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.