id1652-BAL Match 3 Division 2, 5th July 2014, Derby

Written by PJAW   

British Athletics League Division 2, Match 3

Derby, July 5th 2014

Kingston & Poly’s Men enjoyed our most extraordinarily successful and uplifting day since the Club’s merger in 1985. A brilliant mixture of athleticism, talent, guts and sheer bloody-mindedness saw us turn a fight to avoid being sucked into relegation trouble into a triumphant drive towards the promotion places. In the process we scored 307 points to finish 2nd in the match. Both the points total and the position are the best ever achieved by a K&P team in a Division 2 match of the BAL.

Shakespeare stated “the course of true love never did run smooth” and that can certainly be said of K&P’s love affair with the BAL. The build-up was once again marred by unexpected injuries and enforced absences. The Field still remained pretty strong, but the Track appeared to be critically weakened, especially in the longer distances, leading to reshuffles, recalls, debuts and volunteers filling-in on arduous and unfamiliar events to ensure we got some points out of them.

It took judgment and imagination from Humphrey, our team manager, to maximize his slender resources, plus a lot of spirit and appetite for hard work from our athletes to deliver on his planning. To put it into perspective, Bristol & West finished a distant last, scoring over 100 points less than us and complaining that their team was pitifully small in number, but they only fielded two less athletes than we did. Harrow had eight more than us in their team, and still only managed 4th place. As Mark Twain once famously observed, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog…”

The weather on the day bore an uncanny resemblance to that for our match in Southampton. We drove there under leaden skies and through heavy rain (the same stuff that threw Silverstone F1 qualifying into disarray), but miraculously the sun came out as we reached Derby and we then enjoyed a warm, if breezy day.

Derby’s Moorways stadium is very green and pleasant in the sunshine, with the added luxury of a decent-sized stand and very comfortable seating, unlike the Spartan settings of our previous two venues. A decade ago it had been the site of the nadir of K&P BAL competition, when a weakened K&P team suffered an unnecessary DQ in the relay, which led to us finishing equal last in Division 4, our worst ever BAL match result. How fitting then, ten years on, that it was also the site of K&P’s miraculous BAL zenith.

The opening three events had got us off to great starts in both the previous matches, so we felt very optimistic, especially as we welcomed back Gareth Cook and Matt Houlden after injury prevented them contesting the last match. Gareth quickly hit his stride in the HT, posting a season’s best 50.56m (4th A) and he now looks set for a strong finish to a difficult season. In the B-string, Andy Wheble was surprised and a little miffed not to make the cut, but still won with 38.37m.

Matt Houlden was having a tougher time in his comeback to BAL LJ, as he struggled technically, leading to a series of jumps where he couldn’t quite deliver fully on his speed and power. He kept at it though and won the B with 6.74m. Chris Hall also wasn’t quite back to his 7m best, but he too hit 6.74m and was pleased to maintain his A-string status as a result of a better second mark than Matt, finishing in 3rd place. Some of us were rather alarmed to see the PV boys wandering far from their event and looking slightly sheepish. We feared they’d gone out early, but in fact they hadn’t actually got to their entry height yet, so had decided on a jog to take in the sights. Both got over 3.80m, with Gordon Lester winning the B-string and bemoaning a missed opportunity to cash-in on his good vein of form, and Bilen Ahmet taking =3rd in the A-string on count-back.

It was the start of a long and arduous day for Bilen. Most people in K&P will know of his immense willingness to fill-in for his team and his almost insane feats of multi-eventing. His efforts at Derby were epic, especially as he went into the match troubled by a sore back. He followed PV with a B-string HJ (6th - 1.70m) and then helped to plug the massive hole in K&P distance running with a 3K Steeplechase/5K double. His heavy two-footed landings off the water-jump certainly won’t have helped his back, but he survived and still looked cheerful at the end of the day. Alongside him in the ‘chase we had another brave volunteer - Tom Parry, whose hurdling technique was certainly smoother, but who is also built for power rather than endurance. I believe Tom thought it was a 2K chase when he agreed to do it and his cheery smile certainly faded when he realized the ghastly truth, but he never grumbled and went for it. Tom’s and Bilen’s inspirational efforts became even more telling, due to Notts failing to field any runners and Harrow having their B-string DNF. Bilen’s support, as he moved on to the 5K, came from an injured Andy Arbour, breaking into a family holiday once again to turn out for the points, swollen knee notwithstanding. Humphrey and the team owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for their selfless contribution to a phenomenal day.

Prior to morphing into a distance plodder, Tom Parry had shown off his specialist sprinting credentials with an immensely gutsy win in the B-string 400H. Having held the lead for 300m he had been reeled in and overtaken, but attacked again down the straight to retake the lead in 57.46s. Danny Eckersley also ran a great 400H in a closely fought A-race (6th - 56.49s), despite the windy conditions and being given a less favourable lane than he should have been by Marksmen apparently confused by the clearly listed BAL lane draw.

The 800m saw a highly promising debut from new member, Scott Evans. He looks to have a really good racing brain, although he hit the front a little early this time and couldn’t quite hold on for the win, but he fought courageously all the way to the line for 3rd place (A - 1:55.36). He then went on to run an excellent 1500m (6th - A: 4:03.83). With a good winter behind him, he looks more than capable of delivering big points in the future. The advent of Scott had the added benefit of allowing Jon Darby to drop down to the B-races. In the 800m he had a rare old battle, narrowly missing out on victory to finish 2nd (1:57.99) and in the 1500m he came a creditable 5th (4:13.08) completing a much improved MD points return.

Meanwhile, in the Triple Jump, Matt Houlden (14.55m) and Chris Hall (13.07m) both finished 2nd in the A & B-strings respectively. Both had to battle to get their points, with rivals coming nerve-rackingly close to them. Their cause was probably not helped by both needing to leave mid-competition in order to run the 110H. Here both finished 4th, Matt (A - 15.78s [0.1]) and Chris (B - 15.87s [1.4]), in very tightly contested races. Chris’s mark was yet another pb for the season, which is proving to be a great one for him after a slowish start.

The sprints had seemed an area of concern prior to the match, with Jordan Smith-Bent unable to run. This meant a considerable reshuffle was necessary, with Justin Green moving up to A-string and Victor Nwagbara shifting over from B-string 400m. Both of them are approaching veteran status and have given enormous service to K&P. They insist that retirement beckons at the end of the season, but both were serious contenders in four classy races. Justin ran the 100m in 11.18 [-0.2] for 7th A, with Victor 11.35 [0.9] for 5th B. In the 200m - Justin ran 22.54 (7th - A) and Victor 23.23 (5th - B). They then teamed up with Chris Hall and Matt Houlden for the 4x100m relay looking safe and solid for their 5th place (43.07s).

Taking Victor’s slot in the B 400m was U20, Max Perez-Diaz, fresh from a big pb in the YDL. His inexperience at this level wasn’t helped by being drawn in lane 8, and he never quite recovered from a somewhat tentative start (8th - 52.70s), but he regrouped magnificently to run a great leg of the 4x400m relay, alongside Jon Darby, Victor Nwagbara and HCA Tim Kuria (6th - 3:26.91). Tim had earlier proved his worth with another fluent A-string 400m performance, floating to 3rd place in 49.57s. He has been a huge asset to K&P and it’s a pleasure to see him run in the blue vest.

Back in the Field, K&P continued to turn the screw on the opposition with a series of top performances. In JT, HCA - Linus Field - making his first appearance of the season, hit a well-deserved pb 49.75m to finish 2nd (A). His only regret was narrowly missing the magic 50m mark, which is sure to come soon. Linus had already achieved a good result in the HJ (1.80m - 7th A), where he came within a whisker of another pb performance. TM, Humphrey Waddington, was our other thrower and made up for missing out on his favoured jumps due to a knee injury by winning his B-string with a season’s best 42.72m effort.

In the DT, Andy Wheble and Chris Dack blew the opposition away, Chris setting the early pace with a standing 41.04m to win the B-string and Andy finishing strongly with a beautifully flighted delivery to take the A (43.38m). The ever-impressive and staunch K&P man, Nick Owen, now joined in the fun, alongside Chris in the SP. Nick was a comfortable winner of the B-string (13.84m), whilst Chris Dack renewed his blossoming rivalry with Harrow’s Luke Roach-Christie in the A, trailing him for most of the competition, before finding something extra to win in the last round with 15.21m.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day. The atmosphere was euphoric and I have never seen the team so united, happy and purposeful. They have really earned this success and they feel good knowing that to be the case.

After our strong opening at Basingstoke, early in the season, one or two people in the Club said that we’d been lucky. Adapting Gary Player’s response to a similar comment after a great shot - it’s funny that the harder we work, the luckier we get. We now sit in equal 2nd place in the league and have a five-point cushion over 4th place Harrow. We have already achieved the primary objective of securing our Division 2 status for another season at the 3rd time of asking, and now we have such a tangible chance of promotion that it would almost be a disappointment if we didn’t take it!

The team, the team management and all the supporters have been a huge credit to the Club and equally importantly to themselves. Now we just need to go out and finish the season in style at Bath. I hope that the whole of K&P will mobilise to support us, because this team deserves no less.

Allez les bleus!

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