Asher-Smith keeps her focus to regain 100m crown as storms cause late chaos at UK Athletics Championships, while Molly Caudery creates pole vault history on a memorable opening day
With only the men’s and women’s 100m finals left to run, the opening day of the UK Athletics Championships schedule had been hit by the odd heavy shower but nothing out of the ordinary for a British summer. Then the storm rolled in.
Morgan Lake had not long won the eighth outdoor UK high jump title of her career when the thunder began to rumble and the lightning flashed. And the rain. So much rain.
The men’s 100m went ahead as scheduled but, with a range of electric equipment suffering amid the deluge at the Manchester Regional Arena, the women’s showpiece sprint would have to wait.
When the elements had calmed and the track had begun to dry, it was around half an hour later than planned when the athletes settled into their blocks. It had been a build-up filled with just about every curve ball imaginable.
As Dina Asher-Smith pointed out, the occasion represented an opportunity to stay focused amid the chaos and, when the starting gun was fired, despite a slow start she took a clear command of proceedings.
The British record-holder regained the 100m title (her fifth) in a time of 11.06 (0.2), followed by Imani Lansiquot (11.26) and Bianca Williams (11.29). With the World Championships qualifying standard already achieved, the top two booked their tickets to Budapest in August and will now turn their attention towards doing likewise in the 200m on Sunday (July 9).
First, though, came the task of digesting a chaotic evening and race that also saw Scotland’s Alisha Rees suffering what looked like a very serious injury following a spectacular fall.
“It is all about performing, irrespective of everything, and being ready for anything,” said Asher-Smith. “Today the rain came down so I thought: ‘I need to focus and deal with whatever it throws at you’. Today we had the not knowing if the race would go ahead, the waiting, going out, coming in, lightning… I had to really make sure I stayed focussed which is good practice and there are lessons to be taken about how you deal with it.
“It is great to be national champion again and today’s priority was to book my place on the plane so I am glad that’s done.”
The other women’s sprint final of the day, the 100m hurdles, was a far more straightforward affair which took place in kinder conditions. British record-holder Cindy Sember was a convincing winner as she clocked 12.98 (1.6) to also seal her Budapest place, the Commonwealth bronze medallist coming home ahead of PBs from Isabel Wakefield (13.05) and Marli Jessop (13.30). There was also a confidence-boosting season’s best of 13.34 for 2019 world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson in fourth.
There was a clear win in the women’s 3000m steeplechase final, too. In the absence of UK leader Aimee Pratt, it was Poppy Tank who seized the chance to take top honours, coming home in a PB of 10:02.77, with silver medallist Alice Murray Gourlay also running her best ever time of 10:05:06. Stevie Lawrence was third in 10:06.99.
Caudery hits the heights
Arguably the performance of the day unfolded in the women’s pole vault, though, as Molly Caudery created history – and defeated serial UK champion Holly Bradshaw – to take gold.
The Commonwealth silver medallist arrived for her second competition of the year with a personal best of 4.60m to her name, but set about dismantling that completely.
A second-time clearance of 4.61m not only matched training partner Bradshaw but moved Caudery to joint second on the UK all-time list and gave her the UKA qualifying mark for the World Championships.
However, her next vault saw her go soaring over 4.71m into second on the all-time rankings all by herself and secure the World Athletics “A” standard. Try as she might, Bradshaw could not clear that height and had to settle for second place but was delighted to be in competition mode again as she continues her comeback from Achilles problems which have seriously hampered her start to the year. It was the first time Bradshaw has been defeated at these championships since 2010.
Caudery has had her own fitness issues to overcome, too. Two foot surgeries since last summer have had to be dealt with but the 23-year-old was determined to enjoy her big moment.
“It is unbelievable; it really hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “After 11 months of rehab following two foot surgeries to get two PBs here and the world standard is really unexpected and so exciting.
“It was even raining when I jumped that 4.71m so I feel there is more to come. All the hard work is paying off. I am so excited for the Worlds now and I really hope to be able to get to the final there.”
Doing the same in the high jump will be the minimum target for Lake, too. She made sedate early progress, entering the competition in Manchester at 1.81m before also making a first-time clearance of 1.85m, but took three attempts to get over 1.90m – a height that was enough to finish in top spot.
The bar then went up to what would have been a stadium record-breaking height of 1.95m, but with the rain starting to fall and conditions deteriorating, it was not to be. A year which has already featured a British record of 1.99m and some encouraging form outdoors, will now hone in on Hungary.
“I am happy with 1.90m, but then the rain came down so heavily I couldn’t really focus and see in front of me,” said Lake. “It is good to secure my ticket to Budapest. I have been trying something new in training so once I had the win it was a good time to try although the rain, in retrospect, did really affect me.”
Silver medallist Emily Madden Forman had cleared every height at the first time of asking from 1.68m through to 1.81m but came unstuck at 1.85m, a bar which she failed to clear. Gabrielle Garber also went over 1.81m but took bronze on countback.
As expected, the women’s hammer competition came down to a battle between the top two on the UK rankings – Anna Purchase and Charlotte Payne, who had thrown recent PBs of 73.02m and 72.51m respectively.
It was defending champion Payne who made the first move as she opened with a distance of 69.03m that put her into first place and a lead she would not relinquish, cementing her position at the top with a second-round 69.14m. Purchase did close in with a fifth-round 68.53m but ultimately couldn’t bridge the gap. Kayleigh Cresswell was third with 66.35m.
Payne will now head out to Finland to compete at the European U23 Championships this week but the 21-year-old also has her sights set on qualification for the World Championships. She has the UKA standard and will now go in pursuit of the World Athletics standard of 73.60m to make absolutely sure of her place.
The first athlete of the weekend to win gold was Bekah Walton, who captured her third British title in the women’s javelin.
Buoyed by a PB throw of 59.76m at the recent European Team Championships, the defending champion secured victory in Manchester with her second-round effort of 58.19m, the second-longest of her career to date.
Newham & Essex Beagles’ Freya Jones took silver with a second-round throw of 53.65m while Lauren Farley of Blackheath and Bromley secured bronze with a penultimate effort of 53.18m.
The triple jump competition was decided by Georgina Forde-Wells’ 13.56m in the fifth round, which overtook the third-round 13.40m from eventual silver medallist Temi Ojora.
Adelaide Omitowoju saved her best until last, taking bronze with a 13.10m final jump.
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