Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Gunning for Glory


Training up to 90-miles per week, steeplechase specialist Luke Gunn combines life as an athlete with a full-time job in a hectic journey en route to 2012, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old from Birmingham usually runs at 7am each morning ahead of yoga or circuit sessions in the gym, an eight-hour working day and training again in the evening in his quest for the international breakthrough he craves.

Working as the Sports Scholarships Manager and West Midlands Regional Hub Manager for the Talented Athlete Support Scheme at the University of Birmingham, Gunn enjoyed a mainly positive 2010 campaign, with a 3:42.1 1500m lifetime best, fourth and eighth-place finishes in two IAAF Diamond League appearances and also claimed the UK 3,000m steeplechase title.

However, the 8:28.48 ‘chaser was left disappointed when failing to make the Team GB squad for the European championships this summer in Barcelona and placing only seventh in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi back in October:

“My season was on the whole satisfactory but in raw honesty, I was hoping for more and feel that with a little more fortune in my early races - I could have seriously revised my best for the ‘chase and gained selection for the European’s,” Gunn explained.

“I was fortunate enough to attend my second Commonwealth Games, which I ran aggressively taking on the Kenyans, to my detriment in the end but most importantly, it was the first time I was unafraid to run with them - and I will take that sentiment with me through this winter and beyond to raise my game once more.”


Coached by Bud Baldaro, Gunn is not supported by UK Athletics despite claiming two national titles in recent years but since graduating after six years at Florida State University, he was happy to take up his current role.

“I am not in a position to gain funding or sponsorship, which would enable me to train full time, so I sought out a system that made me self sufficient whilst giving me enough freedom to train,” the Derby AC runner revealed.

“I am still learning to balance the work-load to its maximal efficiency, but I would say on the whole I have found a sustainable balance of the training-work load. There are of course times when one of the two must take priority over the other, but as long as these are planned for well in advance - neither need suffer.”

Proving athletes do not necessarily need to train full-time and enjoy bouts of warm-weather and high-altitude to experience success, Gunn even braves the cross-country season during the winter in order to gain more strength for his track outings in the summer.

“With the focus on laying down a strong endurance base for the summer track season,
I aim to compete in the National and Inter-County cross-country events this winter (in February and March),” explained Gunn, who placed an encouraging tenth and eighth, respectively in his over-distance efforts earlier this year.


Sixth in both the 2005 and 2007 European under23 championships, Gunn always knew that his forte lay within the steeplechase event but it has been a frustrating discipline to be part of at times.

“The standard now in Britain is largely poor, but I cannot say I am surprised,” the British number one revealed.

“UK Athletics made some grave errors on selection in the past that have put us in the situation we are in today. In 2008 we had at least four guys that looked as if we could take the event forward again, into the sub 8.20's.

But the strict, confusing and demoralising standards for the Olympic Games (in 2008) meant that Andrew Lemoncello moved to the marathon, Adam Bowden switched to triathlon and Stuart Stokes walked away from the sport entirely until a brief return this year.”

With the World championships (in Daegu, South Korea) and the Olympic Games in London among his biggest goals for the next two seasons, Gunn can recognise the hard work ahead but is confident he can realise his Olympic dream two years from now.

“I want to a GB regular at major championships and work towards becoming the best European at my event,” Gunn explained.

“Europeans have proven in current years that the Africans are not super human. I know a major medal is a long, long shot but to be able to mix it with them and be competitive in a major final would be incredible.

Essentially I want to walk away from the sport knowing I got everything I could out
of my body.”

Untapped Potential


Back in 2008, Jeanette Kwakye burst onto the global sprint scene with a world indoor medal, a national record and an Olympic final place and now, after a two-year injury nightmare, she’s back with 2012 firmly in her sights, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 27-year-old Londoner has used the upcoming Olympic Games in her own backyard as motivation to return to her former self in time to make a comeback of Olympian standards and is already on the right track.

Coached by Mike Afilaka, the British indoor 60m record-holder is injury-free and feeling strong for the first time in years and is relishing the fight for top fitness in the countdown for the big summer after next.

“As most people know, the last two years I have been suffering from various injuries and had to undergo two operations,” Kwakye explained.

“Obviously this has been something I have found very difficult however, I am over all of my injuries and I am currently fighting fit and looking forward to the 2011 season and of course 2012.”

Understandably, her key aim is to stay injury-free yet the Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete still harbours hopes of returning to the international podium, believing anything is possible if she stays fit and healthy.

Cruel Fate

The last Olympic year brings great memories for Kwakye for it was the season when she made her international breakthrough and far exceeded her ambitions.

Taking world indoor 60m silver in Valencia with a 7.08 British record, the sprint sensation went onto win the UK outdoor 100m championship and Olympic trial before placing an outstanding sixth in Beijing – becoming the first British woman to reach the final since Kathy Cook in 1984, in a 11.14 lifetime best to go fourth on the
British all-time lists to boot.

With such a promising season under her belt, the future was looking bright yet Kwakye could not capitalise on her splendid form due to injuries, ensuring her great potential remained relatively untapped.

“2008 for me was a massive breakthrough on the international stage with the indoors and the Olympics, so I went into 2009 with every intention to push further and challenge for the top spots, unfortunately due to injuries this was not meant to be,” Kwakye revealed.

“I am very proud of my Olympic final place and my British indoor 60m record.”

Fate was indeed cruel for the Loughborough University Politics and Economics graduate, for she could only race on a handful of occasions over the next two seasons, barely finishing within half a second of her best.

Unfinished Business

For a woman with six national titles as well as fourth place from the 2007 European indoor championships under her belt, training and competing in pain and at a below-par standard were extra tough to contend with but her sponsors Nike remained faithful and the sprinter has not given up her athletic dreams just yet.

“My training in the winter currently consists of lots of base work so plenty of running on grass and tough gym sessions,” Kwakye explained.

“I now take extra special care with my conditioning work so I can avoid injury, too.”

Currently unsure as to whether she will participate in the full indoor season this winter, Kwakye’s focus is firmly on regaining her form in time for the summer where she intends to book her place on Team GB’s squad for the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

“My goals are to reach as close to my full potential as possible,” Kwakye revealed.

“I want to break records and set the bar for the next generation of sprinters coming through, and I am quite keen to see what opportunities will arise after 2012. I have had a bit of media experience but I would love navigate myself through the business world and apply what I have learnt from elite track to that.”

With that same fighting instinct to succeed, Kwakye evidently still has some unfinished business in the sport and judging by the level of her confidence and ambitions, she may well finally fulfil her potential after all.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Switch to Success


Having spent three years on the injury sidelines after breaking into international class, hurdler David Hughes is back better than ever before after switching events, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 26-year-old from Trafford AC began life as a mutli-eventer, placing thirteenth on the under20 all-time indoor heptathlon lists in 2003 before finding his athletic niche in sprint hurdling.

Indeed, in his first season tackling the 110m hurdle event, the Sheffield Hallam University graduate captured the European under23 title in Germany in only his
twelfth race over the barriers.

Evidently blessed with raw natural talent, Hughes progressed to make his senior international debut the follow year when, as a 22-year-old, he sped to a scintillating 13.57 clocking to move up to eighth and seventeenth, respectively, on the British all-time under23 and senior rankings.

Major championship selection followed, too, when the Manchester-born athlete earned international call-ups in 2006 for the European championships in Sweden - where he reached the semi-final stage - and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to finish a promising seventh.

With a very bright-looking future ahead of him, Hughes’ performances appeared to be on a roll.


Yet just as he was leaning towards world-class level, Hughes endured year after year of injury heartbreak – three consecutive years in fact.

“Those seasons were very poor due a list of injuries,” Hughes explained.

“I ran particularly well in 2005 and 2006 but missed three years of properly competing between 2007 and 2009, as I had two operations and three serious injuries.”

Competing only once in the whole of 2007, a frustrated Hughes managed to win the Loughborough International before missing the entire summer season, which was meant to be his breakthrough year on the global stage.

The following year, he enjoyed a full indoor and outdoor season, placing runner-up in the UK indoor 60m hurdles rankings and championship but missed out on selection for the 2008 Olympics after finishing fourth in the UK outdoor championships and trials for Beijing.

Although disappointed, his health and fitness seemed to be improving but another injury-ravaged winter again put paid to his ambitions, leaving the sprinter’s 2009 campaign a further write-off with only three 400m races over the season.


It seemed as though all hope of returning to his 2006 form was lost after lacking consistency and the winning edge for so long but Hughes was determined to not give up and so he and his brother and coach Steven decided to take a risk which fortunately, paid off with dividends.

Based in Loughborough, the pair made the unusual decision to switch to the 400m hurdles – being four times as long as his normal event, the move was a dangerous choice but Hughes’ improvement in his first season in the discipline has been outstanding and the less-explosive event has kept the problems at bay.

Finally showing glimpses of his potential to reach world-class, Hughes witnessed a staggering improvement of his personal-best time by almost three seconds in the space of ten weeks this summer – catapulting him to third in the UK rankings in his first full season in the event.

Beginning with a first attempt of 52.35 in May, Hughes recorded 51.49 later that very same day to win the British Inter-Counties championships and progressed to a 50.33 clocking a fortnight later in June.

Still learning and with a lot more training required, the refreshed athlete had been given a new lease of life, a second opportunity to reach international representation and every race became an exciting learning curve.

Three weeks down the line came his first sub-50-second mark with 49.87 ahead of claiming the English title. Hughes did however, suffer a minor blip when placing fifth in the UK championships and European trials in July but he subsequently bounced back to register a superb 49.58 new lifetime-best the following month in Switzerland to go to twenty-first on the British all-time list.

While many were surprised at the sudden achievements, Hughes believes more is certain to come and after making his second Commonwealth appearance in his new event in Delhi back in October – where he finished eighth – the future is looking bright once more.

“My season went very well,” Hughes revealed.

“I met all of my targets of sub-50 (which he reached on three occasions), reaching the Commonwealth final and being re-instated on the world-class funding programme with UK Athletics.”


Though he is part of the ‘development’ support list, Hughes still works part-time on his business, body2win in the East Midlands town, where he sells sports performance products and runs a media agency – his most notable client being Commonwealth 200m champion Leon Baptiste.

“I train in the morning then work in the afternoon,” Hughes explains.

“It seems to fit well and I enjoy the business as its shown good growth lately and it keeps me occupied when I’m not training.”

Training at the National Performance Centre, Hughes does speed-work sessions with Baptiste and 2006 World junior 100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and next summer, has aspirations of making his World championship debut and of breaking the 49-second barrier.

In an event which boasts a strong calibre of athletes, Hughes is aware that he must stay injury-free in order to capitalise on his current form to further progress:

“My event is one of the best events in the UK,” he revealed.

“Dai Greene is one of the world’s best, and we have Rhys, a European and Commonwealth medallist. I think between those two and I, we had three out of the top-eight ranked in Europe this year.”

Preferring to by-pass the indoor season this winter in order to focus on making another impact going into his second summer over the one-lap barriers, Hughes’ biggest goal is to make the 2012 Olympic squad for the London Games.

And after returning stronger than ever against the odds, this promising athlete may well make up for lost time and in a very big way over the next couple of years, too.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Leon’s Baptism of Gold


He was a prolific teenager, clinching sprint medals like there were no tomorrow before a succession of injuries ended the golden dream but now, seven years since his first international crown, Leon Baptiste is back on top of the winners’ podium, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old 200m specialist underwent knee surgery in 2005 and has since failed to return to the limelight of which he had become accustomed to following a series of promising years in his youth.

The Enfield and Haringey sprinter – who is also a former semi-professional footballer – has an impressive athletic CV which boasts him as a four-time national 200m champion and two-time 100m winner during his time in the under20 and under23 ranks, as well as highlighting his European junior 100m and 4x100m relay victories in 2003 - his finest year until now.

For during 2010, Baptiste – who is based in Loughborough - finally fulfilled his bright potential with his first senior international championship medal when spectacularly claiming the Commonwealth Games half-lap title in Delhi back in October.


Indeed, his first major crown since his continental victory seven years previous was all the more sweet, for Baptiste managed to bounce back from the disappointment of missing Team GB selection for this summer’s European championships in Barcelona to register his three-fastest times of the year in India.

Speeding to a 20.43 lifetime-best in the semi-final, the London-born runner moved to sixteenth on the British all-time lists and third on the national rankings for the season – an achievement which was rewarded with the promotion to ‘podium-level’ funding by UK Athletics, meaning Baptiste could begin life as a full-time athlete this winter.

“My season finished on a high, setting a new personal best on my way to winning the Commonwealth Games 200m title,” Baptiste explained.

“This did not come without struggle, most noticeably not being selected for a place in the individual 200m at the European Championships in July.”


Returning from adversity to finally achieve the success which was expected of him years before has understandably, come as a huge relief for Baptiste.

It was shortly after making the semi-finals of the 2005 World junior 100m rounds that injury began to rear its ugly head, resulting in four disappointing years by his own standard.

In 2007, Baptiste finished a below-par sixth in the European under23 200m final but then briefly bounced back – after joining Michael Khmel’s training squad in Loughborough’s National Performance Centre - to place third in the 2008 Olympic 200m trial and 2009 World 200m trial, with a UK indoor title in between for good measure.

Frustration still followed, however, as selection for the Beijing Olympics and Berlin World championships eluded him, a set-back which was repeated again this summer – yet Baptiste has managed to turn his disappointment into determination to prevail against the odds and he did so in style this season.

“2008 and 2009 were disappointing as I did not make the Olympic and World Championship teams. Ultimately, this spurred me on to train harder and I believe this helped lead to my recent success,” Baptiste revealed.

Managed by Commonwealth 400m hurdles eighth-placer David Hughes at Body2win in the East-Midlands town, Baptiste began his 2010 campaign with a 6.73 60m indoor personal-best before taking the UK indoor 200m title and winning the Aviva International 200m in Glasgow.


Building on from an impressive indoor phase, Baptiste took to the outdoor track this summer to claim the 100-200m double at the Loughborough International – the former taken in just short of his fastest time since his 10.26 clocking in 2008 – fifth place in the European Team championships in Norway for Great Britain and finished just out of the medals at the UK championships and European trials in July.

Forced to undergo a behind-the-scenes ‘race-off’ for the third and final plane ticket to Spain, Baptiste lost the battle to impress the selectors but gained redemption for his rejection twelve weeks later by surprising his critics to clinch the Commonwealth crown.

“I think the 200m is very strong at the moment and has developed a lot over the last three years,” Baptiste explained.

“All of us are pushing each other onto faster and faster times. Next year I aim to make the World Championship team (in Daegu, South Korea), and if successful my ultimate goal is to make the final.”

Naming his mother as his biggest inspiration, Baptiste has chosen to bypass the 2010/11 indoor season in order to focus on next summer as the champion of the Commonwealth intends to continue to make up for lost time by making a mark on the
global scene.

“Obviously (London) 2012 is in the back of everyone’s mind,” Baptiste revealed.

“However, all along my ambition has been to win Olympic and World Championship medals, regardless of when and where that is.”

Now he is injury-free and has a more recent taste for success, hopefully this sprinter will not have to wait another seven years to receive one.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Against the Odds


With thousands of hours of hard graft and years of dedication, highs and lows, chasing an Olympic dream is hard enough, but for some athletes like Bruce Raeside, the journey to 2012 Olympian is tougher than most, writes Nicola Bamford.

Neglected by his home nation and with limited funding, the 28-year-old Scot has battled adversity to rise to potential British representative in the London Games two years from now.

Working part-time in an entertainment call-centre to fund his Olympic dream, the Notts AC athlete had an injury-ravaged summer but still managed to register four lifetime bests on the track and the road and no less than eighteen race victories during the 2010 season.

Based in Nottingham since his university days as a Sports Science student, the distance runner strained his adductor muscle whilst training with the UK Athletics camp at high-altitude in Font Romeu, in the Pyrenees back in April, resulting in him temporarily quitting his specialist steeplechase event.

“I couldn’t hurdles the barriers as my groin was really painful,” Raeside explained.

“It took a few months to go away but I was stubborn, running through the summer and it paid off – I’ve had no pain for a while now.

I focused on 5,000m as I couldn’t do any speed-work, as it hurt so much and I could only get to 75% of my maximum speed so I was surprised to win the Home International mile (in Middlesbrough in September) in 3:52.00 and beat three guys who went onto the Commonwealth’s.”


It was the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last month that represented Raeside’s biggest goal of the year and despite showing promising form on the track, he inevitably failed to make the Scottish squad due to the ongoing groin issue.

“Not making Delhi was tough but I knew I couldn’t steeplechase and I only finished sixth in the 5,000m trial after having a weeks’ rest. I was limping and think I could have got a medal and qualified if it wasn’t for that.

I’m looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but I want to prove a point to Scottish Athletics – they don’t communicate with or support me, perhaps it’s because I live in England but I’d love to run for them.

I was obviously disappointed but overall, I turned the negatives into positives and it makes me hungry for the future,” Raeside revealed.

Indeed, refusing to be down-beat and end his season on a low note, Raeside plugged away to overcome his injury nightmare before returning to set the quickest short stage in the national road relays last month and even took his injury-free body on an adventure by winning the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest Tri-Nation series over the autumn to secure two new sponsors.


Coached by Trevor Muxlow, Raeside states winning the Home Countries cross-country international in March and speeding to 13:53.93 for 5,000m on the track in May as his highlights of his year but now in winter training – averaging 90-miles per week – Raeside hopes to make an even bigger impact on both the domestic and international scene.

Contesting the British trial for the European cross-country championships this weekend, Raeside hopes to be selected for the continental competition in Portugal next month before turning his attentions to the track.

“I won’t do the indoor season but I’ll do the 3,000m at the UK championships and European trials (for Paris in March),” Raeside revealed.

“I want to train purely for the cross season for strength and target the UK cross-country championships and World trial – also in March - so I can have a good summer on the track.”

Evidently eager to return to his track roots over the barriers in fine form next summer, the 2009 UK runner-up in the 3,000m steeplechase will hope for a big revision of his 8:49.60 lifetime best, set in 2009 which ranked him third in the country.

“I’d like to make the World’s (in Daegu, South Korea) next year for the ‘chase and the big focus is making 2012,” Raeside explained.

“I’m determined to make the steeplechase team for 2012 - I just need to get into the low 8:20-range. There aren’t enough high-quality steeplechase races in the UK and it’s hard to get opportunities abroad.

“I’ve definitely got the best lifestyle to give myself the best possible chance to make 2012 – it was only three years ago, I made the commitment to slow down my social life in order to step up so I’ve probably got quite a few years ahead until I peak.”

Revealing that he aspires to go into personal training in London after the Games, Raeside explained:

“Having ‘2012 Olympian’ on my CV would look great for that.”

It certainly would and after surviving many set-backs and prevailing against the odds, this determined runner surely deserves to reach his Olympic dream on a much smoother path to 2012 and beyond.

Thursday, 2 December 2010



REPORT - McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge inc. European cross-country championship trials – Sat 27th November, Sefton Park, Liverpool

Four athletes gained revenge as well as prestigious GB vests on an epic day of thrillingly-close finishes.

In one of the few places in the UK to escape the snow, both senior winners and two medallists from the two under-20 races gained redemption in glorious, nail-biting style in Liverpool’s Sefton Park last Saturday, writes Nicola Bamford.

Senior men’s winner Andy Vernon bounced back from Commonwealth disappointment to clinch the 9.8km event whilst Louise Damen sped to a surprise senior women’s victory following two-years of injury woes.

John McDonnell meanwhile, answered the sceptics to capitalise on his fastest stage at the national cross-country relays a fortnight earlier by taking the under-20 men’s title, as Emelia Gorecka made up for missing the 2009 continental championships for being too young by placing runner-up to ensure not to miss out again.

Although the weather was cool and frosty underfoot, the day’s action was as hot as the destination every athlete wanted to be selected for – Portugal, for the European
cross-country Championships in a fortnights’ time.

Vernon prospers in tight call

Senior/U23 Men

In arguably the tightest race of the day for plane tickets, Aldershot’s Andy Vernon claimed the top spot by a mere second over under-23 contestant James Wilkinson of Leeds City AC.

Battling down the home straight like men possessed, Vernon, Wilkinson and Bedford’s Mark Draper fought to the line with every last gasp of breath to excite the crowds and book their automatic spots to Albufeira.

Evidently refreshed since finishing tenth in the Commonwealth 10,000m last month, the 24-year-old Vernon remained close to the head of the pack throughout the proceedings as the 26-year-old Draper stuck close.

With 800m to go, Vernon – only fifth here in the 2009 edition – strode out to create a one-metre advantage on Wilkinson and Draper before launching for the line to clinch the win in scintillating fashion by a single metre.
Twelfth in Dublin at last year’s European championships, Vernon revealed:

“It went pretty well, I’m pleased that I won. It went to plan and I wanted to make a statement by putting the boot down.

The guys were really strong as well and stuck on me but I tried to make it a true-run race and I wanted to test myself heading into the European’s.

I was used to being ahead of most of the Brits last year so I thought I’d get a bigger gap today so people have really stepped up. I’m really impressed with James - he’s one to look out for. I’d like to get into the top seven or even five in the Euro cross.”

Frustrated to lose the victory by such a close margin, 20-year-old Wilkinson remained gracious in defeat and looks set to improve on his third place from the under-20 event in Dublin, albeit in the under-23 category this time around.

The Birmingham University student explained:

“It went well and I knew no-one was beatable, I thought it (the win) was there but never mind. I surrounded myself with the experienced guys then kicked on from the lead group.”

Two-seconds adrift in third, Draper – who registered the fastest stage in Mansfield –
vastly improved on his sixteenth position from 2009 and showed a no-fear approach:

“I felt really good early on and I’m happy to make the team. I’m not the best at cross-country but I felt really fit and strong and dug in on the last lap. I wanted to give top-three a go. Portugal’s a bonus and I’m not scared of anyone, they’re all human so we’ll see what I can do.”

2009 national cross-country champion Tom Humphries returned to form, finishing fourth just ahead of 2008 European tenth-placer Frank Tickner, who has this season returned from an injury-plagued couple of years and Ryan McLeod, whose recent training stint at the UKA endurance camp in Kenya evidently helped him improve on eighteenth last year.

Runner-up in the under-23 category and eighth overall, New Marske Harrier’s Ricky Stevenson finished clear of third-placed Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) in eleventh overall to book their spots on the national squad for next month.

Fourth overall in 2009, the 22-year-old Stevenson hopes to now better his eighth position from Dublin:

“I took a gamble running off high mileage so I was running tired. I felt a bit sluggish but it’s a matter of toughing it out before easing down for the Euro’s. I’m not pleased but the job’s done and hopefully Portugal will suit me, being a track runner – I hope to challenge for a medal.”

Derek Hawkins, 2009 European silver-medallist Nick Goolab and Ashley Harrell completed the top six in the age group.

Glimpse of the past excites

Senior/U23 Women

Following almost two years of injury hell, 28-year-old Louise Damen returned to top the domestic battle for places at the championship where she finished a fine ninth two years ago.

The Winchester AC runner, who is self-coached concentrated on the roads during the early part of the winter, finishing a surprising seventh in the Bupa Great North Run
and stole the show here in equally surprising fashion.

With Steph Twell missing the trial to concentrate on training after being pre-selected for Portugal and Freya Murray on the sidelines with injury, the women’s 8.1km race was fairly wide open so two former GB pals decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

One place ahead in Brussels two years ago, Hatti Dean - who herself had been under the radar until the trials - relished the chance to battle it out with Damen once again, but the 28-year-old Hallamshire Harrier was no match for her rival on the final circuit, finishing fourteen-seconds adrift.

Charnwood’s Gemma Steel and Aldershot’s Emma Pallant, meanwhile, had the race of their lives to finish third and fifth, respectively – the latter claiming the top under-23 spot in one of the shocks of the day.

Commonwealth 3,000m steeplechase fourth-placer, Helen Clitheroe, 36, was an early leader and returned from Kenya to claim fourth whilst reigning European champion Hayley Yelling-HIgham failed to repeat her 2009 heroics as the 36-year-old conceded to a lack of race experience and a cold of late.

The winner meanwhile, explained:

“It (the win) means so much more as it’s my first cross-country race in 21-months. I split a tendon in my ankle last summer so I’ve been slaving away in the gym like a Trojan and the thought of this really kept me going – it’s given me such a buzz and a high.

I was conscious to sit back early on – I know I’ve got the endurance but my speed’s not as good. I’ve had so many great ding-dong’s with Hatti so it was really great to battle it out with her again. I hadn’t thought of the Euro’s and the course probably won’t be very much to my suiting but I’ll give it my best shot.”

Dean, the 2009 national champion and fourth in the European 3,000m steeplechase back in July, revealed:

“I think my taper and sharpening with a good group in Birmingham really brought me on. I went too early with Helen and Louise but it was good enough.
I got back from Kenya a month ago so I got a good base over there and the last month has gone well. I’m really excited about the European’s – my minimum would be top ten – I’m in as good shape from when I was eighth so I hope for top six.”

Keeping warm in the camper van she travelled in overnight, 25-year-old Steel showed the same vein of form that saw her whisk to a classy 53:44 10-mile best last month, as she collected her debut GB vest in third.

“I didn’t expect to get third – I hoped for top-six but kept fighting. I’m in shock, I stuck behind Hayley then the race panned out well. It’s my first GB vest and I just hope to see how the race (Euro’s) progresses.”

Better known as a track runner and middle-distance specialist, 21-year-old Pallant caused another surprise by sticking with the lead pack for much of the race and coming out on top of the under-23 pile.

She explained: “It went ok – I was pleased but didn’t finish as strong as I’d like but I made the team so that’s good. The last month’s been really encouraging – I’m finally pain and injury free, getting consistent training in so I hope to do really well (in the u23 race in Portugal).”

Behind her, 21-year-old duo Emily Pidgeon, the European 5,000m bronze-medallist and English u23 5,000m runner-up Elspeth Curran took the second and third automatic spots to come home clear of Sarah Waldron, Imogen Ainsworth and Lauren Howarth, respectively.

McDonnell no flash in the pan

U20 men

Proving his fastest leg performance in Liverpool was no one-off, John McDonnell took control of the 6.7km junior men’s event when it mattered most – at the business end.

Based at St Mary’s University, the 19-year-old Luton athlete created fireworks in the finishing straight to once again conquer his rival Jonny Hay of Aldershot by three-seconds.

Derby’s 18-year-old Ben Connor - eighth in the U17 race last year - ran strongly for third after leading for much of the race with his team-mate Tom Bishop, who faded to eighth.

Pulling clear with a mile to go, the 18-year-old Hay was reeled in by McDonnell - who here vastly improved on his fifteenth position from the 2009 event - with 800m remaining to cause another upset.

Shocked and in his usual modest manner, the victor revealed:

“It feels good (to win) – I sat in the group to save energy then the confidence I got from Mansfield made me go for it. It worked out ok and I got my first GB vest – I just want to do the best I can.”

Applauded for his brave front-running tactics, Hay explained:

“I made a mistake in trying to break him too early but I needed to try it out and it backfired, but I got selection and the big one is in two week’s time.
I was ill a couple of weeks ago but training’s got better so I’ll focus hard on the Euro’s now. The medal’s been in my head since the last European’s but I tried to stay calm and relaxed today.”

Ryan Saunders, Robbie Farnham-Rose and Andy Combs completed the top-six.

Business as usual for AFD duo

U20/U17 women

As expected, Charlotte Purdue was a class apart in this 4.4km race, as the 19-year-old Aldershot runner bided her time before unleashing her usual dominating display to cruise to a 100m victory over her younger team-mate Emelia Gorecka, as AFD boasted an impressive four runners in the top six.

Following fourth and sixth-place in the 10,000m and 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games, Purdue sat in the leading pack for the first half of the race before kicking away with relative ease en route to her goal of a third-consecutive under-20 medal at the continental event.

Already with a silver and bronze to her name, Purdue explained:

“I wanted to put in a dominating display before the Euro’s and I’ve been training hard and I haven’t tapered for this race.

I didn’t want to go off too soon so I made my break decisive. I feel refreshed – I only started my track season in May after the knee operation. I’ve got a bronze and a silver medal so we’ll see what’s next.”

Sixteen-year-old Gorecka, meanwhile, made up for last year’s sweet yet sour episode with a commanding performance in her first major event as an under-20.
The prodigious youngster led the field on various occasions before explaining:

“I’m absolutely over the moon, as I know Charlie’s a class act so. I wasn’t sure of
my form as I had a virus and I had some problems but I gave it my best shot.

I put myself on the line and I’m looking forward to my first European’s. I’ll go out there with the same mentality and try to run strongly against those girls.”

Shildon’s 19-year-old European bronze-medallist Kate Avery showed the benefits of her Kenyan adventure by placing third ahead of Lily Partridge, Georgia Peel and Annabelle Gummow.

In the u17 category, Worchester AC’s Alice Wright and Chelmsford’s pre-race favourite Jessica Judd battled right to the wire to clock the same time, with Wright given the verdict.

The 16-year-old, in only her fourth season in the sport, surprised 15-year-old Judd - the quickest in Mansfield - as the Midland cross-country runner-up scored the finest victory of her young career to date.

Another to burst onto the domestic radar was third-placer Beth Swords.

Dixon follows the form-book

U17 Men

Despite placing only twentieth last year, Aldershot’s Harvey Dixon put the memory behind him to comfortably take the 5.5km event.

The 17-year-old English School’s cross-country champion finished fourteen-seconds clear of runner-up Grant Muir of Giffnock North and Windsor’s Bradley Goater in third.

Muir’s improvement was equally-impressive following seventeenth place in 2009, whilst 16-year-old Goater – fourth in the English 1500m championship - was the surprise package.

Younger Age Groups:

Oldham and Royton’s Adam Howard took the 3km under-15 boys’ race from Matt Shirling in a tight two-second finish, with Kyran Roberts in third.

The 2009 under-15 girls’ winner, Abbie Hetherington of Carlisle led until the half-way stage in this 3km event but conceded defeat to Aldershot’s Harriet Preedy in another two-second victory. Bronwen Owen was third a further second back.

In another tight finish, City of Norwich’s Ashley Waterson prospered in the under-13 boys’ event over George Butler and Samuel Elliot in this 3km race.

Again, over 3km, Blackburn’s Elizabeth Greenwood took a five-second under-13 girls’ victory over Elisabeth Hood of Poole AC. Sophie Tarver was third.

Kath’s Comeback


Having been off the athletics radar for the past five years, British sprinter Katherine Endacott is back with a bounce in her step after taking two championship medals in a glorious comeback season, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 30-year-old from Plymouth has endured four career-saving knee operations since 2006 and battled diabetes since aged fourteen, which has played havoc with maintaining an athletic weight.

Combined with these frustrating setbacks, the Devon athlete’s progress stalled with the birth of her daughter Mia in 2007 and rather than enjoying the lifestyle of a full-time athlete, Endacott is not on any funding or sponsorship, resulting in her working part-time as a teaching assistant.

Indeed, the past few years have been tough – she witnessed her father Stephen, who is also her coach, suffer a heart-attack at a track meeting and supported her mother successfully beat Breast cancer – but Endacott is one tough cookie herself.

Also guided by 1992 Olympic 100m champion Linford Christie for monthly sessions in London, Endacott has battled against the odds to transform herself into the championship medallist and London 2012 Olympic prospect she is today.

“After five years out after having my daughter and four knee operations, this year has been amazing,” Endacott explained.

“I tore the cartilage in my knee in 2003 and it got worse again in 2006 and 2007 so

I eventually had surgery to remove it and I have struggled with my weight all my life but I’ve now got it (the diabetes) under control.

(Funding) would have made life easier but I’ll hopefully prove them wrong next year. When someone says I can’t do something, I try so hard to prove them wrong and bounce back stronger with a fighting instinct.”


Endacott certainly is a fighter – and in more ways than one, for she boxes twice a week for conditioning purposes and even aspires to become a competitive boxer after life on the track.

Having only finished fifth in the UK Championship over 100m back in July, Endacott was fortunate to be selected for the event in last month’s Commonwealth Games but needed all her hunger and drive to mentally survive the battle which lay ahead in India.

Speeding to a lifetime best of 11.44, Endacott originally finished fourth but was surprisingly upgraded to the silver medal position over the following days due to two disqualifications.

“I won’t forget Delhi in a hurry,” Endacott revealed.

“It was a bonus just to get there and I tried not to get caught up in all the drama.

I was over the moon with fourth but after the petitions, I was promoted to bronze then when having breakfast the next day, someone said I’d got the silver but I only found out officially after the relay – people at home knew before me!”

Leading the English squad off to a great start on the first leg of the 4x100m final, Endacott received her second medal in Delhi:

“Relay gold was another bonus. All in all, it was a good season for a comeback year.
2010 was my time and in the last few years, I was thinking whether it was time to stop. I went from strength to strength and really enjoyed it, I was quite pleased and I hope next year will be even better.”


The former 60m indoor specialist, whose 7.34 ranked her fifth in Britain this year, will be hoping for a much brighter future now she has turned a corner.

During her career, Endacott has only placed seventh in the 2003 World Student Games, failed to progress beyond the heats of the 2005 European indoor 60m and World outdoor relay and finished second and third in the 2005 and 2010 UK 60m indoor championships.

Occasionally even competing in the long-jump, high-jump, shot put and discus to support her local club, Endacott’s personal 100m best still only ranks her as seventh in the 2010 British rankings but the progress after years of adversity is promising.

“I’ve got big expectations for next year and I’ve stepped up my game going into winter training with dad and Linford,” Endacott explains.

“I hope to get into 11.1/2 shape, I don’t just want to be a one-off. I was so emotional in Delhi after all my troubles and what I’ve been through – I need to experience that again.

I’ll do the indoor season from January. Paris (the European indoors in March) is definitely an aim and I would like to step up again in the final there – I saviour being an unknown quantity.”


Less of an unknown is Christie, who is currently enjoying a popular spell in the Australian jungle on televisions’ “I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!” reality programme but rather than feeling lost without her mentor for a month, Endacott is in confident mood:

“Linford’s only away for four weeks – he’s doing great and coming across really well. He was my childhood hero and I bit his hand off when he offered to coach me.”

Should Endacott’s form continue to rise then she too could become more well-known to the public and she refuses to rest on her laurels when it comes to gaining more championship selection:

“Paris and Daegu (for the World championships next summer) are my aims but I want to take each year as it comes and if I continue improving like I am, then 2012 will be within my grasp.

2012 would be amazing but I don’t want to set long-term goals as I thought my career was over five years ago.”

How wrong she was.

Cope-ing with the Load


Training for the marathon is a demanding task for any runner and logging the miles whilst looking after three sports-mad daughters is even tougher, but Michelle Ross-Cope manages to take it all in her stride, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 38-year-old shrugs off suggestions that motherhood and belonging to a master’s age-category could thwart her ambitions to excel on the international scene in true gutsy style.

Indeed, such steely determination and focus amidst such a hectic lifestyle has been rewarded with two fine championship performances during her 2010 campaign - with 14th place in the European championship marathon in Barcelona last July (with 2:38.45, leading Team GB to the bronze medals) and 6th in the Commonwealth Games event last month with 2:46.13.

With World-record holder Paula Radcliffe returning to fitness after childbirth and Mara Yamauchi also getting back into shape following injury, the British number-one tag has befallen to Ross-Cope in the past two seasons.

Never one to rest on her laurels, however, the City of Stoke athlete is still left feeling frustrated at the lack of revision to her 2:36.02 lifetime best set on her 26.2-mile debut in London last year.

Still, intermittent bouts of injury and illness combined with the priority of championship racing rather than pacing, provides a clear reason to the time stagnation and surely there is more to come.

Taking up the sport at aged eleven, Ross-Cope competed for England over cross-country, track and road in the 1990’s and had her first child aged-24. Returning to fitness quickly, her mother then passed away, enforcing Ross-Cope to take a break from competition, though she has never missed a day’s training.

Following marriage and her second child, Ross-Cope returned to racing before falling pregnant for the third time and moving on to join her local athletics club and has not looked back since:

“After my youngest, a few of the girls from Stoke were asking me to go up to the club, so I joined in on sessions and found I was quite fit. I was then asked to race and I suppose it started from then. I just thought it was silly to do all the running I was doing and not making any use of it, so it was good when I got back racing and was getting personal bests,” Ross-Cope explained.

Coached by Bud Baldaro, Ross-Cope moved up to distance running in 2007 and come the following season, the Staffordshire athlete had emerged onto the Team GB radar, placing 47th on her British debut in the World half-marathon championships.

Finishing first Briton in the 2009 London marathon in a time which puts her as 15th on the V35 all-time lists, Ross-Cope’s performance was even more admirable – coming only ten days after the passing of her father.

“It was very tough losing my father, I did consider pulling out of London but he would never have wanted that. He was so excited about me doing the marathon,” Ross-Cope revealed.

I was caring for him and checked on him each day, so when I went round to run from his house I found him dead. Again I had to decide whether to bury him before or after the marathon, I decided on before so I buried him the Thursday before London.

I just wish he could have hung on a little longer just to watch me, but looking back now I think he went when he did so I didn't stress too much on the marathon.”

Six months later with the emotional wounds slightly healed, Ross-Cope progressed to 34th in the World half-marathon championships in Birmingham – her occasional base – but suffered through injury to finish 16th in the New York marathon the following month.

“I think my 2009 season was very mixed,” explained Ross-Cope.

“I had a great start and did my debut in the marathon which I was pleased with. However, I got injured and was fighting fitness to make the World half-marathon team. Unfortunately, I didn't make selection as I was still not fully fit in the qualifying race at Bristol but Paula had to pull out with illness, so I was put in the team and luckily I produced a pretty good performance.

At the time I was in training for the New York and unfortunately, that marathon didn't go to plan as I suffered with major cramp from mile 16 so ended up walking and jogging the rest of the way.”

The injury nightmare continued after being forced to withdraw from London this April with a calf-strain, which was all the more annoying for Ross-Cope following
victories in the Wilmslow (inc. English championships) and Bath half-marathons, together with encouraging personal bests of 26:53 for five-miles (to go fifth on the V35 all-time lists) and 72:02 for the half-marathon, which places her as 23rd on the overall all-time lists for women.

Nevertheless, Ross-Cope managed to turn her season around again to storm to two impressive performances when it mattered most over the past few months – in major championships.

“When I look back over the years, who would have thought that I would be in the GB Team for the Europeans and then go onto the Commonwealth Games?” Ross-Cope reflected.

“I know the times weren't the best, however both marathons were in brutal conditions so I think the positions were good.

I think my main regret was not being able to run London but Barcelona went well, as I felt really strong before the end. It’s so hard mentally with the marathon as the last one I did was New York and I suffered badly with cramp, so that was in my head. I started off steady and didn't panic, so the later stages it was good to pass people.

As for Delhi, I was just so pleased to be on that start line as three-weeks before the race, I had to have an MRI scan and then an injection in my calcaneum, as my bursar was very inflamed. This meant no running at all, no cross training for a few days and then I was only allowed to do easy running so I was relieved to be on the line pain free.”

Running up to 110-miles per week, travelling from Stoke to Birmingham as often as possible and looking after her girls who appear to do more exercise than their mother outside of school hours, it is little wonder that Ross-Cope is enjoying some well-earned ‘down time’ at present.

“I think I will just train for the rest of the year with no pressure of racing,” she revealed.

Sponsored by Asics, Cope is currently seeking additional sponsorship or funding after recently leaving her job as an accounts assistant:

“Unfortunately, a few issues came up with me requiring the time away to compete for my country at the Europeans and Commonwealths, I chose my country first,” she

“I have had a pretty tough year - even though I didn't do London I trained all the way up to it. I aim to just to do easy running and then start doing sessions in December.

I aim to do a spring marathon but having discussed this with my coach, we are still not sure which one to do. Hopefully if I produce a good marathon I would love to go to the World Championships (in Daegu, South Korea) in the autumn.

Unfortunately age is not on my side so I plan to run for as long as I can. I would really like to improve my personal bests over a number of distances, and if I continue to improve I'd love to compete in the Worlds and of course, the Olympics. I just need to stay fit and injury free.”

With a new lease of life despite arguably being one of Britain’s busiest runners, Ross-Cope should certainly achieve her goals after proving in impressive style that she can cope with the load of being a marathon mum.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Continuing Tradition


A month ago at the Commonwealth Games, Louise Hazel had the competition of her life to lift the heptathlon title and in the process, joined a special group of mutli-eventers from her local club to have taken the very same crown, writes Nicola Bamford.

In the international breakthrough performance of her career, the 25-year-old captured gold in scintillating style, following lifetime bests in the 200m (24.10), 100m hurdles (13.25), long-jump (6.44m) and javelin (44.42m) to smash her previous seven-event best by 113-points, moving to sixth on the British all-time lists with a 6156 score in New Delhi, India.

Remarkably, Hazel is the fourth woman from the Birchfield Harriers club to win the competition, following the successes of Judy Simpson in 1986, Denise Lewis in 1998 and Kelly Sotherton in 2006, and judging by the manner in which she performed this autumn, the outgoing athlete should become used to the limelight in years to come.

“I didn’t realise there had been so many winners from Birchfield,” Hazel revealed.

“It’s a complete honour and I’m overwhelmed that I’ve kept up the tradition. My season wasn’t great - I changed coaches four times which is unheard of and I trained myself a lot so to see that my hard work came into fruition at the right time, was a huge emotional relief.

I thought I could have maybe got the bronze - it was a testament to all of my hard work. I put the time of the year and the negative press (surrounding Delhi) to the back of my mind to focus on doing my best – it was a really proud moment for me.”


Guided by Aston Moore for the past two months at her Birmingham base, Hazel has had a rollercoaster few years in the sport. As experienced by most hepathletes, she has had her fare share of injury woes but Hazel has also overcome adversity across several areas of her life.

Born in London, Hazel began competing in 2000, winning English schools and UK age-group pentathlon titles from the offset before making her international debut in her mid-teens.

Her athletic breakthrough soon came in 2006 where, at the European championships in Gothenburg, the then 21-year-old placed 17th with a promising 5894 lifetime best but it suffered much heartache during the following two seasons.

Working in France as part of her French Studies degree, Hazel was forced to spend much of 2007 on the sidelines through injury and was devastated to finish only 17th in the European under-23 championships that summer.

Before her luck would improve it got worse, as in the space of a few months during 2008, Hazel then suffered the loss of her father, the withdrawal of her Lottery support and the opportunity to attend the Beijing Olympics due to lack in form – all whilst coping with the stress of final-year university exams.

“Being away in 2007, I was lost in terms of guidance and support from coaches and in 2008, the tragedy, losing my funding and the pressures of exams were really tough but it only made me a better athlete in the long run,” Hazel explained.


Indeed, Hazel bounced back in impressive style to qualify for the World Championships in Berlin in the summer of 2009 with a 150-point lifetime best to place 14th and then went onto claim two UK championship medals over the hurdles this year.

The first was an 60m hurdle indoor bronze in Sheffield back in February with a 8.27 personal best, before she stormed to the UK outdoor crown over the 100m barriers with 13.32 this summer.

The performance pointed towards possible qualification for the European’s in Barcelona last July but instead of chasing the times and distances for that competition, Hazel preferred to focus her attentions on improving her form in time for her Commonwealth test – which she of course, passed with flying colours.

Ending the season only second behind the reigning World and European champion Jessica Ennis (6823) on the British rankings, Hazel revealed:

“In previous years, we’ve had Denise versus Kelly then Kelly and Jess, and now me and Jess.

We’re at completely different stages of our careers – I’m proud of her and have respect for her. She won Commonwealth bronze when Kelly won and also came back from injury. I hope we can both do very well in 2012.”


Having just returned from a well-earned break in Barbados, Hazel is now looking ahead to another winter of hard graft:

“Luckily, I’ve escaped having knee surgery so I’ve got a lot of rehab to do now. As the 2010 season was so long, I won’t compete indoors over the winter – I’ll go warm-weather training and build a really good base to see what I can produce next year, I’m looking forward to it.

I have the ‘A’ standard for the Worlds (in Daegu, South Korea next summer) so that’s a huge weight off my shoulders. My first heptathlon will be at the end of May.

My goals are to make top-ten in the World’s and top-eight in the (London 2012) Olympics – with my extra energy, I love the occasion and the big stage – my passion will help me pull out a big performance.”

With ambitions to buy a pair of Christian Louboutin heels and to work in sports commentary after her career, Hazel is clearly a woman with a taste for the high life and should she achieve her goals in the count-down to 2012, then surely more gold will be coming her way in the years to come.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

PREVIEW - McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge inc. European cross-country championship trials – Sat 27th November, Sefton Park, Liverpool


Liverpool will once again play host to the nation’s finest mud-larks as athletes from across the UK descend on Sefton Park, eager to gain selection to the British squad for the forthcoming European cross-country championships, writes Nicola Bamford.

As the official trial race for the continental championships in Albufeira, Portugal on December 12th, the first leg of the 2010/11 McCain Cross Challenge promises to produce a catalogue of thrilling battles as British runners tough it out to assert their authority and book their plane tickets to Europe’s biggest pre-Christmas competition on the international calendar.

Senior Men

Back on the racing scene after almost two years on the injury sidelines, 2009 national cross-country champion Frank Tickner could well be the surprise package of this race.

Although he is lacking in consistent competition experience since finishing a disappointing 74th in the World cross-country championships last March, the 27-year-old Wells City Harrier is in strong shape, clocking the second-fastest time at the cross-country relays in Mansfield three weeks ago and is looking close to the form which saw him place tenth in the 2008 continental edition.

Mark Draper and Scott Overall could be his closest challengers following their first and third-fastest legs in the relay.

Anchoring Bedford to glory, 26-year-old Draper looks set to improve on his sixteenth position here last year, as does Overall who was eighth. The 27-year-old Blackheath man clocked an impressive 47:37 for fourth in the recent Bupa Great South Run in Portsmouth to prove his endurance is sharp.

Returning from calf surgery, reigning Northern cross-country champion and third-placer from the national equivalent in early 2010, Stockport’s Steve Vernon should also be one to watch. The 30-year-old finished seventh in an international in Belgium earlier this month and hopes to make a return to GB action.

2009/10 Challenge series winner Andy Vernon of Aldershot has not raced since placing tenth in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m final last month, but should the 24-year-old decide to contest the trial, he should also be at the fore of the field.

Senior Women

Combined with the under-23 ladies, this event should boil down to a scrap between Scotland’s two recent Commonwealth Games representatives, Steph Twell and Freya Murray.

Twell should easily take the under-23 top spot but the 21-year-old may not have the senior race her own way following Murray’s fine 52:27 10-miler in Portsmouth recently.

The 27-year-old Chester-le-Street runner, fifth in the Commonwealth 10,000m and seventh behind Twell in the 5,000m, will be hoping to go one place better than last year where she finished runner-up to comeback queen Hayley Yelling - who went onto take a surprise European crown in Dublin last winter – and finished ninth herself in Ireland.

Twell, recently third in the Commonwealth 1,500m and fastest in the national cross-country relays, will want to make up for missing the 2009 race and do so in style, though after finishing eleventh senior in Dublin, it is unsure which age category she will choose to contest in Portugal.

The Charnwood trio of Gemma Steel, Jane Potter and Hannah Whitmore should also feature highly, as should Chester-le-Street’s newest signing, Andrea Woodvine.

U23 Men

In a competitive contest, any of four men could realistically take victory here, all of which attended the last continental championships and who are hungry for more success.

Nick Goolab, the 20-year-old from Belgrave Harriers, was fourth-quickest in the senior race in Mansfield and proved last year that even fifth in the trials could still achieve a medal at the right time, with second in Dublin.

Another medallist from Ireland, James Wilkinson will be hoping to go one better than last year’s race by winning and although only eighth-fastest senior in Mansfield, the 20-year-old Leeds City AC runner excels over the longer distances.

Closely matched in their one battle so far this season, Ricky Stevenson of New Marske Harriers will be hoping to retain his u23 title here, when the 22-year-old was fourth amongst seniors twelve months ago before placing eighth in the under-23 Europeans.

21-year-old Ashley Harrell of Norwich will do well to replicate his 2009 third-place position and will be hoping to improve on 29th place from the Europeans.

U23 Women

As previously mentioned, this category is Twell’s for the taking but a trio of the team from last year’s Dublin race should also be in contention.

City of Norwich’s Hollie Rowland has been working on her endurance of late with a solid 58:37 10-mile effort in Portsmouth and will hope to replicate her runner-up position from twelve months ago before progressing to improve on her fifth position from Ireland.

Sixth and tenth, respectively, in the Europeans, Lauren Howarth and Steve Stockton are both in fine form again and should make the squad. Howarth, 20 from Leigh Harriers was 13th in the World cross last March and took the third-fastest time of the day in Mansfield. Stockton, meanwhile, has just returned from the UKA training camp in Kenya and the 21-year-old from Vale Royal AC should replicate her third-place-finish from the 2009 edition.

Another athlete to watch will be Twell’s club-mate Emma Pallant. Although primarily a track runner, the 21-year-old recently proved her strength with a 55:09 clocking in the Great South and was also second-fastest behind Twell in the relays.

U20 men

John McDonnell, who ran the race of his life to register the fastest time at the relay could cause another stir here but the 19-year-old from Luton will need to improve on his 15th from 2009 and will have to surprise, amongst others, the reigning victor Richard Goodman.

The 17-year-old Shaftesbury runner took last year’s race in pleasantly-shocking fashion and progressed to take fifth in Dublin. The 2009/10 series winner will also be joined by Jonathan Hay and Elliot Palmer – second and third-fastest in Mansfield.

Aldershot’s Hay anchored his team to a thirty-nine-second victory and the 18-year-old could improve on from third and 23rd from here and Ireland last winter.

Palmer, 19 of Ipswich, was only 31st here last year but is a much-improved athlete of late and could also qualify.

U20 women

The usual dominating display will be expected of Aldershot’s Charlotte Purdue, following the 19-year-old’s remarkable performances in the Commonwealth event.

Fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5,000m, respectively, Purdue is another step on from the athlete that placed 14th in the world cross earlier this year and despite a marginally best of the day time in the relays, she should be back to her obliterating best after a few weeks’ training.

Others expected to feature include her team-mate 18-year-old Beth Carter, third-fastest in Mansfield and Shaftesbury’s Sophie Connor, 17, who was slightly quicker in the same event.

Not to be discounted, are Kate Avery and Beth Potter. The former took this race last year and finished third in Dublin, following a Challenge series win for the Shildon AC runner.

Potter, meanwhile, took third before placing 25th in the European event and the 18-year-old Shaftesbury athlete should be close to the top three here again.

Younger Age Groups

Robbie Farnham-Rose of Tonbridge should be the one to watch in the under-17 men’s race after the 16-year-old took the fastest leg in the relays, whilst a thrilling battle should be expected in the women’s equivalent.

Jessica Judd and reigning champion from the joint under-20 and under-17 race, Emelia Gorecka will lock horns in what could be one of the most exciting races of the day.

Chelmsford’s 15-year-old Judd had the advantage in Mansfield but Aldershot’s 16-year-old Gorecka will be determined to make up for the last year’s disappointment, where after the race of her young life, she could still not attend the Europeans due to being too young.

Judd’s club-mate Sophie Riches, 15, was fastest in the under-15 girls’ relay recently and should do well here, whilst the Goddard twins – Hannah and Grace – from Bracknell AC, should dominate the under-13 event.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Going the Distance


After switching to longer distances over the past two years, British international Freya Murray has witnessed a sharp upward curve in her development, resulting in making her major championship debut this year on the track and progressing into a potential Olympian for the 2012 Games, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 27-year-old Scot has this season captured the UK cross-country title, placed 37th in the World cross-country championships and also claimed the UK 10,000m track crown – all before placing fifth and seventh, respectively over 10,000m and 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games last month in Delhi.

There, in her first international championship on the track, the Edinburgh-born athlete capitalised on the form which saw her register three lifetime best times this season.

First came a 15:26.5 5,000m clocking on the track before the Chester-le-Street runner scorched to 32:23.44 over 10,000m when placing sixth in the European Cup for Great Britain earlier this summer.

Although slightly disappointed with her times and positions in India, Murray bounced back to clock an impressive 52:27 for ten-miles on the roads of Portsmouth last month in the Bupa Great South Run, where the Newcastle-based distance-runner scorched to sixth on the UK all-time list for the distance.

“This season has been one of ups and downs for me, but generally I'm happy with the progress I'm making,” Murray revealed.

“I feel like I've developed a lot over the last 18-months and I'm hoping to continue that improvement.

I was generally pleased, but there were some results I'm a bit disappointed with. I don't feel I did myself justice in the Commonwealth Games so that was frustrating especially since it was my first major track championships.”


The former 800m and 1500m runner first burst onto the international scene in 2009 after taking the UK 5,000m title and placing ninth in the European cross-country championships in Dublin that winter.

Linking up with British marathon record-holder Steve Jones has been one of the main contributing factors to Murray’s improvement but her commitment to training whilst working 25-hours per week is also testament to the sudden achievements.

“I've been really fortunate in that I've had some funding from the Scottish Women’s Road Running and Cross Country Commission to go and train with Steve in Boulder three times over the last two years,” Murray explained.

“For the last 18-months or so, Steve has been coaching me, so he doesn't see many sessions or races but we email and talk regularly.”

Additionally receiving support from SportScotland and sponsorship from Adidas, Murray works as a Graduate Structural Engineer in a role which her training has to fit around:

“I usually get up pretty early and do my harder training session in the morning before work. I do quite a lot of my training to and from work, this includes sessions as well as runs of varying intensity. My weekly mileage depends on the time of year and races but probably averages out around 80-90,”Murray explained.

“As long as I want to continue to develop in my running I will find it difficult to progress my career as quickly as other graduates, but there's plenty time to be an engineer, I don't want to get to 50 and then wish I had put more into my running when I had the opportunity.”

Running Further

Such dedication and focus in evidently due to the British rivalry which Murray faces and her determination to stay on top of her peers in competition:

“I think that there is a lot of potential coming through and it was good to see Steph (Twell, another Scot who placed third in the 1500m and fourth in the 5,000m in Delhi ahead of Murray) run so fast at the end of the season and hopefully there will soon be a group of us at that level, like there is at 800 and 1500m.”

Now looking ahead to the forthcoming cross-country season, Murray will next compete at the European cross-country trials and UK championships in Liverpool next weekend, where she will hope to gain her place on Team GB for the continental championship in Portugal next month.

“My main aim for the cross country season is the World Cross Championships (in Spain) where I'd like to improve on my performance from last year. I'm just getting stuck into winter training now and looking forward to cross-country racing.

My aims are to keep running faster and further! I want to improve at the distances I'm running at the moment, but I’d also like to move up to the half marathon and marathon.”

Should this athlete continue to experience more success the further she runs, then Murray is certainly set for a very successful future indeed.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Leaping the Class Barrier


It is quite unusual to find an athlete from such a privileged aristocracy in professional track and field yet promising 110m hurdler Lawrence Clarke is literally leaping the class barrier to prove his worth through sheer hard graft, rather than by name alone, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old from Berkshire is heir to a baronetcy and will one day become a Sir but Clarke wants to make a name for himself in his own right - as a winner of titles rather than as an inheritor of one.

With his father, grandfather and great-grandfather boasting the title of Sir, the third-year Bristol university student takes his prestigious heritage as seriously as his duties on the track:

“I obviously have a bizarrely alien background to the traditional athletic character but I don’t believe that has any bearing on my career or talent as a runner,” Clarke insists.

“I am proud of my heritage but it is often the subject of scrutiny. I am glad that I am from a background that has been, most of the time, a hard working one.

I may have had Presidents and Prime Ministers in the family back in the mists of time but that has only inspired me to be successful myself. I have always been in reverence of my ancestors and I feel I must do justice to the heritage they have left me.”


Justice he is indeed doing to the family name, and in scintillating style of late, too. Having only taken up the event four years ago, Clarke has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in form in the past year which has propelled him into senior international status despite his age and relative inexperience.

A member of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, Clarke has been transformed into a potential Olympian since training under the tutelage of hurdles-coach extraordinaire Malcolm Arnold at their Bath base since 2008.

After claiming European junior gold over 110m hurdles in the summer of 2009, Clarke has blossomed and his finest achievement to date arrived just a fortnight ago in India with a marvelous Commonwealth bronze on his senior major championship debut.

Completing an unprecedented English 1-2-3 behind Andy Turner and Will Sharman, Clarke sped to a 13.70 clocking to capture a hard-fought bronze following a freak injury in his heat earlier in the day.

Remarkably, despite tearing his hip flexor muscle, Clarke decided to by-pass a warm-up to enjoy his first senior international final and piece of silverware as the risk against further injury certainly paid off and in dividends to boot.

“I had a major low but I was able to fight through the pain and pull a medal out of the bag so I am ecstatic,” Clarke explains.

“The season didn’t really go to plan as I got injured at the end of July but it meant I could solely focus on the races in Delhi. I didn’t run the times I wanted but I got the medal I wanted so I am pleased with that.”

Emerging Force

Interestingly, his finest hour was in the same country and at a similar event where Clarke made his junior international debut where, at aged 18, he finished fourth in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Two years on as a stronger, more developed athlete, Clarke is an emerging force in high hurdles and this is partly courtesy of training amongst the best of British.

In addition to working alongside Sharman, the 7.72 60m indoor hurdler also joins Welsh duo Dai Greene and Rhys Williams – European and Commonwealth 400m hurdlers - in Arnold’s stable.

“Malcolm is seriously experienced and knows how to handle athletes who like to act like prima donnas,” Clarke reveals.

“He is the brains behind the group’s success but expects the athletes to work out solutions to their own technical problems through asking searching questions about what they are doing.”

In a season where Clarke has scorched to a 13.69 lifetime best – which has taken him to twenty-second on the British all-time list behind another of Arnold’s talents, former World-record holder Colin Jackson – Clarke has also impressed with bronze in the UK and gold in the English senior championships.

Improving from 13.91 last year - which placed him fifth on the British all-time under-20 rankings - Clarke has now truly established himself on the senior stage:

“Ideally, I want a major world medal and to break the 13-second barrier in my career, as that is where all my heroes have been,” Clarke explains of his long-term goals.

“Although that is ambitious and will be more than difficult, I couldn’t be in better hands with Malcolm, and who knows in six or seven years time I will hopefully be a much faster and stronger athlete with the potential to do that.”

With plans to miss the forthcoming indoor season in order to focus on recovering from injury and winning a medal at next summer’s European under-23 championships, Clarke may indeed surprise himself again by making the Great Britain senior team for Augusts’ World championships to further make his ancestors proud.

Monday, 8 November 2010



Kenyan duo scorch to course records

The 29th edition of Germany’s oldest marathon witnessed two spectacular course records in the strongest fields ever assembled in this IAAF Gold Label race, as a plethora of superfast Africans descended on the city, writes Nicola Bamford in Frankfurt.

Eager to see its first sub-2:06 clocking, the Frankfurt organisers were treated to a glittering 2:04.57 performance from Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, who ripped over two-minutes from his lifetime best to go tenth on the World all-time list, improving the course record by 1:17 and registering the third-fastest time of 2010 in the process.

Celebrating his 23rd birthday, Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola – the 2010 Paris marathon winner - clocked 2:06.31 to set a ten-second personal best, whilst Kenya’s Elijah Chelimo – 26 and fourth here last year - broke his best mark by over one minute with 2:07.04 for third.

The trio were always to the fore of the field and passed the halfway mark in 1:02.38 (2:05.15 pace) before the 28-year-old Kipsang – third on his marathon debut in Paris with 2:07.10 earlier this year – pushed clear to become the ninth Kenyan victor of this event with a glorious finish inside the concert-like Festhalle on a red carpet to collect his 90,000 Euro prize.

In her third career marathon, 29-year-old Caroline Kilel was equally impressive taking the women’s race in 2:23.25.

Breaking her lifetime best by almost two-minutes and taking almost the same from the five-year-old course record, the Kenyan looked strong throughout to come home ahead of Ethiopia’s Dire Tune (2:23.44) and reigning champion Agnes Kiprop of Kenya in third (2:24.07) – both also shattering their personal bests.

Reaching halfway in 70:59 (2:21.58 pace), the field slowed but Kilel put in a determined display to pull comfortably clear of Tune - the recent runner-up in the World half-marathon championships and the 2008 Boston marathon champion – and Kiprop, who has recently recovered from a hamstring injury to make a surprising comeback after a conservative first half.

Nation switch pays off for Oke


Having switched to compete for Nigeria just fourteen months ago, Tosin Oke has witnessed a dramatic improvement in his form this year, which culminated in collecting an impressive Commonwealth triple-jump victory last week, writes Nicola Bamford.

Following years of frustration with the Team GB selectors, the 30-year-old Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete leapt 17.16m in the second round in Delhi to capture his first major championship gold.

Despite suffering five invalid jumps in his six-effort series in the final, his second-furthest leap to date was enough to ensure the Londoner he had made the right decision by representing the country of his parents’ birth.

Indeed, 2010 saw the 1999 European junior champion pass the elusive 17 metre mark for the first time in his eleven-year career with 17.05m at a British League match in Hendon back in June.

Evidently a new athlete of late, Oke progressed to register 17.22m when claiming the African title in Nairobi the following month to go tenth on the world list for this season, ahead of placing sixth in the IAAF/VTB Continental Cup last month (with 16.72m).

“It’s been a long season so I’m glad it’s over,” Oke admitted. “Winning the African championships was bigger than the Commonwealths for me.

To jump 17 metres feels great - it’s been a long time coming after my first breakthrough 10 years ago. I’ve finally managed to activate it inside me and worked out how to get the best out of myself.”

Born in England and with most of his family currently living in Nigeria, Oke revealed: “I made the switch after watching the TV too many times thinking I should be there so I made the change and the common-sense decision worked.

The African people are very welcoming – they call me ‘Mr Brit’ and ‘King of England’ and it’s so relaxed, it’s a great environment.”

Following a surprise party at his house to celebrate on his return to Blackheath, Oke – who failed to make the World championship final on his debut for Nigeria last summer – is currently enjoying a training break and is back to working part-time as a personal trainer and as ambassador for Mettrack.

The time off is proving a relief, too: “I’ve had a really bad sciatica problem in my right hamstring since December and I’ve been struggling with it every single day,” Oke explained.

“Luckily, my sponsorship with Red Bull has really helped as it’s a stimulant - it relaxes the muscle and takes the pain away. I know it sounds crazy but I wouldn’t have been able to jump without it – I can’t straighten my leg on the jump phase.”

Coached by Guy Spencer at Lee Valley, Oke also leapt 7.10m for the long jump and rather than competing indoors over the winter, intends to iron out the issue whilst training under 1995 World indoor champion Brian Wellman in Bermuda en route to the World championships next summer (in Daegu, South Korea) as a new be-medalled and much happier athlete.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The SuperNova Runners


Landing an exciting career within sport is a much sought-after privilege for most athletes when they hang up their spikes so when athletics events company, Nova International offered four former international distance men the jobs of their dreams, they could only imagine how their inclusion would help transform the sport into what it is today, writes Nicola Bamford.

Through their world-famous Great Run - and more recently - Great Swim competition series, a quartet of experienced athletes have helped bring track, field and road running back into the public consciousness by revolutionising the sport through exhilarating spectacles and innovative concepts to thrust it into the modern era.

As well as making the sport ‘cool’ again, the Nova events have kick-started a running boom by inspiring the nation to get active via arguably, the most successful running and swimming series around the globe.

On the athletics side alone, the Nova bandwagon storms through no less than seven major UK cities each year to Edinburgh, Dublin, Manchester, Sunderland, Sheffield, Newcastle and Portsmouth, where the Great South Run will take place three days from now.

In particular, the Bupa Great North Run and CityGames attracts 54,000 runners to the world’s most popular half-marathon whilst the track and field spectacular along the Newcastle-Gateshead quayside provides a strong rival to the similar concept on Manchester’s Deansgate, four months earlier in May each year.

Such groundbreaking facets to the brand have certainly justified the ‘Great’ slogan and our four ‘SuperNova’ runners here explain what it’s like to look after the crème de la crème of elite sportsmen and women today and organise such events, following their own successful running careers...

In his role as Elite Project Manager on the running, CityGames and swim projects for the past three years, Andy Caine has befriended a lot of athletes.

The 33-year-old – whose father John co-founded the company with British distance great Brendan Foster – is not only responsible for coordinating the athletes’ hotels and travel but he is also in charge of the media, how the BBC broadcast the events and ensuring the elites are well looked after.

“It’s really nice to have a job in sport where I can be involved with the athletes - I can’t imagine a job where you can as much fun,” Caine reveals.

“It’s great to be part of creating something, I take pride in what I and the business does and it’s more emotive, what with my father’s involvement. Brendan’s really good - he gets crazy ideas that we know we can do, as he’s good at motivating and inspiring us.”

Following an athletic career in which he took National and Scottish cross-country silver and ran times of 23:37 and 49:30 for five and ten miles respectively, Caine took up a role with Nike before being offered the opportunity to give back to the sport.

“This job’s not the norm – we’ve got 55 employees in the company and suppliers all over the world. I’m always getting calls and emails so I’m on the job 24/7,” Wilmslow-based Caine explains.

“It (the event) is like a premier for a film with your big names, supporting cast and extras – it’s how we put on exciting events. We’ll pay for athletes that can get the column inches, TV coverage and get the public out to watch. Sport’s becoming more professional so budgets are finite and a business decision – we understand what it’s like from when we ran so we always make sure there’s British-only prize money, too.”

With great events comes great pressure to attract the stars so Caine and co will often travel the globe in search of their next signings:

“I’ve been away for nineteen weekends this year in places like Dubai, Boston, Nice, Hengelo, New York and Hong Kong,” Caine reveals. “You’ve got to be at the main events to establish yourself and meet the right people in order to get their athletes to promote your events. You have to deal with the coach and agent, not just the athlete – you have to persuade all three.

We have good partnerships with some managers but one agent in 2008 questioned why we were bothering with the first Great Manchester CityGames - he didn’t know that we secretly had signed Usain Bolt.”

Ending his racing career in summer 2008, Caine, who still runs a few times a week, continues:

“I’ll run with the athletes on location - it’s good as they think more of you and it establishes a better relationship. I’ve even swam on event day before to understand what the swimmers go through.”

Attracting a plethora of world-class swimmers, the Great Swim series started in 2008 and boasts five popular events per year, with over 23,000 competing in the one-mile series in 2010. Following the algae chaos in Lake Windermere which resulted in the Great North Swim being cancelled this summer, ‘plan B’ venues are set to arranged for next season.

Caine – who finished fourteenth in the 2004 Great North Run (with 65:30), an event he describes as the ‘jewel in the company’s crown’ – gets a great deal of satisfaction from looking after the elites today in areas untouched when he was competing:

“The athletes always come first and always get what they need,” he explains, “travel to take them everywhere, hotel accommodation, training opportunities, physiotherapy, massage, food and they are paid within 30-days of competing – we make a big effort whether it’s Gebrselassie or a regional-level athlete and pride ourselves on treating everyone the same.”

With athletes knocking down his door to get ‘the Nova treatment’ and with him currently working on a city-wide dance competition with Colin Jackson and a research project on child obesity with schools and his former lecturers in Loughborough, Caine is a very busy man but friend and training partner Pete Riley shares the work-load.

Working as Elite Athlete Coordinator, Riley is responsible for the running of the Great Run series and supports Caine in the CityGames events.

The 31-year-old former British marathon international worked at events in the US, in several running stores, for Hilly clothing and on a Nike marketing account before joining Nova in a job which he enjoys so much that his running has taken a back-seat:

“I love my job, I get a good sense of self-satisfaction when I get back to the hotel and take the tie off. The team behind the scenes in head office make the events what they are - we just put the fluffy bits on at the end,” Riley explains.

“Running’s a de-stressor from the work so I’ll always run no matter when or how busy we are and it’s nice (to run) with the athletes, too. I got sick in April just before the big event period for us so that set the ball rolling of me not racing last summer.”

As a member of Leigh Harriers, Stockport-based Riley has not raced since placing fifth in the national cross back in February but with a 63:18 half-marathon and 2:14.31 marathon to his name, there is doubt that his involvement in the other side of the sport may see him decide to compete again soon.

“All the events have unique quirks to them. Beforehand, I’ll liaise with everyone, making sure I know what’s going on with every aspect of the business. Brendan’s really interested with the front end of fields so the pressure’s on us to deliver a good field every time. Everything’s in the planning – I’ll have constant project meetings with the communications and operations people,” Riley reveals.

“So much happens on the day so we need athletes who know what the elites are going through to help out. I’ll be on call from when the first athlete gets up until the last goes to bed. Sometimes it’s chaotic like when Martin Lel pulled out the Great North Run this year - I spent five hours contacting embassies to urgently sort a new Visa for his replacement, Jaouad Gharib.”

Ninth in the 2006 Great North Run, Riley’s roster of other former or present athletes to call upon for help at events include recent Commonwealth 3,000m steeplechase fifth-placer Stuart Stokes, northern cross-country champion Steve Vernon and 2003 World 1500m semi-finalist Gareth Turnbull.

But without great organisation, the elites certainly would not be happy so step forward Mr John Mayock and Andy Graffin.

As Special Project Managers, the former middle-distance duo organise the two CityGames events, in addition to Mayock taking charge of the Great Yorkshire and Great Tesco School Runs.

Based at Nova’s Newcastle head office, Mayock – a two-time Commonwealth and five-time European indoor medallist – oversees the organisation of his four events and acts as a consultant to ‘improve the customer experience’ on the other dates on the Nova calendar.

In his post since 2006 following roles in sports development and with the Sports Council for Wales, 39-year-old Mayock expresses his pride of his duties:

“On event day, I’ll go through the same process that I did when I was an athlete, leaving no stone unturned and making sure every box is ticked. We should be totally focused, not worried on the day, the key is to react and solve issues in any situation by overseeing things,” the Barnsley-born British 2,000m and two-mile indoor record-holder reveals.

“The Tesco Great School Run has had over one million children involved – we’ll do six-week tours of schools with celebrities travelling around to inspire them for the race in June. The ambition is to create the World’s biggest school run programme - we had 5,000 in Manchester this summer – it’s a huge project with great support from the schools.”

Having retired from competition five years ago, Mayock still runs and cycles twice a week but he gets the biggest buzz from his CityGames work:

“Such a creative, innovative concept is a credit to all involved and a pleasure to work on,” he explains. “It’s free to the public and has opened athletics up to a new audience of fans. We’re looking at so many more areas to take it to the people – London and going international would be fantastic to expand on our success and excite more people with Great CityGames brand.

It’s an unusual concept, more of an entertaining show with the music and is choreographed to a minute-by-minute schedule which I put together - and with the BBC behind it, we could take it globally. It’s like getting to an Olympic final, it feels similar to being on the start-line, it’s the same fantastic feeling.”

Graffin meanwhile, joined the team 18-months ago from Reebok and more recently, a sports management company and is based in London where the 32-year-old shares his work across Nova’s portfolio of events:

“I’ll work closely with the operations team to deliver the event infrastructure and run the event on the day, but I’ll also work with marketing and communications to help craft our message for any specific event,” the 2003 British 5,000m champion reveals.

“This is important as ultimately we have to be consumer focused. I’ll also work with Andy and Pete and I’m also responsible for new business.”

Graffin hung up his spikes in 2004 after making the 1500m semi-finals of the 2000 Olympics and praises the team ethos which evidently makes Nova tick:

“The team attitude at Nova is one of our biggest assets – you couldn’t find a better group of people to work with,” he explains.

“The Great Run Series are among the best mass participation running events in the world. Our Great CityGames are innovative and have a chance to break new ground with this event - the feedback we get from the elite athletes is fantastic. And then our Great Swim series are something altogether different – again these are a real step forward in the world of swimming and mass participation events.”

Having placed third and seventh, respectively in the 2004 Bupa Great Dublin and Manchester runs, Graffin indeed – just like his trio of running colleagues - knows what excites an elite athlete.

“Some have referred to the CityGames as athletics’ version of Twenty20 cricket, highlighting the fact that it is fast-paced and exciting, yet retains the credibility of the traditional sport.”

For these four athletics-mad men, tradition sums up their involvement to a tee– as the well-known saying goes, ‘once a runner, always a runner’ and also in their case, creating a runner’s dream, too.

Abi’s back on track


After battling with her health for the past six years, Abi Oyepitan’s injury nightmare has finally ended after the 200m runner captured Commonwealth silver in Delhi last week in a long-awaited welcome return to the international stage, writes Nicola Bamford.

In her fastest time for four years, the 30-year-old Shaftesbury Barnet sprinter sped to a 23.26 clocking to finish behind Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands (22.89) in her first major championship final since finishing seventh in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Coached by Tony Lester at Brunel University, Oyepitan was only fifth in the UK championships with 23.99 back in June but following two months of consistent training recently, the former World University Games 100m champion is back to showing glimpses of her former self:

“I’m really happy - it’s been a long, hard slog,” Oyepitan explained.

“I pulled my hamstring (after winning the Loughborough International 100m in May) so the trials were too early for me and I knew the European’s (in Barcelona in July) wouldn’t happen. I wanted to get the gold (in India) and go under 23-seconds but I can’t complain.”

Indeed, Oyepitan has suffered more than her fair share of injury woes since clocking impressive 11.17 and 22.50 times for the 100m and 200m, respectively, in 2004.

Apart from placing sixth in the 2006 European championship 200m final, the past six years have been full of devastating and frustrating blows for the athlete who works part-time as a volunteer coordinator at a reading charity for children in London.

“My biggest problem was a stress fracture of my shin,” Oyepitan revealed. “It took a couple of years to be diagnosed and then another year for the surgeons to decide that I needed an operation.

Then I had the knee and Achilles problems (the latter which she had surgery for in 2008 and again in 2009). It was one main problem which spiralled into several others – an absolute nightmare and beyond frustration.”

Admitting she would have quit the sport if her 2010 season had not gone so well, Oyepitan continued:

“The Commonwealth’s are a good stepping stone to hopefully move onto the World’s next year – I needed that boost of confidence. I just need that fitness element that I lack from years of problems. I’m finding my feet and learning how to execute a race technically correct again.

I just want an injury-free winter. I try not to plan ahead anymore. I hope to go to the 2011 Worlds (in Daegu, South Korea) and the London 2012 Olympics but I don’t just want to make the relay team or make up the numbers.”

Bewildered Lemoncello battling on


Just five days before the World half-marathon championships in China last weekend, Britain’s top marathoner Andrew Lemoncello was told that he could not compete and the US-based Scot has still not been given an explanation for his rejection from the event, writes Nicola Bamford.

Eighth and top British man on his debut with 2:13.40 in the Virgin London marathon last spring, Lemoncello qualified for the event with a 63:11 clocking in Japan back in February and had hopes of improving on his 26th place position from the 2009 edition in Birmingham, where he registered his current 63:03 lifetime best.

But a day after his 28th birthday, the former Olympic and World-level steeplechaser was given an unwanted belated gift in the form of an unexpected and frustrating dismissal from the second-most important competition of his autumn campaign.

“I wasn't told anything or given any reason for my visa denial,” Lemoncello explained.

“I tried to call and email every day but no one got back to me. I've never had any problems travelling before - I was in China for the (2004) Olympics so I don't know what the problem was.”

Guided by Greg McMillan and based in Flagstaff, Arizona for the past three years, Lemoncello had been in good form of late, placing ninth - and top Brit - in the Bupa Great North Run last month in 64:38, but he had hoped for better following a 28:47 10km personal best on the roads in Atlanta back in July.

In Nanning, China, Kenya’s Wilson Kiprop took victory in 60:07 whilst Bristol’s Claire Hallissey, as Britain’s sole representative and another who is based in the States, finished a commendable 18th in 73:07 in hot and humid conditions.

Originally from Fife and having lived in America for the past six years, Lemoncello, a Florida State University graduate revealed:

“I've got all the paperwork back and everything is filled out correctly. I sent away my paperwork three weeks before the championships and it was supposed to be a five-day process max.

I kept getting asked for more and more paperwork and to send off my American passport, as well as my UK passport.”

The 2005 and 2007 UK 3,000m steeplechase champion, who was fourth behind Australia’s Craig Mottram and Britain’s European 10,000m silver-medallist Chris Thompson in the Bupa Great Yorkshire 10km last month, continued:

“Training is going really well. I'm five weeks into my marathon training and starting to feel the strength gains already.

I will still want to run the World half in the future as it’s a great competition, it’s just a shame that I couldn't this year. I still watched the event online as two of my training partners were running.”

Targeting December’s Fukuoka marathon in an attempt to break the 2:12 barrier, Lemoncello will now switch his attentions to the Bupa Great South Run in Portsmouth this Sunday, where he will hope to put the disappointing experience behind him with a positive display.