday morning, was DQ’d for running out of his lane. It was a great anti-climax to a memorable weekend. He jumped at the chance to run when called by manager Morphitis but could not travel on the team coach to Manchester because he had arranged to buy a car yesterday afternoon. Deal done, he caught a train to Manchester – only to hit the buffers on the tight bends. Result: 1 Paul Brizzel (Belfast) 21.83; 2 Derrick Speirs (Glasgow) 22.23; 3 James Bridge (London South) 22.41; 4 Luke Lennon-Ford (Birmingham) 22.82; 5 Chris Lavery (Edinburgh) 23.19.

Women’s 60m: A week after equalling Jacqui Agyepong’s South of England Champs 60m hurdles record, Gemma Bennett started London North’s fight back from the edge of despair by registering a win in a blanket finish. Result: 1 Gemma Bennett (London North) 7.80; 2 Claire Spurway (Birmingham) 7.82; 3 Sabrina Scott (London South) 7.84; 4 Sabina Astarita (Glasgow) 7.88; 5 Aileen Connelly (Edinburgh) 7.92; 6 Leigh Whiteside (Belfast) 8.19.

Men’s 60m: Dwayne Grant powered out of a year’s illness and injury frustration to score a “very beneficial” victory. The margin was millimetres but the meaning much greater, as he explained: “I’ve had a whole year out: glandular fever last winter; a twice torn hamstring last summer. Training has been going well but you cannot measure yourself in training. You have to race to shake the rust out and this is a start.” And he took time out to thank UK Athletics Performance Director Dave Collins and his team for including him in the lottery-funded World Class Development Programme for this year: “It’s good to know that UKA have got faith in me as much as I have got faith in me.” Result: 1 Dwayne Grant (London South) 6.89; 2 Gavin Eastman (London North) 6.90; 3 Paul Brizzel (Belfast) 7.01; 4 James Ryan (Birmingham) 7.08; 5 Alan Wilson (Glasgow) 7.09; 6 Chris Lavery (Edinburgh) 7.54.

Men’s triple jump: 18-year-old Jude Beimers went through the pain barrier with a single leap to victory. He jarred his left ankle so badly going into the third phase of his first attempt that he had to retire from the rest of the competition. Yet he still reached 15.09m – equalling the PB he set at last weekend’s Scottish Champs – to win conclusively. “The first two phases were brilliant but I just flopped on the third,” he said as he iced his reddened and injured ankle. And the experience has not cooled his enthusiasm for the Indoor City Challenge: “I like it; it’s great. It’s a well-organised competition and I like this venue. It’s a really hard track.” Result: 1 Jude Beimers (Edinburgh) 15.09; 2 Sam Bobb (London South) 14.65; 3 Sayo Ojo (London North) 14.63; 4 Alastair Strange (Glasgow) 13.76; 5 Jamie Blundell (Birmingham) 13.52.

Women’s 60m hurdles: Gemma Bennett completed her quick-fire double despite being pushed all the way to the line by Sara McGreavy. “I would have liked to have done better,” said Bennett, giving herself no concessions for the fact that she had only 20 minutes between the flat sprint and this race. “I can improve on my start and the first three hurdles; and I’ve got two weeks until the AAAs. I’m on the right track. I’m getting there – slowly.” Result: 1 Gemma Bennett (London North) 8.38; 2 Sara McGreavy (Birmingham) 8.40; 3 Alyssa Fullelove (Glasgow) 8.76; 4 Catriona Pennent (Edinburgh) 9.01; 5 Channelle Garnett (London South) 9.18; 6 Mandy Gault (Belfast) 9.87.

Men’s 60m hurdles: Here’s where Geoff Morphitis really earned his corn as London North Team Manager. Mo Sillah-Freckleton phoned him on Friday and said: “My back’s so bad, I can’t run on Sunday.” Morphitis replied: “Come up to Manchester and I’ll get you treatment.” Physio John Allen worked on his so well that he not only declared himself fit, Morphitis made him the team’s Joker meaning he would scored double points for whatever position he finished in. Sillah-Freckleton duly won – then confessed: “This is the first time in four weeks I have been able to do three strides between hurdles. John Allen did a very good job! I’m happy – I can prepare for the AAAs now.” Sillah-Freckleton, who won the Norwich Union AAA Indoor title two years ago, said of the Indoor City Challenge: “It’s a good concept but we still need more people. If there were heats and finals, we would run faster. But one good race is better than no race.” Result: 1 Mo Sillah-Freckleton (London North) 8.12; 2 Francis Smith (Edinburgh) 8.17; 3 Ed Dunford (Birmingham) 8.27; 4 Jonathan Miller (Belfast) 8.55; 5 Ryan Dinham (London South) 8.73.

Women’s 1500m: Tina Brown – seeking as many indoor races as possible to sharpen her preparations for the Commonwealth Games steeplechase – won by 15m from fast-finishing Faye Fullerton while high jumper Gillian Black demonstrated her devotion to Glasgow by taking fourth place in 6:10.47, for which she gained a PB bonus point. “It’s a great team event,” said Brown as she rushed to prepare for the medley relay. “It’s really good fun. I set off for the Games on 23 February. The Challenge Final four days earlier will be perfect for the send-off!” Result: 1 Tina Brown (Birmingham) 4:41.56; 2 Faye Fullerton (London North) 4:43.78; 3 Wendy Davis (Belfast) 5:01.94; 4 Gillian Black (Glasgow) 6:10.47.

Men’s 1500m: Colin McCourt paced himself perfectly to score maximum points for South London despite a fierce challenge from Mark Sanford, who strove to keep London North’s surge going. Result: 1 Colin McCourt (London South) 3:51.49; 2 Mark Sanford (London North) 3:52.92; 3 Ross Toole (Glasgow) 3:54.71; 4 Doug Selman (Edinburgh) 3:56.20; 5 Steven Morrow (Belfast) 4:12.85.

Women’s medley relay: Kelly Massey followed her individual 400m victory with a brilliantly timed 400m leg to erase North London’s 15m lead and send Birmingham on the way to victory in this race, which embraced legs of 800m, 600m, 400m and 200m. Following Massey’s heroics, Ellana Ruddock brought Brum home three metres clear. Result: 1 Birmingham 5:07.23; 2 London North 5:07.65; 3 Belfast 5:17.00; 4 London South 5:20.06; 5 Edinburgh 5:20.31; 6 Glasgow 5:40.06.

Men’s medley relay: If anyone learnt that the Indoor City Challenge is all about breaking through new frontiers, it was Ryan Dinham. The 400m hurdler willingly tackled the 60m hurdles for South London and ended his day with a brilliantly timed 600m leg that sparked their victory in the final event of a memorable day.

Result: 1 London South 4:26.70; 2 London North 4:30:16; 3 Glasgow 4:31.43; 4 Birmingham 4:39.80; 5 Belfast 4:47.38.

The second semi-final at the National Indoor Athletics Centre, Cardiff, on Saturday 4 February will involve Oxford v Cardiff v Bristol v Manchester v Newcastle v Sheffield.

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