ENGLAND ATHLETICS NATIONAL COMBINED EVENTS U15/U17 CHAMPIONSHIPS
Manchester 5-6 August 2023
Report by Rob Wilson
A rainy Manchester in August was the venue for this weekends EA National U15 & U17 Combined Events Championships. Mid way through the outdoor season, it was to prove a true test of character and resilience for our 5 young athletes who made the trip.
As our athletes convened in the very handily located indoor arena, it was clear that conditions outside were going to be a factor to contend with, as Day 1 of the Heptathlon, Decathlon and Hexathlon got underway.
Left to right - Hollie Ann Sudder (U15G), Sadie Parker, Senna Gorvett, Hannah Wilson (U17W), Luke Pichler (U17M)
First up was Luke Pichler in his first year in the U17 age group, with an early start in the 100m. This was to be his very first experience of a full 10 event Decathlon. Luke set about the fastest heat, with a 4th place finish and his first pb of the weekend in 11.57s. A great start.
Next the U17 Heptathletes, again all first years, lined up for the 80m hurdles. Senna Gorvett, with an inside lane draw in heat 2, struggled to find her usual rhythm in the conditions, but battled with sheer grit to the line, for a 13.04 finish. In the next heat, Sadie Parker and Hannah Wilson also battled it out for a 4th and 5th place finish respectively in 12.26 and 12.51s. All 3 girls unscathed, back in the dry to refocus for the upcoming high jump.
Next to begin her campaign in the 75m hurdles, was our youngest athlete U15 Hollie-Ann Sudder, in her first 2 day competition. Placed in the 2nd fastest heat, Hollie managed a creditable 13.45 her 3rd fastest time ever in the event and points scored. All athletes were now off and running.
With what seemed like no time, the U17 Men were making their way to their 2nd event of the day over at the long jump, with Luke in the higher ranked Pool B. With only 3 attempts in the combined event format, Luke sensibly made sure of a safe opening mark, with a solid 6.11m, eventually extending this with his final jump to 6.44m - only 8cm short of his pb.
As the weather continued to play its part, in sharp contrast to the glorious baking heat from Cleckheaton, the high jump for the girls proved a tricky affair and it was always going to be a tough ask for anything close to pb’s in this event. However, points were added to their totals with Hannah 1.56m, Sadie 1.47m, Senna 1.44m, and now time to refocus again, take on some nutrition and prepare for the shot.
Hollie was next to contend with the blustery long jump runway and after a safe 4.11m mark, decided to push a little harder, a small foul followed, but with final adjustments, made it out to 4.27m, despite a strong -3.2 headwind!
The mens shot was next up and Luke stood as the youngest competitor in the entire field, but with a pb of 11.91m, was desperate to break the 12m barrier with the 5kg shot. He quickly got about it with his 2nd throw, going out to a huge pb of 12.30m, earning a huge 625pts and moving him up into 3rd place overall.
The U17 girls shot was next and despite their best intentions, it seemed the grey overcast sky was keeping a lid on any potential fireworks, Even the prospect of Birthday Boy Dan offering to wear his purple sash, if they could throw a pb, couldn’t quite get Sadie, Senna and Hannah to throw some bombs. All threw solid marks, if not quite as far as hoped, with Hannah going out furthest at 9.31m, Sadie 9.20m and Senna 8.90m.
Next to throw, this time with the javelin was Hollie, in her normally dependable event. Again she was being tested, with 2 initial no throws (NM), had to settle for a safe 24.74m to avoid a disaster and look to try to pick up points elsewhere.
Luke in the high jump followed and again it proved a tricky event to find any consistency. It seemed a mid afternoon lull in the atmosphere was being transmitted onto the field of play and 1.74m was his last clearance, some 9cm from his pb and the first real hiccup, in an otherwise stellar performance on Day 1.
After a brief rest with their feet up, the U17 women came out to conclude their Day 1 with the 200m. They were joined with yet another downpour of rain. Despite this, recent good performances suggested something of a possible upturn in fortunes. So it proved, almost… Senna with not the best start, quickly responded and gave absolutely everything to claw back what she could, giving everything she had to finish 4th in her heat in a fine 26.92s and a massive 718pts.
Again in form Sadie and Hannah both having improved their 200m times in recent months, went out hard from the off and in a tightly contested finish, scored good solid points to at least keep hopes alive of a better day to come.
Luke concluded his day 1 as he started with another pb, this time over the 400m in 54.35 and kept himself on course for his 6000 pts target overall.
DAY 2 : was altogether a drier start as the rain had moved off and although not exactly clear skies, there was hopes of a brighter day all round both on and off the track.
Reflections made of what could have been, or what could still be possible, were in the athletes minds, as they took to the action. Luke was to consolidate his great overnight position but needed to get out of the blocks well in his 110m hurdles.
Any tiredness or overnight soreness to the back of his mind, as he exploded out and set the track alight with an exciting finish with the top 4 athletes from lanes 4,5,6 and 7 scrapping for every point at the line. Luke's first sub 14s (13.92s) and another pb to start the day with his intentions firmly set.
Long jump was first up for the Heptathletes and immediately a reminder of why multi-event competing is challenging mentally as much as physically. Staying strong when things go wrong, focusing on the how, not the how far or how high, all go to make up the requirements to succeed in combined events.
2 initial no jumps for Sadie in Pool A, placed the pressure on securing a final mark, which she showed great composure to do with 5.07m. While not close to her best, was a real test of nerves, which she passed. In Pool B, Hannah and Senna both with problems of their own, Senna having to make big adjustments in her approach for her final jump, to secure a valuable 4.84m and Hannah some way from her best but a decent 4.89.
Hollie began her Day 2 with high jump and although conditions were more favourable than the previous day, it isn’t an event Hollie has competed more than once, since the spring and the lack of confidence was evident. It also didn’t help having 19 athletes in the single pool, so a lot of waiting around didn’t help the flow of the event. After clearing her opening height and a further jump, the bar demanded more speed, which just wasn’t there yet, so a 1.29m was her best clearance on the day.
While the U15G high jump was taking place, the U17M discus started right next to it and the closeness of the 2 events was nearly a disaster as one discus throw, left the cage and hit an upright and fell feet from where our very own Blyth stalwart, coach and T&F official Steve Walker was officiating on the high jump. A near miss was reported but thankfully Steve was unhurt and carried on as he had all weekend with good humour, support and professionalism.
Luke wasn’t hitting the upright, he was sailing the discus out to the infield and smashed a 4m pb with his first throw going out to a brilliant 33.38m. This was enough to finish 3rd place and consolidate his position and even start talking of a potential podium place.
After a short break, the athletes reconvened for the final push, those left standing, fit and able to continue had to gather themselves, find the energy for the last few events and keep scoring as many points as they could.
Hollie now over at the 3kg shot was consistent if not explosive. Not her strongest event, she still managed a consistent series, scoring over 400pts. Wanting more in this event is a good sign of determination for work ahead in the coming months.
Luke, now with hopes set high, took to the pole vault, in the penultimate event of the Decathlon and looking to break the 3m barrier for the first time. After deciding to give us a little scare, missing his first attempt at his opening height, he then set about finding his rhythm on the runway and cleared the next 2 heights at 2.83m, 2.93m with ease. This gave him an amazing 7th pb of the weekend. As the bar then climbed over to 3.03m, Luke then finally joined the 3m club, clearing this on his second attempt.
As the rain came back, reminding everyone what a wholly miserable summer we’ve had so far, the U17 women were now at the other end of the track, contending the javelin in less than ideal conditions. Sadly Sadie had to withdraw through injury before the start, so it was Senna and Hannah that battled to keep adding points to their tally in this technical event. Hannah managed a small pb with 18.92m, with Senna throwing 14.28m.
Luke now realistically looking at reaching his target and even possibly finishing on the podium also now moved onto the javelin. His younger years of howler throwing always suggested he would take to the event well and so it proved, sailing his 2nd attempt out to 44.97m agonisingly close to the 45m. Still this was far enough to win the javelin overall by over 2m and put him in 2nd place with only the 1500m to go.
As the Blyth girls came out for their final event, the 800m, multi’s know it’s not over until the last event and positions can change dramatically with a strong final run. Pride and grit were on display, as the girls prepared themselves for the final challenge, after a gruelling 2 days of battle.
Senna, fastest in her heat on paper, needed to run from the front and with no-one to chase. Any disappointments put to the back of her mind, she showed tremendous courage and tenacity to take it on, finishing a close 2nd (2:31:66) at the line only separated by a single point from Bury’s Blessing Idoko (2:31:56).
Hannah in heat 2 was the fastest girl of all on paper and knew to hold her top 10 position, she was going to also have to lead from the front and boy did she, taking a 10m lead by 200m, which grew to over 20m by the first lap and continued to grow as she stretched the field out, leaving the rest behind. Finishing in 2:29:41 and a round 700pts to add to her final score of 4212 and secure 10th place overall. Senna finished in 16th, her highest position of the weekend after her strong run.
Hollie for her part, went out strong, clocking a quick 77s first lap, as the group stretched out, she held her nerve and position, digging deep into the last lap to finish 5th in the heat with 2:44:34 over a second quicker than her last outing over the distance and just over a second and a half off her pb. Enough for a creditable 17th place overall in her first 2 day Hexathlon. A great experience to build on for the future.
So it was Luke to round out the weekend and complete his first ever Decathlon. Just the 1500m to go after 9 events over 2 full gruelling days of twists and turns, swapping positions in the overall table. Just like the Heptathlon, it’s not done until its done.
So after crunching the numbers and times required, Luke set about his task knowing he could reach his points target and secure Silver if he kept to his pacing and didn’t allow his 3rd place rival to get more than 30s ahead, fairly straightforward you'd think.
However his main rival Ruben hadn’t read the script and quickly set his stall out, immediately pulling out a massive gap from the rest of the chasing group. The gap was almost 200m by lap 2 and Luke needed to hold his nerve, trust his own pace, while at the same time, nerves on the sidelines were starting to jangle that the gap was getting too big for comfort.
As Luke hit the final bell, he realised his earlier good pace was slightly off and he needed to push. As he began to kick, aware that silver could easily slip away at the death, he dug deep, he built momentum and as his main rival crossed the line in an unbelievable 4:27, all eyes were on the time difference until Luke crossed the line.
Screams and shouts could be heard from the stands, urging every ounce he had left through gritted teeth and the exhaustion of his 9 previous events. He was giving everything he had left to cross the line in 4:54:00 exactly and a staggering 8th pb of the weekend.
Even though the points had been checked and doubled checked before the gun, we still needed a double check to be absolutely sure, after such an almighty final race. But it was there, by 75pts. Silver medalist. 10PB’S including his overall Decathlon score with 6064 pts!!! 3rd best EVER score for a UK first year U17, (with the top 2 being a Scot and a Welshman)
PHOTOS: ROSS PICHLER