Written by Chris Hall
British Athletics League, Division 1, Match 4
Liverpool, 4thAugust 2018
The final match of the 2018 British Athletics League season saw Kingston & Poly’s Senior Men make the journey to Merseyside for the Liverpool Harriers fixture. A cavalcade of South West Londoners, native and adopted, descended upon (or ascended to?) the North West on Friday evening, staying in a variety of locations in and around the city. Team Manager Chris Hall kept an eagle eye on Facebook Messenger to ensure that the main group travelling together from London Euston made it in time, which fortunately was the case.
The day itself, seemingly a BAL custom now regardless of the actual weather forecast, was warm and mostly sunny – thankfully a bit cooler than Eton and Portsmouth but enough to come away with a beetroot-red tint to the skin. The build-up was by far the easiest for this match, too – all events were filled nice and early, albeit missing a couple of first-teamers who any team would miss. Even so, spirits were high and we went into the match knowing that beating Windsor, Slough Eton & Hounslow (that’s one team for those new to athletics clubs) would guarantee safety in Division 1 – a feat very few would have predicted. Even Sale and Liverpool weren’t safe should we get a particularly good result, so there was all to play for.
We had a normal timetable again for this match after a varied one at Portsmouth and the insanity of Bedford, so we kicked off with Hammer and Long Jump at 12:30. In the cage we had Gareth Cook and Kyle Stevens once again, and once again they delivered great points. Overcoming Liverpool’s Michael Bomba was always going to be a big ask for Gareth, but he made sure to be ‘best of the rest’ with 50.40m – a decent mark in what has been an extremely high-standard season, with a 50+ throw in every competition – for 2ndA. Kyle, meanwhile, was pipped to first in the B string by Liverpool’s thrower, but his 45.96m for 2ndB ensured that we brought home 24 points with only Liverpool scoring more. Over at the Long Jump, Humphrey Waddington and TM Chris Hall made their return having both been absent from Bedford. After two rounds of modest jumping, the two of them found themselves missing out on the cut, but the third round brought with it their best marks as Humphrey leapt to 6.55m and Chris to 6.57m to place 8thand 7thoverall respectively and therefore make the cut. It was a big ask to gain any more places so the decision was made to consolidate their positions as Chris finished 6thA and Humphrey 2ndB for a decent 16 points.
The High Jump began at 13:00 and we had Bilen Ahmet and HCA Harry McCulloch lining up. A massive headwind in what is already a tough event for us made things even harder, but Harry’s 1.68m for 8thA and Bilen’s 1.53m for 7thB brought home the points, even if the result was tinged with disappointment. Both Harry and Bilen have been vital to their team for both their willingness to do unfavoured events and for their team spirit, and I do hope that their efforts, despite being up against it, will serve as inspiration for others.
The next events on the field were the Discus and Pole Vault. In the throws, Gareth lined up once again with Chris Dack in an event that, like Long Jump, has been a difficult one for us this year. And like Long Jump, the two of them pipped others to the cut to be 7thand 8thoverall after three rounds, with Chris pulling out his best in his third effort. Unfortunately they couldn’t quite overcome anyone else, and the end result was Chris finishing with 40.29m for 6thA, with Gareth placing 2ndB with his throw of 37.67m. A useful 16 points regardless. When I say the Pole Vault was next, I purely mean by the timetable – the original stands were facing into the massive headwind, so it was decided that another bed would be brought out from indoors so that the vaulters could compete without having to overcome a hurricane. Only, the stands from the indoor bed were far too small, so we went back to the original plan – all of this took place over the course of pretty much the whole afternoon. When they did eventually start, Bilen Ahmet and Harry McCulloch were our representatives. Bilen found himself in a very tough A string with the absence of Thomas Snee, but his jump of 3.78m placed a decent 5thA, while we were grateful to Harry for filling an important gap and his vault of 2.98m brought home 6 points with 4thB.
The track finally began at 14:30, with 400m Hurdles up first followed by the 800m. Lining up to go over the barriers were Humphrey Waddington and Chris Hall, having swapped strings after Humphrey’s faster time in Portsmouth. It has been a high-quality event this year and this time was no exception – Humphrey found himself too far behind 6thbut far ahead of 8thcoming into the home straight, so eased up to save himself for his other 3 events. The time was 65.86 but the position was 7thA for 5 points. Chris, meanwhile, found himself left-leg-leading for a frustrating eight of the 10 hurdles, and was unfortunately pipped to the line by Southampton’s B runner – the time of 60.36 was followed with thoughts of what could’ve been had the hurdling been crisper, but 6thB was the result. In the 800m, HCA Hugo Fleming took to the start line, with James Coxon sporting the B numbers. Hugo’s race was a tactical one, and he stuck to the back of the pack most of the way, before just losing out in the final kick – his time of 1:57.76 reflected the general slow pace of the race and gave us 6thA. James’ race was far more ‘conventional’ and allowed him to run a steady pace the whole way – he finished 4thB with an excellent PB of 1:56.66 – only half a second behind the winner.
Next up were the 100m and the 3000m Steeplechase. In the sprints we had Elijah Lyle-Vidal and Abdou Njie lining up once again. It has been a thankless task for Elijah this year having to do the A string and he unfortunately found himself in a race where everyone else ran between 10.3 and 10.7. His time of 11.13 brought home the 4 points with 8thA. Abdou’s race featured a fast winner but a more reasonable rest-of-the-pack, and he ran a good time of 11.09 to pip Southampton’s athlete to 6thB. In the 3000m Steeplechase, we welcomed ‘A team’ Danny Eckersley and soon-to-be-wed Scott Evans to the fold, running as a partnership for the first time. Danny’s last BAL outing at Bedford brought with it a massive PB, a Kingston club record and a sub-9 minute time, and here he blew everyone away with a magnificent time of 9:03.16 – a performance he was happier with considering the horrible wind – and 16 points. Scott has been struggling for fitness for the best part of a year but you wouldn’t know it; a sprint to the line that frightened the life out of Blackheath & Bromley’s B runner was actually unnecessary as he backed Danny up by winning the B string (Blackheath’s runner was their first finisher so took the A placing for them). Scott’s time was 9:35.56 but the 12 points to help take the maximum from the event was most important.
On track, the 110 Hurdles was being set up, while in the field the Triple Jump was in full swing. In the hurdles we once again had Chris Hall and Humphrey Waddington, completing a 10thevent of the season as A and B string. It was a kinder field than previous meets this time as Chris’ legal season’s best of 16.21 was rewarded with 5thA, while Humphrey got into the swing of things very well to pip Windsor’s B string to the line and finish 2ndwith an electronic PB of 16.80 (though slightly windy). And so off Humphrey trotted to the Triple where he and Alex Williams-Baffoe were donning the Kingston numbers. Humphrey took advantage of another weaker field to leap 13.27m and get 4thA for some good points, while Alex struggled a bit with the ridiculous wind but his 12.44m for 6thB ensured we picked up a welcome smattering of points.
Next up in the timetable were the Javelin and 400m. Unfortunately we were missing Will Trimble for the Javelin but we had more-than-able deputies in Humphrey Waddington and Chris Dack, the latter having agreed to brave the inevitable shoulder troubles ‘one last time’, sadly meaning ‘ever’ rather than ‘in 2018’… Regardless, the two of them threw well, albeit not quite season’s bests, to place middle-of-the-pack – Chris’ 47.27m placing 6thA and Humphrey’s 44.78m finishing 4thB. In the 400m we had HCA Jamal Clarke taking to the track for the A race, with Max Perez-Diaz hoping to make an impression in the B race. Jamal tired in the last 100 and was disappointed with his time of 50.55 for 6thA, though this was among our better returns in a traditionally strong event. Max, meanwhile, ran assuredly and strongly in Lane 7 to place 3rdB with 50.73. Hugh Baker was also in this race, having made the trip to non-score and do the 4x400 relay, and he also ran well to finish with 51.40 – a time that in Max’s absence would’ve finished 4thB anyway!
The final field event of the day as always was the Shot, while on track the A and B runners were gathering at the 300m mark for the 1500m. In the field we once again had the ever-reliable Nick Owen and Kyle Stevens taking to the circle. The Shot has been a good points scorer for us over the years, as evidenced by the fact all of our throwers are at the top of our all-time BAL rankings, but unfortunately Nick and Kyle had a slightly difficult day on this occasion – not helped by Liverpool bringing in a couple of their big guns. Nevertheless, they still managed to accrue 18 points with Nick’s 13.83m placing 4thA and Kyle’s 13.66m bringing with it 3rdB. In the 1500m, James Coxon and Scott Evans both took to the start line for their second events of the day – Scott naturally kicking off his final week of single life with the traditional Steeple/1500m double. The 1500m has been another especially high-quality event this year and James’ run of 3:57.24 was unfortunate to only place 7thA, while Scott had another sprint finish that frightened the life out of a competitor, but he was pipped to the line and had to settle for 6thB – 4:08.93 defying the fatigue he was experiencing before the race.
The final individual events (ignoring the fact the Pole Vault was still going on) were the 200m and 5000m on track. In the 200m it’ll be no surprise to learn that Elijah Lyle-Vidal and Abdou Njie were our duo. The 200m has been slightly more fruitful for Elijah in this division of low-10 and low-21 times, but unfortunately the A race featured six sprinters breaking the 22-second barrier. His run of 22.33 to demonstrate his consistency deserved more than 7thA. Abdou, meanwhile, had a further four sub-22 runners to contend against, but he ran strongly to place 5thB in 22.64. In the 5000m, we had Michael Huntley and Alex Thomas lining up for us, the former having agreed to swap from the original plan of doing the Steeplechase. Every BAL day this year has been extremely hot and the 5k is never a nice experience at the best of times, but we were grateful to Michael and Alex for braving the conditions and seeing themselves home to pick up the 5 points (unfortunately and surprisingly every team had a B string runner).
By now it was apparent that Windsor, Liverpool and Sale were all ahead of us and that it would take a minor miracle to overcome them, but our relay teams nevertheless assembled themselves enthusiastically for one last throw of the dice. The 4x100m quartet was Elijah Lyle-Vidal, Max Perez-Diaz, Abdou Njie and Jamal Clarke, and they ran a season’s best of 43.55 to unfortunately only place 6th, following Liverpool being disqualified. Elijah and Max then joined Hugo Fleming and Hugh Baker for the 4x400m relay. Elijah and Hugh did well to place the team in 6thbut very close to the rest of the pack, while Hugo also ran strongly and gave Max a good platform to breeze past Sale and come within a whisker of getting Blackheath in 4th– their time of 3:21.92 for 5th was the fastest since 2013 and would’ve won Division 2 easily, for a bit of context!
And so, with that the season was over, and after a little bit of time for the scores to be announced, we discovered that Windsor had indeed finished above us, and that Southampton had actually bagged a late flurry of points to shunt us down to 7th. That meant that our 11 league points placed us 7thin the table and that we were therefore relegated.
In truth, it isn’t a surprise – apart from Will Trimble and Thomas Snee’s absences this was actually one of our strongest BAL teams, certainly the strongest of the year, and we were only able to finish 7th(even with those two it would’ve been 6that best) so we were always up against it and unfortunately all of the other teams decided to truly turn up in the final match. A harsh analysis would say that we should have capitalized more on the weaker matches of Portsmouth and Bedford, but injuries and absences meant that we were too thinly spread to truly take advantage, which you can’t afford to let happen in this division.
It has been a fun year regardless of the eventual result and we did give it our all in all of the matches – but for a bit more of the luck that we had in Division 2, especially with injuries, it might have been a different story. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by the better teams, and it is fair to say that the clubs who beat us this year have a bigger draw for athletes than we do – whether it be national reputation, the catchment area of an entire city, or financial incentives for high points scorers. Even so, we were never humiliated and the 5thand 6thpositions in Portsmouth and Bedford have shown that we can compete in this division.
So onto Division 2 next year – the good news is that Bournemouth won the division this year and we were comfortably ahead of them in 2017; it goes without saying that the target is to come straight back up and there is no reason why that can’t happen. Thank you to everyone who competed this year, and a massive thank you to everyone who made the long, sometimes painful trip to Liverpool – the Waddingtons, the Halls, the Cooks, Claire Wadey, Geoff Owen, the Evans family and Hockey International Sarah Haycroft fresh from the World Cup (hope you and Scott have a wonderful wedding!), David Barrington of course and anyone else I’ve failed to mention. We go again in 2019!
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