id1647-BAL Match 2 Division 2, 7th June 2014, Southampron

Written by PJAW   

British Athletics League Division 2, Match 2

Southampton, June 7th 2014

The omens did not look good for K&P at the BAL Southampton match. Some missing athletes were returning, but far more were going down with injuries (one or two very late in the day) or were unavailable. Humphrey, our Team Manager, struggled to fill some disciplines and decided that he himself would have to cover 5 events, two of which he hadn’t done for 3 years. To amuse ourselves we made up a team sheet entirely out of unavailable K&P athletes (not including long-term absentees) and worked out that it might well beat the team we would be putting out!

Feeling that we were really up against it and risked being routed in our campaign for keeping Division 2 status in one disastrous meeting, Humphrey sent out an email asking every team member to scrap for every last point. The team’s response was amazing. They fought all the way and reaped rich rewards. A series of wonderful performances, including several lifetime bests and season’s bests, saw us achieve a remarkable 4th place finish. We now sit in 4th place in the league, level on 11 league points with Bristol & West (3rd), only separated by event-points difference.

Even the weather forecasts had been dire for Southampton. They predicted a miserable repeat of Basingstoke conditions, and the drive through torrential rain showers seemed to bear those predictions out, but shortly after our arrival at the track the sun came out and we found ourselves enjoying a glorious day for athletics. Spirits were further lifted by the reassuring sight of David Barrington resuming all TM duties for the day, as Humphrey was too busy moving from one event to another to handle things himself. Humphrey and the team are indebted to David for agreeing to come out of retirement when the chips were down.

The opening three field events (HT/LJ/PV) would set the tone for the day’s competition. Two of our biggest injury losses were Men’s Field Captain, Gareth Cook (HT), and in-form HCA Matt Houlden (LJ). How we coped with such absences would determine the outcome of the day. Pole Vault was the one event where we had strengthened since the 1st match, with Bilen Ahmet and Gordon Lester coming back into the team. Both jumped very well, but found themselves in a much-improved competition with Gordon going to a season’s best 4.00m (3rd - A) and Bilen hitting 3.80m (3rd - B). By way of contrast, in the Hammer we benefitted from a slight drop in quality, of which Andy Wheble (season’s best and close to his pb with 43.80m - 4th A) and gifted HT dabbler Chris Dack (pb 38.75m - 3rd B) both took full advantage. However, it was the Long Jump that proved most profitable of all, with Chris Hall perhaps surprising himself more than anybody else in jumping a huge pb (7.02m 2nd - A) and Humphrey managing a season’s best (6.79m - 1st B). Thus the first three events unexpectedly delivered a higher points return than that of the first match and got the day off to a great start.

Humphrey next had to hurry over to the High Jump and join our young specialist Alex MacKintosh in another top quality competition. As Bilen watched on wistfully, eager to join in and wondering what might have been, Humphrey went through the lower heights without blemish, until narrowly failing at 1.80m (he finished with 1.75m 4th - B). It was at this point that Alex entered the fray. Injury had played havoc with his build-up to the season and he still looked rusty, but his talent and competitive spirit got him over a season’s best 1.90m (6th - A) and he obviously has more to come this season. Nearby, in the throwing cage, a closely fought Discus competition was unfolding with Andy Wheble (43.28m, 2nd - A) this time outdoing Chris Dack (39.85m, 2nd - B) in a reverse of their Basingstoke placings. They are proving a consistent and formidable Discus duo.

The first track event was the 400H, where we saw a phenomenal race with Southampton’s James Forman breaking the Divisional record in 50.66s. Danny Eckersley was unlucky to hit such tough competition, finishing 6th - A (56.86) having run very well in his specialist event. He then had to consider his TM’s unkind request to fill-in as B steeplechaser as he tried to cope with the lactic. The B 400H race saw a very promising debut for Max Perez-Diaz (U20), who was pressed into service due to availability issues with our specialists. He had never really considered clearing a hurdle until he was asked to do so, just over a week before the event, leading to some hastily arranged training and a maiden race at the YDL. Max looked unfazed by the event and his introduction to high-level Senior Competition. His 61.84 pb earned him 6th place and he will certainly duck well below 60 seconds this season if he keeps working at it.

We had looked most vulnerable on the track, with the team low on numbers, and it was here that dogged resistance against the odds was most necessary. Our 800m runners both had to double up with the 1500m, which was a big ask against the quality of athlete they were facing. In the 800m, John Darby wisely chose not to lead from the gun this time, but after a slow first lap he couldn’t resist kicking first on hearing the bell and was overhauled, despite giving his all, to finish 8th (1:57.52) in a slow, tactical race. If he can rein-in his front-running instincts a bit longer, covering the moves of others and leaving his kick late, he may profit by it, but these guys are very classy operating off either a slow or fast pace. Simon Dill found himself in a closely fought B-race and worked hard for a 5th place (1:58.26) that so nearly was a 4th place. Later in the day both ran with great heart once again in the 1500m, against a largely fresh field, with an identical result. Jon, 8th - A (4:11.42) and Simon, 5th - B (4:15.72). We are indebted to them for their commitment.

At Basingstoke the cold and wet conditions had proved a leveler for us in the 100m, but the sun made Southampton a much less daunting prospect for the muscular, but somehow fragile, sprinting fraternity. Thus our guys had it all to do against a pedigree, motivated field. Jordan Smith-Bent ran an excellent season’s best (10.95, 5th - A), however Justin Green hit a stronger headwind and consequently was a little down on his best marks of the year, but as usual fought all the way to the line (11.29, 4th - B). The 3K Steeplechase was another event that saw an increase in quality and depth. Here we had James Robertson, struggling a little with fitness and form after a promising early season, but hanging in there (10:32.90, 8th - A) and the very plucky Danny Eckersley, doing his TM and team proud and picking two runners off in the B to finish 6th (10:35.70). Again, a lot of kudos goes to Danny for his tough double.

Back in the field, Triple Jump started well for our athletes. Both Humphrey and Chris Hall hit season’s bests early, before they had to go off to 110H. Over the barriers, Chris went close to his pb and ran sub-16 again into a -1.6 wind (15.99, 6th - A) and Humphrey was miffed with his 17.65 (6th - B) until he realized he’d run into a -3.7 headwind, not that the result would have altered against pretty decent specialists. They both returned to TJ to find that Humphrey lay comfortably 3rd A and Chris 2nd B. Humphrey then had to leave for Javelin and was even more miffed to learn that 2 athletes came past him in the final TJ rounds. He finished the Triple in 5th - A (13.96m) and Chris was 2nd - B (13.23m), still a good points return in a strong competition. In the Javelin, Humphrey (38.73m, 4th - B) was worried that he couldn’t quite connect as he’d been doing in practice and was headed by our excellent all-round thrower (and Rosenheim relay sprinter!) Andy Wheble (39.45m - 7th A), however by the end of the event the informative running score announcements had given us a strong indication that we’d finish in a decent position, so the pressure to deliver at all costs was lifted.

Before that, the 400m yielded our best points return on the track, as Tim Kuria showed that he’s coming back into top form, finishing 3rd - A (48.91) and the evergreen Victor Nwagbara stepped up in distance again to help the team and ran a hard race to finish 4th - B (51.04). The 200m was also hard-going, with Jordan Smith-Bent pushing through a touch of cramp to ensure we got good points (22.37, 5th - A) and Justin Green also sprinting well for 5th - B (22.90). Both faced big headwinds, with Justin’s even more massive than in his 100m: -4.4! The 5K saw yet another debut as new HCA, Tom Austin, joined the team (at last) and also saw a return to the fold for Cross Country Captain, Matt Hyett. Tom is a steeplechase specialist, but injured his ankle at BUCS, so was unable to go over the barriers, but his flat outing proved fruitful with a massive pb (16:00.39, 7th - A). Matt very kindly stepped in at the last moment, answering Humphrey’s S.O.S. for a B runner, despite carrying an achilles problem. He ran a season’s best 18:36.31 (8th - B) and his dedication and support was much appreciated and typified the team effort.

As the Shot Putt continued and the relays got under way, we already had a strong feeling it was going to turn out to be a good day. The Shot has delivered massive results for K&P over the years with Nick Owen leading the way and our TM has always been able to rely on those big points coming late on. A double victory was delivered once again on Saturday, although Chris Dack’s opening two no-throws did set the pulses racing a bit for a while. It finished with Chris smashing his pb again (15.51, 1st - A) and Nick cleaning up the B (13.92m). Thanks must also go to Nick for agreeing to turn up at the start of the day as cover, in case of injury, in the heavy throws.

The relays always seem to steer a tad close to drama and controversy. This time there were debates over personnel and running order, but in the end the management view prevailed. Humphrey would say that in consequence, the 4x100m (Jordan Smith-Bent, Justin Green, Chris Hall, Victor Nwagbara) looked as safe as it ever has done and delivered one of our faster times (43.00 - 4th). The 4x400m squad (Jon Darby, Max Perez-Diaz, Chris Hall - on his 5th event of the day, & Tim Kuria) also ran strongly for 5th place (3:25.57) and our work was done, with yet another great result in the bag.

This was a huge team effort, with every athlete giving everything for the cause, often in events they were unused to, or even averse to! So a lot of credit must go out to the team and also to the team manager, Humphrey (and David Barrington on the day), for marshaling and motivating overstretched resources. We expect reinforcements for the final two matches and it’s important that we keep pushing and don’t rest on our laurels.

Once again, a big thank you to David for all his support, to Peter Wilkins for volunteering to drive the minibus, to Brenda Ford who came to officiate, and to Club Secretary Dominique Blaize and Club Captain Gareth Cook and the coaches, friends and family who all came to support and also those unable to come, who supported in the build-up. It was great to have you all behind us and you really helped the athletes to deliver.

Now let’s work hard and go to Derby fitter and stronger, and ready to test just how well the other southern clubs travel!

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