id1870-BAL Division 2, Match 1, Kingston May 6th

Written by Chris Hall   

British Athletics League Division 2, Match 1

Kingston, 6th May 2017

The 2017 BAL season kicked off with a match hosted by Herne Hill Harriers, who requested that the newly re-laid Kingsmeadow track be the venue. It was, then, an ideal “away” match for Kingston & Poly - in our own back yard!

The 2016 season had brought a damp squib of an ending after some impressive results for the Club in the first 3 matches, so we were keen to get a good start and make the most of the home advantage. Though there were a couple of first-teamers missing we were safe in the knowledge that virtually every event had two athletes accustomed to the discipline – a rarity when two of the events requiring last minute reinforcements were hurdles races!

The start of the day, as always, was Long Jump and Hammer at 12.30 with the High Jump soon after. Alongside Gareth Cook in the Hammer we welcomed back Kyle Stevens, returning to the circle from an 8-year hiatus! Kyle’s points haul from 2003-2009 was large enough to still be the 7th highest in the club’s BAL history, and he duly added a 22nd B string win (the most in the club) with 46.55m. Gareth found the big points hard to come by in the Hammer last year but found his way back over 50m with a season’s best throw of 51.71 to finish 2nd A. In the Long Jump we had Humphrey Waddington joined by Alex Meaklim, who came out of the Indoor season having jumped a massive PB of 6.72m to take top spot in the club. Before the match, the quality of athletes that the other clubs can call on gave us cause for concern that one of our best events may not yield as many points as usual, but only Bournemouth and Herne Hill earned more points than us as Humphrey jumped a Season’s Best of 6.66m for 4th A and Alex 6.56 for 2nd B, having unfortunately fouled a couple of bigger leaps.

The High Jump began at 1pm with Matt Broderick, returning to BAL duties for the first time since 2015, joining up with one of our new HCAs, Harry McCulloch from St Mary’s Richmond. Neither Matt nor Harry has jumped regularly in the High Jump over the past few years and coursework and traffic problems respectively hindered their preparation even more. Still, Matt’s jump of 1.75m (7th A) and Harry’s of 1.65m (8th B) made sure we got points on board in an event that is especially ruthless.

Field events make up the majority of early proceedings and the Discus and Pole Vault were next. In the throws we had the familiar partnership of Chris Dack and Andy Wheble, with the rapidly-improving Will Gwynne and Thomas Snee taking on the Pole Vault. Chris has found A wins surprisingly rare with Kent’s Sean Breathnach proving annoyingly ever-present and in-form, but his throw of 45.41 for 2nd A was his best for 2 years and ran Sean close. The ever-reliable Andy has been gradually finding his form and his SB throw of 38.36m took 2nd B comfortably for a welcome helping of points. In the Vault, the winds threatened to make things difficult but Will jumped 4.40m for a great 2nd A placing and Thomas reached 4.00m for 2nd B – a little down on his indoor form but more than enough to carry on our momentum in the field.

The track began at 14.30 with the 400H followed by the 800. Our A hurdler Tom Parry unfortunately had to pull out of the match with a knee injury which meant that Darren Meaklim had the unenviable task of taking on the big guns. He was joined by Humphrey Waddington who gamely agreed to fill in despite suffering from illness in the days before the match. Darren ran a decent race against a very tough field and his time of 61.11 for 7th A was partly down to finding himself alone between 6th and 8th going into the final 40m. Humphrey also ran well and managed to pick off a few runners to finish 5th B in 61.16. The 800m had a bit of a fraught build-up with Scott Evans and new HCA Hugo Fleming unavailable for Match 1 and ‘C’ runner Harry Reynolds managing to break both of his wrists the week before the match, so it was down to the always-willing Jonathan Darby and Alex Thomas to take to the track – not at all bad options to turn to! Jon has by his own admission struggled a bit recently but he ran doggedly to pick off some rivals and finish a great 5th A (2:00.98). Alex, meanwhile, followed on from PBs in the 400m and 3k at the Kinnaird & Sward to record another one in the 800m with 2:04.22 for 3rd B and rounding off an unexpectedly big points return.

The 100m and Steeplechase were next on the track and in the former we had Mutara Sheriff, returning as a HCA for a second year to the delight of everyone at the club, and Elijah Lyle-Vidal, looking to carry on the great form that saw him win both the 100 and 200 at the Kinnaird & Sward. The 100 is always tough no matter what division you’re in but Mutara’s time of 11.01 (4th A) and Elijah’s of 11.19 (5th B) brought home more good points. In the Steeplechase we had Danny Eckersley and Bilen Ahmet, the latter once again agreeing to put himself on the line for us in an event that not many would’ve been keen to do. Danny is seemingly bored of simply winning, so has taken to front-running time trials and though he was disappointed to blow-up towards the end of the race his win by a margin of 26 seconds brought a welcome 16 points, while Bilen finished ahead of one runner and placed 4th due to 3 teams not finding a B athlete – and with that, 6 points were ours almost by default!

The 110H was next on the track, with the Triple Jump starting at a similar time in the field. On the track we had Team Manager Chris Hall, enduring an unusually injury-prone last few months, and Darren Meaklim, taking to the Senior height for only the second time on the biggest of stages! The biggest hurdle to overcome for Chris was the psychological one of finishing the race where he had pulled up halfway through 3 weeks earlier. Luckily, no damage was done and his time of 16.64 (6th A) wasn’t too bad all things considered, being in the mix all the way and only let down by spending too much time in the air. Darren’s only previous race with the Senior height resulted in a shift to 5 strides midway through, which is never ideal for fast times. That race had been into a ridiculous headwind, however, and the more forgiving conditions this time out meant he was a lot more comfortable finding his rhythm. His time of 16.43, missing out on 2nd place by only 0.04 seconds, was absolutely superb and bodes very well for the future. In the Triple, Darren’s brother Alex is quickly learning the tactics of BAL jumping, where you don’t necessarily have to jump ‘well’ but ‘well enough’, and he certainly did the latter – his jump of 13.33m is a little down on his recent PB but it won the B string comfortably. Humphrey, meanwhile, capped off his very fruitful day with 2nd A in a season’s best 13.83 - into a strong headwind - for an excellent 14 points.

The Javelin and 400m began next, and in the former we had Will Trimble making his first appearance of the season, while HCA Harry McCulloch took on the B string in the event that he was chiefly brought in for. Will has been nursing an injury recently and threw conservatively, but managed to get over 50m and finish 5th A with 51.85m. Harry, meanwhile, threw a season’s best of 49.35m and was within two metres of the B string winner – an excellent 10 points with 2nd B rounding off a great debut. On the track we had Max Perez-Diaz in the A 400m and U20 Will Stapleton making his BAL debut in the B. Max by his own admission struggled over the last couple of weeks and he found the going tough in a fast race, but his time of 52.16 is a step in the right direction. Will found himself in a very close race, with the top 7 separated by less than a second. His position of 5th B was good but his time of 50.91 was even better – a massive PB and one set while training for the shorter distances. Quite the start to what will be hopefully a long BAL career!

Next we had the 1500m and Shot Put, the former featuring another youngster making his debut – U17 Zak Wort, who has been high in the club’s rankings over the past couple of years in the 1500 and above. He was joined by Jon Darby, spiritedly agreeing to double up. It was a tough race and Zak found himself separated from the front pack, running almost the entire race with only one other athlete, but he finished as the A runner (7th with 4:21.76) and most importantly gained a lot of experience of Senior competition. Jon meanwhile picked off one runner to finish 7th B in 7:29.76. In the Shot, we fielded Chris Dack and Nick Owen throwing together for the 12th consecutive BAL meet – how’s that for stability! Though a little down on his indoor throws, Chris took 3rd A with 14.37m for another 12 points, while Nick got his 4th straight B win in the BAL Shot Put by over a metre with 13.75m to carry on his remarkable record – the last time he placed outside the top 2 in the Shot A or B string was in 2011.

The individual track events ended with the 200m and 3000m. In the sprint we had Mutara and Elijah doubling up, while we were grateful to Neil Wellard and Matt Atkins (M40) for being available to represent us in the long distance event. The 200 took place into a strong headwind that was in no way reflected by the official wind readings (which claimed it was basically a still day). Mutara mirrored his 100m placing with 4th A in 22.49, while Elijah went two better than his 100 and finished an excellent 3rd B in 22.66. In the 3k, Neil and Matt both picked off a couple of athletes each, with Neil finishing 6th A in 9:01.75 – his 4th-best time ever – and Matt finishing 4th B in his best time since returning to athletics after quite a few years out. Those 12 points, in an event that we often struggle with, were very welcome and vital for our final points tally.

So, finally we had the relays. Apart from the Kingston match last year where we finished 2nd in the 4x100 and 4th in the 4x400, recent relay outings have been unambitious, with our philosophy of ‘just get the thing round’ actually proving quite successful as other teams frequently push the limits so much that they get disqualified. In the 4x100m, we reverted to safety-first as Max Perez-Diaz and Chris Hall joined Mutara and Elijah to employ almost ludicrously safe changeovers and finish in a time that was actually relatively fast (43.78) but only enough for 5th. The 4x400, however, proved to be the quickest since 2013 (when we had Tim Kuria in sub-48 form) and featured our best placing since we won the 4x400 in the Kingston match that same year (though that was down in Division 3). Alex Williams-Baffoe, who had done a non-scoring 100 earlier in the day, ran first followed by Elijah, Will Stapleton and Max in that order. For the first time in a long while, we were actually 1st after 200m and kept up the pace with the front-runners for near enough the whole race. A few understandably tired legs meant that we faded a little towards the end and Max did well to hold off a late surge by Herne Hill to finish 4th in 3:23.85 (splits of 51.6, 50.2, 50.0 and 52.0). Luckily, though, Crawley had crossed a changeover line at some point during the race and were disqualified, meaning we moved up to 3rd – a Division 2 high!

With hardly any scoring announcements during the entire day, and the usual uncertainty over which events had actually been tallied, nobody really knew what the true match positions were. Before the 3k it was announced that Kingston were 5th after 12 events, and before the relays that changed to 4th after 15 events, with the top 4 separated by only a handful of points. Everyone loves a bit of tension and drama, and it would’ve been nice if the scores had been announced in ascending order, but eventually over the PA system it was announced that the match scores had been totalled and first place was…Kingston! 10 points ahead of Herne Hill, and everyone in Kingston colours lost interest in the announcements after that. Before the match we were confident that we had enough to finish in the middle of the pack but, frankly, 1st was a shock and a massive thrill all at once.

It was a fantastic performance and one that bodes very well for the rest of the season. A few years ago whenever we were in Division 2 we would be happy just to not come 8th in a match, and here we are now with two wins from our last three! Thank you to every single athlete who took part in a memorable day (including non-scorers Gordon Lester and Souleyman Bah), and to everyone who came down to support. All of our athletes should be proud of themselves – I know that a few were disappointed but every point in a BAL match counts and every athlete contributed to that points total. Now we just need to make it count – we are leading Division 2 for the first time ever and we have shown over the last two years that if we get 20+ athletes out we can finish in the top spots; we saw last year how a poor turnout can easily turn a win in one match into 7th place in the next one which doesn’t do much good. Division 1 is looking closer than ever before so let’s make that push for 3 more weekends and get ourselves in the top 16 clubs in the country!


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