Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Tanking Thomas


After a bout of bad luck scuppered her global debut two years ago, gritty metric-miler Charlene Thomas is determined to make a mark this summer, with a view to gaining an Olympic medal next season, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 29-year-old Wakefield Harrier has undergone somewhat of a metamorphosis in the past two years, insisting the sour taste left from major championship embarrassment in 2009 coupled with an injury-riddled campaign last season to be the prominent inspiration for her current rise in form.

Guided by her husband Aaron, the fearless Yorkshire-woman has been a revelation this summer, taking impressive victories left, right and centre - the latest of which being the shock win at the European Team Championships in Stockholm last month, where, after the greatest performance of her career to date, Thomas’ boisterous celebrations certainly made for entertaining television viewing.

The time in Sweden – in her specialist event, the 1500m – of 4:06.85 proved to be her swiftest of the summer so far and currently ranks Thomas as fourth on the British rankings and now, after an unfortunate enforced short injury break, she is ready to continue where she left off:

“I have experienced every emotion going this season!” Thomas revealed.

“I was frustrated not to be able to get into some of the Grand Prix races in Europe early on in the season but I'm now accepting that as a blessing in disguise because of how late the World Championships are.

“I was pleased with my win at the Loughborough International and Watford BMC but frustrated with the conditions and level of competition that weren't conducive to
running a fast time.

“I have been really excited to compete against some of the best athletes in the world because I really am in the shape of my life this season and I proved that by winning the race in Stockholm and I now look forward to the rest of the season!”


Based in Leeds, Thomas was disappointed to miss out on the Diamond League events in Lausanne and Birmingham recently yet insists that her brief spell on the sidelines could be a blessing in disguise after all.

With her main target for the season – the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea – falling in late August, Thomas is content to have kept the early season competitions to a minimum as she looks ahead to not only making the GB squad for the event but also gaining redemption.

Losing her shoe in her first-round heat in the Berlin edition two years ago where she vanquished in tenth position, Thomas is understandably eager to fulfil her promising potential this time around:

“I will definitely be competing at the UK Championships and World Championship trials at the end of July (in Birmingham),” she explained, “Where I hope to guarantee my selection for Korea.”

Appearing capable of revising her 4:05.06 life-time best from 2009 this summer, Thomas is also keen to win back her UK title in Birmingham before exorcising her demons on the global stage:

“My 2009 season was great because I had such a huge breakthrough but then it took me a while to get over Berlin!” she revealed.

“I managed to run a fast race right at the end of the season but ruptured my plantar-fascia in doing so and then picked up another injury last summer. I was very depressed throughout this time but because of that experience, I am now more determined than ever!”


A former design and technology teacher before becoming a full-time athlete after gaining funding from the sport last winter, Thomas is conscious of the current domestic strength in depth, causing the fight for team selection in her event to be highly competitive:

“My event is really competitive, which is fantastic as we push each other on - the lads have got some catching up to do!” she revealed.

“I have a lot of respect for athletes like Lisa Dobriskey and Steph Twell - they too have suffered through injury but have never given up and still managed to perform well at major champs.”

With the London Olympics a little over a year away, the pressure is on to assert herself as a contender and Thomas is not content at just reaching the final:

“This year is an important year for me and I really hope to do well at the World Champs to give me the confidence that I can make the team and win a medal at next year’s Olympics,” she explained.

“I am really excited about 2012 and my first goal will be to make sure I am in the team!

“There could possibly be one or two athletes with the qualifying time who will be really disappointed not to make the team and I do not want to be one of those athletes!”

Monday, 11 July 2011

PB’s from Rowena and Stacey lead the way at Birmingham Grand Prix


Recently-crowned English junior 800m champion Rowena Cole stole the show in a high-quality OCWK invitation race at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix and Diamond League event on Sunday, storming to a lifetime best with a gutsy 2:03.61 display.

The 19-year-old Coventry Godiva Harrier improved on her 2:03.83 previous best from the 2009 season and sped to a performance which was over two-seconds quicker than her previous fastest of the year.

Racing fellow OCWK athletes Tara Bird and Alison Leonard in addition to two of Britain’s best seniors and a specially-invited overseas duo, Rowena joined 21-year-old Blackburn Harrier Alison near the front of the pack in the first quarter of the race before 23-year-old Tara (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) moved into the runner-up spot at the 200m mark.

Easing back into third place on the home straight approaching the bell, Tara was overtaken by the Norma Pugh-coached Rowena, who clocked a swift 63.93 400m split ahead of Alison’s withdrawal from the race at the mid-way point due to an ongoing foot injury.

At the 600m mark, Tara – coached by Ayo Falola – was strongly positioned in third just ahead of Rowena, who then subsequently moved up another gear in the final 100m to clinch an impressive victory as she finalised her preparations for the European Athletics Junior Championships (21-24 July) in the best possible form - heading to Tallinn, Finland in medal-winning shape.

“It went really well, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” a delighted Rowena explained.

“I felt really relaxed so I enjoyed it and I’m glad I had a kick at the end and just saw how I went.

“I’ve been feeling really good in training and I’m really pleased with the tactics worked out really well.

“It’s lovely to get a PB after being injured last year. I’m flying out next Monday (to Tallinn) and I just want to run well and see what happens in the final.”

Runner-up Tara, meanwhile, registered a season’s best of 2:03.83 to improve by almost a second and a half in her fastest runs of the year.

“A season’s best is good and I gave it a good try on the first lap and had a good go on the back straight but Rowena had an amazing race,” she revealed.

“It was a solid run, not good but I’m feeling ok so that’s good. I’m doing the 400m at the England champs next weekend.”

The duo beat Greece’s 27-year-old Eleni Filandra (a 2:00.88 runner at her best), who ran 2:03.93 for third and Corby AC’s Karen Harewood, 35, in fourth with 2:04.53.

In the women’s international 1500m, 21-year-old Gateshead Harrier Stacey Smith continued her impressive season with a scintillating 4:06.81 lifetime best in fifth place overall.

The Mick Woods-guided athlete took over three seconds off her outdoor best in pushing European 3,000m indoor champion Helen Clitheroe (4:06.49) to the line, a fortnight after retaining her England under23 title over the metric mile.

Starting the race at the rear of the field with fellow OCWK athlete Hannah England, Stacey hit the one lap to go mark still at the back until making a determined move with 300m remaining.

In fifth place, two positions ahead of Hannah, with 1,3000m passed, Stacey stormed the final straight to hold the same position and firmly beat a plethora of established senior international performers.

“It went really well and I enjoyed it and I think I’ve done quite well here today,” she explained.

“I’ve been working on my speed and I hope to get a medal at the European’s (under23 championships in Ostrava later this month) and do well in the World trials.”

Oxford City’s 24-year-old Hannah, meanwhile, crossed the finish-line in seventh place with a time of 4:07.79 – her fastest of the season so far by over two seconds after an injury-ravaged pre-season.

“I’m quite pleased with that after having Achilles problems earlier this season but it’s all good now.

“I’m feeling alright and it was good to get into a good race but I’d really like to get the qualifying standard for the World’s.”

Continuing her rapid rise to form in the senior ranks, Emma Jackson finished a fine third in the international 800m in 2:02.18.

The 23-year-old City of Stoke athlete – with a best of 2:00.24 from earlier this year – bided her time at the back of the top-class field until the bell, where she swiftly piled on the pressure by moving into second place in comfortable fashion.

With 200m remaining, Emma held her position well until launching into a last-gasp dip at the line to finish behind UK number-one Jenny Meadows (2:02.06).

The 2010 Commonwealth Games 4th placer explained afterwards:

“I felt really good today but it was a bit messy, though I’m really pleased still.

“Training’s been going really well but I just need the right race to go really fast – hopefully in Italy next week.”

Crawley’s Charlotte Best, 26, narrowly failed to reach the qualifying time for the World University Games with a solid 2:02.95 clocking in eighth place.

“It wasn’t what I wanted so it’s disappointing.

“Training’s been going really well so I’m still going to try to get the time,” she revealed.

Parker's Peak


After igniting her summer campaign with no less than three lifetime bests on the track, Barbara Parker is hoping for a breakthrough in the steeplechase this season, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 28-year-old from Norfolk – who is yet to compete in her specialist 3,000m steeplechase event this year – has enjoyed promising early-season form which has witnessed her leap to the top of the UK rankings for the mile and 5,000m, respectively.

Clocking times of 4:30.51 in Tennessee in early June and 15:27.03 in Spain a fortnight ago, Parker additionally revised her 800m best with 2:07.18 in Florida in May to kick-start her 2011 attack with aplomb.

With hopes of not only qualifying for the London Olympic Games, but potentially even sneaking a medal next summer, the City of Norwich AC athlete is well aware that performances this year are vital in order to state her case in the countdown to her second Olympic appearance.

“It has been my dream since I was ten years old to complete in the Olympics,” she revealed.

“I hope to use everything I learned from the Beijing Olympics (in 2004) to make London 2012 a successful competition.”

The 2010 UK 3,000m steeplechase champion further explained the reason behind her current rate of fitness:

“I spent April in Font Romeu with the UK Athletics camp and it was my first time at altitude so I was excited to see how I would respond.

“Training there was great as I love running trails so the miles and miles of trails to explore was the perfect environment for me. Since then, training has been going fantastic so I am excited to get into a competitive (steeplechase) race soon.”


Guided by her husband and coach Sean Burris at their base in Atlanta, USA, Parker is keen to build on a mixed 2010 which saw her exit the heats of two major championships.

Failing to the reach the steeplechase finals of the World indoor championships in Doha and the European outdoor championships in Barcelona, Parker’s campaign was only salvaged by her third national title and 9:35.17 lifetime best in the Diamond League in Eugene last July, which propelled her to third on the British all-time list.

“2010 was very solid - it was the first time I have been consistent in the 9:30's and that is the key,” the Loughborough and Florida State University graduate revealed.

“Running fast is great, but you need to be consistent if you want to be a contender. I really focused on the steeple last year in the hope to get back on lottery funding and set myself up for 2012.”

The former British record-holder with 9:37.08 from the 2008 season, Parker is targeting the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea late next month where she hopes to make her global outdoor debut.

“My coach and I have decided to open up in the steeple later in the season this year, as we are really focusing on World’s, which is a long way away from now,” she explained.

“I hope to race in some competitive flat races in Europe before heading back to Font Romeu for a three-week training period.”

Having placed only twelfth in her heat in the Beijing Olympics three years ago, Parker now appears a different athlete but she still refuses to take anything for granted:

“I feel UK female distance running as a whole is gaining more depth,” she revealed.

“Once a standard is established, people tend to base their goals off that. Each year we have one more getting under the ‘A’ qualifying standard and it is no longer an easy ride to the major championships.

“I would love to medal in London - I believe it is all on the day.

“I have watched so many championships now and anything can happen - you have to be able to kick and that is something I am confident in.”