Chris McAlister. Photo: Rod Harrington

National Athletics League, Premier London South, Eton 28/8/21 by Pat Calnan

Thames Valley Harriers completed a clean sweep of victories in the division with another fine team performance that also guaranteed they would be overall League champions. Strong in all events, they have been the dominant squad all season, though there have been plenty of other good performances from members of other clubs, most notably at Eton from Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow’s Jessie Knight who broke the League record in the 400 hurdles.

Knight’s time of 54.81 took over a second off the record set by TVH’s Nicole Kendall just three weeks earlier. Again conditions were not ideal with a strong breeze causing difficulties for athletes all afternoon, so she was pleased with her performance. “My body feels like it’s the end of the season and they were not the best conditions, so I’ve got to be pleased with a time which would have been a PB last season,” She has improved by over a second this year, and has one race remaining this summer in Poland.
Previous record holder and runner-up Kendall was philosophical in defeat, after all she was beaten by an Olympian, and having never run under 57 seconds at the start of the year, she has now done so eleven times. A win would have meant she had won all four League A string races this year but she made up for it by winning the A string 200 metres later in the afternoon.

The one constant in the winners of the A string 400 hurdles, both men and women this year, has been Marina Armstrong. There have been five different victors but each has come from her coaching stable. First over the line in the mens race was Birchfield’s Efe Okoro who, running as a non scorer, set a seasons best of 49.79. Match winner though was Tyri Donovan (WESH), who won by over a second in 50.79, less than two tenths off his best of 50.64, which sees him ranked fifth fastest in the country this year. “I’m so grateful to be in the training group I am in” said the 22 year old who was pleased with his performance, though his enjoyment was tempered by the five goals his beloved Arsenal had conceded at Man City.

One who would crave this type of training environment would be Amelia Strickler (TVH) who has to conduct most of her training without coach Zane Duquemin in attendance. She won the shot with a put of 17.58 and had a no throw just below the 18 metre mark which she exceeded at the second fixture with 18.11. That performance was achieved after three sessions with Duquemin, who is based in Doha, and her aim this winter will be to try to see more of him. She was happy with her performance in her last competition of the season and in helping “win the cup for the Valley”. It has been a good, but emotional season, as she was not selected for the Olympics despite a World Athletics rankings invitation.

Her nearest challenger at Eton was clubmate Pippa Wingate who won the B string with a new best of 13.01. She had started the afternoon with a new PB in her main event, the hammer, with a distance of 64.06. “I didn’t think it was that far and almost stepped out the circle,” she said with relief. She will have two more attempts this season at achieving a 65 metre plus throw, which would be an England Commonwealth Games qualifying standard.

Her club actually won all four strings of the hammer with Jack Paget taking the mens contest with 62.73 nearly ten metres clear of his nearest challenger, his third victory of the season. It also ended up three wins for the year in the javelin for team mate Gavin Johnson Assoon. Unbeaten prior to this match, the 38 year old master suffered a surprise defeat to Windsor’s under 20 thrower Michael Allison who went over 60 metres for the first time with a distance of 61.65. His team mate Hannah Johnson won the women’s event.

There was a new best also in the shot from Southampton AC’s Joshua Douglas as he won with a distance of 14.55, while in the discus there were wins again from Dele Aladese (Blackheath & Bromley) and Amy Holder (WSEH).

The jumps saw wins from athletes of both youth and experience. Angela Barrett (TVH), an over 35, took both the womens long and triple jump contests with distances of 5.65 and 12.53 and she remains ranked second and first respectively in these events in the W35 age group. Over in the men’s pole vault, new England Under 20 International Barnaby Corry (B&B) won with a height of 4.10 with Sophie Dowson, also B&B, first in the women’s contest. NAL debutant Toby Dronfield (B&B), another under 20, took the triple jump; while in the high jump Great Britain junior number two Lionel Owona (WSEH) had to settle for 2.05 on this occasion, but is committed to going higher than the 2.14 best he set earlier this summer. To do so he will be taking a little better care of himself. “I have been competing most weekends recently and not been going to the physio.” He is now preparing to head to Nottingham University to study International Law, a high flier in every sense.

Winner of the women’s high jump was Pippa Rogan (TVH) with a seasons best of 1.83. She is the only athlete to have won all four A strings of an event in the division this summer. Long jumper Ben Fisher (WSEH) has a 100% record in the matches in which he has competed, but he missed the third fixture. “The League have done well in getting these matches on,” said the 23-year-old, though he has found the smaller fields have given him less time to recover between jumps. Today he reached out to 7.14 but he is still looking to go over 7.50 by the end of the season.

Daniel Offiah battles with Alex Haydock-Wilson. Photo: Rod Harrington.

Busiest athlete of the season must have been Jess Tappin of TVH, who has won the B string 400 hurdles at all four matches. She won the A string 400 as well at Eton with a time of 55.07 and has been in action in relays and other events as well. The men’s winner was Chris McAlister (TVH) who took an afternoon off from the hurdles to run a flat 400, recording a new best of 46.30.

Elsewhere in the sprints, Daniel Offiah (Soton) notched his third 100 metre win of the season, timing 10.64 ahead of Alex Haydock Wilson (WSEH) with positions reversed in the 200, while under 20 Sileena Farrell (TVH) won the women’s 100 as well as the B 200.

Samuel Clarke (TVH) again won the men’s 110 hurdles and in the 100 hurdles Great Britain under 23 International Annie Davies (B&B) timed 13.55 despite running into a -1.2 metres per second. “It’s nice to run a decent time in those conditions,” she commented. Her club mates also enjoyed a good afternoon in the middle distance with under 20 Sam Reardon winning the men’s 800 and Angus Harrington returning from injury to not only run a new best of 3.58.91 in the 1500, but remarkably throw 51.38 in the javelin.

Annie Davies. Photo: Rod Harrington.

Women’s team manager Niamh Bridson Hubbard won both the 800 and 1500 as well as taking second in the A 3000 and anchoring the 4×400 quartet. Morgan Squibb “enjoyed” a gun to tape victory in the 2000 chase. “Horrible” was how she described having to front run in blustery conditions, but her 7.01.14 was a new best for the 18-year-old. It’s the second fastest clocking by an under 20 this year, and, she is returning from having a tumour removed from her shin and being told she might not be able to run again, so it was one of the highlights of the day.

Michael Cameron (TVH) had a similarly controlled race in the men’s 3000 chase, coming home in 9.10.51, his second best ever time. Likewise, Dani Chattenton in the women’s 3000 metres flat. She took over seven seconds off her best to win in 9.18.64, a new TVH club record. Luke Dinsmore (WSEH) was just outside his best in winning the 5000.

Morgan Squibb. Photo: Rod Harrington.

It’s always good to finish the afternoon with a rousing relay and on this occasion there were four crackers. B&B prevailed in the 4x100s but were run down by Windsor’s Jessie Knight and Alex Haydock-Wilson in the 4x400s, the mens race being one of the tightest finishes of the day with just half a second covering three teams.

All that remained was for TVH to pick up the winners trophy, which they totally deserved. Their squad has not only got some great quality but there is depth there as well. For example, at this match they won 13 A strings but dominated the B contests with 24 out of 34 victories. The other clubs have had their moments, but not as many. Southampton were particularly hampered at this match as the Hampshire County Championships were held this weekend, and assistant team manager Derek Warn can’t do everything, particularly when he is carrying an injury.

This year has been good despite the challenges of the pandemic but all clubs are looking forward to next season when it is hoped that matches will be conducted in the intended format.

Thames Valley’s title win in the NAL’s inaugural season is also the eighth time they have won the UK domestic athletics league since the old British Athletics League started in 1969. They were BAL champions in 1970, 1971 and 1994, and more recently won the UK Women’s Athletics League in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019, from which their winning run has in some sense continued.