Alex Haydock-Wilson and the NAL’s top throwers particularly stood out in the home international match
Athletes from the National Athletics League took time out from competing against each other to contest as one team at the high-calibre Manchester International yesterday.
The outfit enjoyed nine wins as they finished pushed hosts England for the honours of being top senior team at a wet and cool Manchester Regional Arena.
Although the only official result showed NAL as fourth out of the six teams, the scores took into account points from the junior match, in which the league did not feature. With only scores in the senior match considered, NAL would have unofficially placed second on 174 points behind England (201).
Alex Haydock-Wilson was involved in two of those as he brilliantly anchored the 4x400m quartet with a 44.4 split after sprinting to the 200m victory.
The Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow athlete took over around 10 metres by England’s Efe Okoro, who was clearly in top form as the winner of the individual 400m from earlier in the evening in a PB of 45.94. However, the 2019 European Indoors representative paced his run to perfection, overtaking first GB Juniors’ recent European U20 fourth-placer Charlie Carvell and then, in the dying strides, Okoro to win by three hundredths in 3:06.80.
The split was the fastest by a British athlete this year and suggests his PB of 45.57 set in an open meeting recently is due for another revision in the right race. It was Lee Thompson, Elliott Powell and Ben Higgins who had taken the first threes leg to put him in position to take maximum points.
Haydock-Wilson had already suggested that was on the cards as he was just 0.15 seconds outside his PB over 200m when crossing the line in 21.04, two tenths clear of the rest of the field.
As expected, the NAL team was strong in the throws. Greek javelin international Iona Malli set off the squad superbly in the first event of the day. Her 55.33m to beat England’s Freya Jones, among others, added more than two metres to her PB. That was the best by a UK-resident athlete this year.
In the shot circle, UK No.2 Youcef Zatat of Woodford Green with Essex Ladies scored top points for NAL as his 17.66m shot left him behind only the guesting Olympian Scott Lincoln (20.71m).
On the women’s side, Amelia Strickler similarly found a Tokyo 2020 competitor ahead of her in the shape of Sophie McKinna, who was a guest. The Thames Valley Harrier’ mark of 17.45m comfortably put her ahead of the rest of the field.
Shaftesbury Barnet duo Nick Percy and Shadine Duquemin completed the discus double for the NAL. Percy came out on top of the expected close tussle with Zane Duquemin, sending the discus out to a winning 59.75m in the second round. Meanwhile, the women’s event was more clear-cut with the triumphant Barnet athlete going out to 54.44m.
The NAL also had two victories in hurdles events. Nicole Kendall, who has set two league records this season, continued her fine form with a 56.84 clocking, beating regular close rival Hayley McLean.
Jenna Blundell is another athlete in fine shape, as evidenced by her recent PB of 13.20. Here the Bristol & West athlete was close to that with 13.25 in narrowly beating Olympic trials silver medallist Alicia Barrett.
While the efforts of the NAL’s top performers are rightly recognised, the team spirit was perfectly shown in the opening track event, the 5000m walk, where women’s team manager Manuel da Silva decided to celebrate his 40th birthday by filling in for the points. The endurance runner from TVH clocked 33:52.53, having produced a technically faultless walk.
Team leader Mike Harris was enthused by the showing of the squad in the NAL’s first representative match following the creation of the league amid the abolition of the British Athletics League and UK Women’s League in 2019.
He said: “It was a fine performance by the inaugural NAL team in a competition that grows in stature and featured many of Britain`s top athletes. We had many athletes competing on the big stage for the first time but they responded as a team to exceed our expectations. The team spirit was nowhere more evident than by our men`s 4x400m, who went into the race as the underdogs but totally committed legs were rounded off by a last-gasp lunge for the line to take victory.”