2020 Track and Field Review

2020 saw the vast majority of its younger T & F members in particular, without the opportunity to be coached as restrictions in regulations and personal decisions meant the number of available coaches dropped significantly.   Sadly, the club also said a final goodbye to Pole Vault Coach Glyn Wyman who lost his battle to Leukaemia early in the Pandemic.

However, despite the depressing national picture Harriers have still managed to achieve some superb performances – proving that – where there is a will, there is a way.

Mid-February, Sheffield and making his indoor BUCS debut, Charlie Dobson broke a ten-year championship record in the 60m to take Gold – an event he freely admitted wasn’t his favourite – having only raced this distance four times in the previous 6 years. From a disadvantaged lane 2 Rebecca Jeggo took a good fourth in the final of the 200m. However, just a week later she made the trip to Glasgow for the Indoor British Champs and came away with a bronze medal in the 200m having also reached the final of the 60m.  On the same weekend it was also the EA Age Group Championships which saw a handful of Harriers compete, including U17 Jakub Walecki who came away with a new PB and 4th place finish.

March saw Heather Rose and Paul Mingay compete for Essex at the master’s Indoor Champs at Lee Valley; Paul coming home with a first-place finish in 3,000m and Heather third in both the 60m and 200m. Both performances pushing the athletes to the top of their age group rankings.

And then the track closed – for the first time. leaving athletes with three months to find public parks, car parks and gardens to train in. A few lucky ones were able to turn garages or conservatories into gyms.

Between just 6th and 23rd July – a very small window of opportunity arose, when Sodexo announced that following Government guidelines, groups of just six were allowed back into the facilities until the planned start of a major track refurb. Very fortunately, just our heavy throwers were able to maintain their training from the cage and field throughout the refurb.  A series of Pilot Throws competitions under strict licensing rules, proved very successful for this dedicated squad. In relaxed and familiar surroundings all athletes enjoyed a phenomenal season, progressing their technical skills and with it came a roll of PB’s; culminating in seven of them reaching a top 20 UK ranking (how many other squads can boast that achievement?).  The competitions also enabled a few individuals to progress their experience as officials – which will hopefully also bear fruit over the coming years.

With the English Schools Championships going virtual, this offered an opportunity to those who had access to facilities to set an outdoor standard with Olivia Simon taking fourth in the IG Hammer and Wyatt Larkins fourth in JB Hammer.  Simon finished her first year as an U17 ranked 16th; whilst Wyatt now an U15 finished 9th.   

Josephine Larkins coached by mum Denise closed her year fourth in the U20 rankings and 17th overall whilst Philippa Davenall having started the year early at a winter throws meet at Loughborough where she recorded her third ever best throw, ended her year ranked 2nd as an U23, and a superb 7th over-all in the senior standings.   Oliver Graham achieved a world ranking for his magnificent efforts this year , finishing 2nd as an U20 and 12th in the senior rankings with his best throw gaining him 21st placing in the world for his age.  Not content with developing his athletes to such success, Rob also inspired and achieved as an athlete – he ended his year number 1 in his masters age category having also claimed the top spot in a virtual world challenge. 2021 will be a very exciting year for this squad.

A cricket pitch, a University field and the hills at Abbey Fields became the temporary home for a small number of Sprinters and Ricks throws groups, however they swiftly found running the boundary line of the pitch was a whole new experience!  But at least the ground was reasonably flat and did allow for social distancing!

9thn the middle of all this, a few pivotal organisations started offering some pilot events:  Rebecca Jeggo always up for a challenge, jumped at the opportunities offered, competing at Lee Valley in the LICC and Chelmsford Sprint evening meets – in horrific weather – yes, the summer wasn’t always hot and sunny! Despite no face-to-face coaching, no track, and certainly no block sessions she still managed to produce some fine performances against some top ranked athletes in both 100m and 200m.  The pinnacle of her year came at the outdoor British Champs where she competed behind closed doors and live on TV at the newly refurbed Sports City in Manchester.  Gaining a 7th place finish and a PB in the final of the 100m on a chilly Friday evening in early September. She then bagging a fantastic Bronze medal in the 200m the following afternoon.   Her year saw her claim a trio of U23 rankings in 60m (19th) 100m (4th) and 200m (8th) as well as two top twenty senior rankings; 12th in the 100m and 19th in the 200m.

At his very first training session back at the Garrison, Jakub Walecki – who had literally only had his garden to train in and you tube for coaching guidance for the majority of lockdown verified his position as one of the country’s up and coming young talents when he won the English Schools IB High Jump.   He then took the brave decision to travel to Poland and compete the national Age Group Champs – a decision which earnt him his first national Gold and a new PB (Club record) to boot.

Charlie Dobson chose the Loughborough Invitational in August to open his outdoor season and used the opportunity to pluck up the courage to run a 400m – and was rewarded with an astonishing win which saw him climb to the top of the UK and European rankings (finishing 3rd in the Senior rankings and 1st in the UK U23 and 3rd in Europe).  Gusty conditions for his 100m prevented official rankings, despite clocking some superb wins showing his depth of talent across the sprints.  Maybe running up a footpath through a field of cows is the new way forwards for sprints training!

Young Lyla Belshaw wasn’t content with smashing one club record: within the space of a month, she had taken a nineteen-year-old record for U13 in 800m, then went on to break it again just weeks later. Her 800m time left her ranked 14th in the UK. She also gained the 1500m record with an 8th place finish respectively in her the UK in her age bracket. At the very end of the long stop start season she then added a UK no.1 ranking for one mile. Her coach believes her times would have been even quicker but for the inclement conditions laid down some fabulous markers for next year.

Meets at Norwich and Dagenham provided opportunities for more of Dave Smith’s group to sharpen up their track times, with little opportunity of any formal cross-country events scheduled for the winter months ahead.

At the time of writing British Athletics announced the cancellation of the 2021 indoor championships. Let’s hope there is some form of outdoor competition for our athletes to keep their flame alive.