GB youngsters delight Peter Eriksson at European Team Championships

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on May 8, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

After the monsoon and the lightning came the sunshine. Appropriately it arrived just as the UK athletics head coach, Peter Eriksson, was using his valedictory speech to single out the “outstanding performances” of his young athletes.

Few of them were known before the European Athletics Team Championships. Many, you suspect, soon will be. Their results, all of which were much better than forecast, ensured Britain finished the competition in third place, which was a decent enough showing.

Even so, there was a point during the final day when they were lifted up to second and the impossible seemed merely unlikely. Eventually, though, Russia and Germany – who have split the previous championships between them – proved too strong.

Not that Eriksson seemed to mind particularly. He was too busy smiling at what he had seen from his young team, shaking hands and saying goodbyes. “We got more points than we expected to get and the youngsters really stepped up and did outstanding performances,” he said. “Watching them making their dreams is always the highlight for me.”

Britain is not known for being a nation of hammer throwers but Sophie Hitchon, a 21-year-old from Burnley, was able to smash her own national record by nearly a metre with a throw of 72.97m to finish a surprise third. Then there was 19-year-old Emelia Gorecka, who took a shock second in the women’s 5,000m behind the European champion Olga Golovkina in her first performance in a senior vest.

Meanwhile on Saturday, 18-year-old Jessica Judd won the 800m just four days after sitting her chemistry A-level, while 19-year-old Charlie Grice came second in the men’s 1500m as did Laura Weightman, 21, in the 5,000m.

Watching their enthusiasm and drive, you could understand why Eriksson admitted that he would be sad to leave. “It’s been a great team to work with, and a great nation to be in, and I’m going to miss it dearly,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure for me. If I could change anything I would stay and be part of the team.”

There were three British victories on day two, to go with the five on Saturday, with Tiffany Porter winning the 100m hurdles before the men and women’s 4x400m relay teams ended the show in style with two golds. It was not quite enough – Russia carried the day with 354.5 points, with Germany on 347.5 and Great Britain on 338 – but the crowd went home happy.

When the day began few gave the British team a chance of challenging the big two, but after a strong start calculators were being whipped out. Hitchon, who has pet rats named Sid and Roddy, led the way. She advertised her potential when she became the youngest finalist in the women’s hammer at London 2012. On Sunday she confirmed it with a throw that achieved the A qualifying standard for August’s World Championships in Moscow. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “There were some really good girls in that competition and I went into it ranked seventh, so to come third was a big achievement.”

Gorecka’s performance, meanwhile, had Eriksson on his feet and roaring “Go on! Go on!” from the stands. “I didn’t expect to run that well,” she said. “I just wanted to follow the pack but with a few laps left they kept accelerating. Deep down I really wanted to go for the Russian but my legs couldn’t do it. But it’s been a fantastic experience.”

There were other encouraging performances: Nathan Douglas, who has been injured for much of the past six years, finished third in the triple jump, as did Andrew Osagie in the men’s 800m and Shara Proctor in the long jump, although they both had hoped for more. But Hannah England, who was favourite to win the women’s 1500m, was disappointed after fading badly from second to fifth. “I got really nervous and hoped to do better than that,” she said.

The competition was nearly as unpredictable as the weather, which forced the men’s pole vault and high jump to be moved indoors and other field events to be delayed. But when Danny Talbot took third in the 200m behind Christophe Lemaitre, Britain were up to 273 points, with Germany on 276.5 and Russia on 272.5.

But the scores were deceptive: Britain had weaker events, including the women’s shot put, women’s high jump and men’s javelin, still to come. Victory proved beyond them. But Christine Ohuruogu did not sound too disappointed after guiding the women’s 4x400m to victory.

“It’s been a really good weekend,” she said. “I really think we can be pleased with our performances. The youth have really shone and I think it’s really encouraging us for us a team that we have talent coming through. We can learn from them and they can learn from us.”

A marker has been put down. Now, in Eriksson’s absence, UK athletics’ performance director Neil Black has to ensure that it stays there.

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