There were mixed fortunes for Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s athletes at the European Athletics Championships in Munich on Thursday morning.
Underlining the current quality of British middle-distance running, GB & NI’s 800m contingent delivered an impressive series of performances across the heats, ensuring a full complement of athletes will compete in Friday’s semi-finals.
Kicking things off in style, Worlds 1500m champion and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jake Wightman fresh from a Scottish 1000m record of 2:13.88 at Monaco Diamond League last week — he eased through to take a comfortable victory in heat one in the time of 1:45.94.
“It is what I needed to do. I didn’t intend on winning it, but I thought that was the most comfortable way of getting through,” said the 2018 European 1500m bronze medallist who qualified as quickest.
"He’s actually my coach here. I don’t know if that will get on my nerves or not because I’m going to see him around the hotel a lot more than I’m used to!”— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) August 18, 2022
Announcer in Eugene, coach in Munich.@JakeSWightman, who runs in the 800m heats, on @WightmanGeoff in #Munich2022. 😅 pic.twitter.com/VlhVa0802K
“Doing the 800m is a new lease of life for me. I’m not as fresh as I was in Eugene, but I only have to run half the distance for this so I’m enjoying it. I enjoy them more because there is less decision making, they are a bit more straightforward than a 1500m which tends to have a lot more variation. The pressure is off for the 800m, so I feel like I’ve got a much freer run at that distance.”
World Championships semi-finalist Daniel Rowden (Matt Yates, Woodford Green Essex Ladies), who had an interrupted build-up to the European Championships after catching Covid on his return from the US, looked equally comfortable with a third-place finish in heat two (1:47.67).
In heat three of four, Commonwealth Games 800m bronze medallist Ben Pattison was pleased with his race execution having made things hard for himself in Birmingham after getting boxed in. With confidence in his closing speed, he made a decisive move in the closing stages and his injection of pace was good enough to see him finish second in 1:47.64.
The British women were equally impressive.
Olympic, world, and Commonwealth 800m silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson was dominant in the second of four 800m heats with 2:03.72. The 20-year-old controlled the race from the front and stayed out of trouble, going through the first 400m in a pedestrian 63 seconds. She picked up the pace slightly in the home straight but took the win comfortably as the others raced hard behind her for the remaining automatic qualifying spots.
The European leader said: “It was alright, I’m just trying to get through the rounds. It’s definitely a bit tougher (at a third champs) but that felt comfortable today…I’m just trying to conserve energy and get through these rounds as easily as I can. Fingers crossed tomorrow goes ok and then we can go again in the final.”
Alex Bell had a delayed start to her season before going out at the semi-final stage at the World Championships in Eugene then finishing sixth at the Commonwealth Games. Clearly now getting back to her best, she also made sure of an automatic qualifying position with a strong finish for second (2:02.43) in semi-final three.
Completing the trio of successful qualifiers, Jemma Reekie (Andy Young, Kilbarchan) – who also continues to build back to form after a challenging year to date – adopted a similar approach to Hodgkinson and sat at the front of the pack before kicking on to win comfortably in 2:02.36 in the final 800m race of the morning.
“I think I’m probably one of the only people who is happy that the summer keeps going,” she said. “I’m getting better with every race, so I’m really excited at what the end of the season can bring.”
In the women’s steeplechase, British record holder Lizzie Bird and UK number two Aimee Pratt made it safely through their respective heats with confident performances. Unfortunately, 21-year-old Elise Thorner the third-ranked senior in the UK this year behind Bird and Pratt, will miss out on the final.
Commonwealth Games silver medallist Bird – the European leader with a lifetime best of 9:07.87 achieved in the Monaco Diamond League a week ago – looked in total control throughout the race and with qualification assured from heat two, eased off in the home straight to finish third (9:40.05).
“It was a little bit messy,” she said. “I was trying to get up into the top five and we were a little bit crowded, so it was a bit rough, but it was good practice and I got through, so job done!
“I think it (recent fast runs) gives me confidence going into Saturday. I’ve got to recover from this race first as it is a quick turnaround, so I’ll be focussed on doing that. I try not to think too much about the outcome and stay process orientated, but my goal is to medal and try to see if I can win.”
Pratt, who has traded the British record with Bird this summer and finished fourth in the Commonwealth Games, finished fourth in heat one (9:39.22).
She said: “I just tried to do the bare minimum that I needed to – and I think I did that. Now I just need to recover as fast as I can and get ready to go again on Saturday. I’m feeling better than I was at Commonwealths and I am just really excited for the final now.”
In spite of not progressing to Saturday’s final, Thorner, who finished 14th in heat one in 10:08.46, enjoyed her experience and has learned from the opportunity: “I loved every single moment of running in this GB vest,” she said. “I went into the race very differently to how I have approached this season. I’ve been out in the States, and I’ve been ranked highly in those races, so I had to take this as a whole new learning curve of ‘run where you feel comfortable’ and try to pick off others, but I just didn’t have it in my legs today.”
There were contrasting fortunes for Jodie Williams (Stuart McMillan, Herts Phoenix) and Beth Dobbin (Leon Baptiste, Edinburgh) in the women’s 200m.
Williams delivered a dominant performance to win the first heat in a season’s best time of 22.92 (+0.3m/s), while Dobbin was disqualified for a false start in heat two.
“It felt really good,” said Commonwealth Games 400m bronze medallist Williams. “I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that I love running 200m! it’s been a few years since I ran one at a champs, so I’m really happy to be out there and I’m hoping to run as close to my best as I can – and to get some speed back into these legs!
“It’s nice that my body is holding up and it’s nice to dip under 23. It feels like there is still more in the tank as I wasn’t all-out. Hopefully, I can come back and not be too tired for this evening.”
Following her 100m bronze medal on Tuesday, Daryll Neita has decided to withdraw from the 200m and 4x100m relay later in the European Championships.
Daryll has made the decision to take more time to recover after competing at three Championships this summer and prepare for the remainder of the season.
In spite of some encouraging performances, there will be no GB & NI representation in either the men’s or women’s 400m hurdles finals.
Seamus Derbyshire looked particularly strong over the last 50m of semi-final one but finished outside of the automatic qualifying positions in fourth (49.63).
“I belong here, and I’ve been competitive in these races,” said the 22-year-old who was competing at his first senior championships. “I hope to carry that forward for the rest of the season for sure. This has shown me I can compete with the guys I have been looking up to for years.”
In the second semi-final – with Olympic champion and world record holder Karsten Warholm leading the way – Jacob Paul finished fifth in 49.48, just outside the lifetime best (49.40) he set in the heats.
“I’ve twice run quicker than my PB coming into it, so it shows my fitness and strength is good,” he said. “Shame I couldn’t go a little quicker today because I think improving my PB is what it would have taken to qualify. I feel like it is there; a quicker 49 or even sub-49, it’s definitely within my capability. This experience is one I will build on.
“It’s a massive honour to compete here. It’s the environment I want to be running in – running against some of the best hurdlers in the world and being competitive.”
In the first of the women’s semi-finals, Lina Nielsen finished fifth (57.19). Jessie Knight, who briefly occupied one of the fastest non-automatic qualifying positions, was fourth in the second semi-final in 55.39 and Hayley McLean, who lined up alongside world silver medallist and newly crowned European 400m gold medallist Femke Bol in the last of the semi-finals, finished fifth in 56.20.
Knight, the quickest of the Brits, said: “It’s just been one of those years! I didn’t get out very hard and my legs took a while to get going. I actually ran a really good bend, but I probably left myself too much to do. It’s been a bit of a year, I’ll go away and reset and come again next year. I’m better than that, I know I’ve got better in me. No excuses, just other than some time to rest up and come back.
“It’s not really come together (this year) and I’ve not felt my rhythm. It’s not awful, last year was a disaster, and this year is not awful by any means, I’m getting there, and it’s the Worlds next year, and the following year I have Europeans and Olympics again. I genuinely feel at the European level I can get a medal. Hopefully, once I’ve got a bit of experience under my belt it will click in time for 2024.”
Jade O’Dowda and Holly Mills started the day in 11th place (3627 points) and 17th place (3538 points) respectively in the women’s heptathlon, but while O’Dowda finished the morning session in ninth (5252 points), Mills sadly withdrew before the javelin with a foot injury.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist O’Dowda got her day off to a solid start with 6.27m (-0.2m/s) in the first round of the long jump. Her subsequent two jumps were fouls. Ahead of the close of the morning session, she recorded a best mark of 41.21m in the second round of the javelin.
Mills achieved a best of 5.72m (-0.6m/s) in the long jump, but like O’Dowda, failed to improve after her round one effort. The heptathlon concludes this evening.
In the field, Bekah Walton finished ninth in Pool A javelin qualification (19th across Pools A & B), with a best effort of 54.20m.
“I just had so much fun!” said the British champion who has improved her best by three metres this year. “I loved it, and this wasn’t even in my plans at all at the start of the season, so it’s such a reward to get out there. It’s the biggest crowd I have ever competed in front of, although I didn’t come where I would have wanted.
“Obviously, I would have wanted to throw further as I have high standards for myself, but I am just super-proud I have gone out there and done well. I came in bottom-ranked and I didn’t come out bottom-ranked, so I am really pleased with that. I’m looking forward to going away now, having a winter season, and working my way towards that 60m mark.”
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and British record holder Harry Coppell, who has a best of 5.85m, retired from the men’s pole vault qualification and didn’t record a height.