OKOYE AND RELAY TOP EIGHT ON ACTION-PACKED OPENING NIGHT AT EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

 

The Great Britain and Northern Ireland team got off to a strong start on a busy first evening at the European Athletics Championships in Rome. The mixed 4x400m relay team defied their experience to finish fifth, with Lawrence Okoye (coach: Zane Duquemin, club: Croydon) placing eighth in the men’s discus final.

The quartet of Charlie Carvell (Stewart Marshall, Telford AC), Hannah Kelly (Les Hall, Bolton), Lewis Davey (Trevor Painter, Newham & Essex Beagles), and Emily Newnham (Nick Dakin, Shaftesbury Barnet) – leg one and anchor both making their major senior British debut – finished fifth in 3:13.97 minutes.

Okoye, meanwhile, a European bronze medallist two years ago, was a picture of consistency in the men’s discus final, held just a matter of hours after qualification, as he placed eighth with a best of 63.48m thrown with his last attempt.

The first day of the heptathlon concluded with the shot put and the 200m, with Johnson-Thompson unfortunately withdrawing after the former after developing a small niggle to her right leg. Jade O’Dowda (John Lane, Newham & Essex Beagles) remained, however, and is in ninth place with 3655 points after two solid efforts in the evening session.

The women’s 5000m final ended the opening night with Izzy Fry (Sonia McGeorge, Newbury) the first home in ninth in a two-second personal best while Hannah Nuttall (Helen Clitheroe, Charnwood) was tenth and Amy-Eloise Neale (Rob Denmark, Wakefield) was 19th.

Elsewhere, Scott Lincoln (Paul Wilson, City of York) and Morgan Lake (Robbie Grabarz, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) advanced to the men’s shot put and women’s high jump finals, respectively, and CJ Ujah (Steve Fudge, Enfield & Haringey) progressed to the men’s 100m semi-finals.

In the first track final involving the British team in Rome, two-time European junior champion Carvell had the honor of leading the mixed 4x400m relay team. He ran a very strong opening leg to hand over to Kelly in fourth place.

She carried on Carvell’s strong opener and was fifth at the cut-in. She then made up ground on the home straight before handing over to Davey. He settled into sixth after the exchange and again tried to make up places before the final handover.

Newnham was given the responsibility of guiding the British mixed 4x400m team home. Having once been sixth, she dug deep to ensure the British team finished in fifth place in a time of 3:13.97.

Carvell said: “It’s really positive [the depth of 400m athletes]; it stands us in good stead for the year. I know Paris is where we want to be, and that’s where we’re punching for gold. It’s not even silver and bronze there; it’s gold there, and this would be a good stepping stone. We’re young; it’s a learning curve. We’re obviously disappointed, but we’ll move on and get better.”

Newnham said: “There’s a lot of expectation to hold up to. We’ve got an amazing relay team, so I think it’s exciting that we’ve got good prospects.”

With qualification and the final of the men’s discus scheduled for the same day in Rome, Okoye put up a solid fight as he returned to the European stage, having won bronze in Munich two years ago.

Okoye was consistent throughout and one of only two in the final to register a mark with all six of their attempts. He opened with 62.56m and 62.67m, enough to secure three further throws courtesy of being in the top eight.

He improved further in the fourth round to 63.38m and added ten centimeters with his last effort to finish with a best of 63.48m. Not only were Okoye’s distances consistent, but his placing was, too, as he finished eighth.

Okoye said, “It was a bit of a shame; I just didn’t have it. I don’t think I quite returned with the same zip this evening after the qualification this morning. It’s a one-off thing. The qualification and final won’t be on the same day as the Olympics, so I am going to keep training and progressing to that.

“I know where I am going, and the big throws will come when it matters the most. I think I’ll take from this Championship to just keep battling. I tried my best with what I had and I know I’ll be ready to go in Paris.”

In the women’s 5000m final, Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal set the pace through the first 1km, with Nuttall, the leading Brit, in sixth and Neale and Fry settling in behind. The front of the field was in single file as the halfway mark approached, with the British trio in much the same order behind.

With 1km to go, the front eight had separated themselves, with Fry now leading the second group. Fry would bide her time and battle valiantly to finish as the first Brit home in ninth in a huge personal best of 15:05.66. Nuttall was just one place behind, in tenth place in 15:10.65, while Neale placed 19th in 15:33.45.

Fry said, “I’m really happy with it, actually. I had no idea what to expect as it was my first senior champ. I went in with the mindset of ‘really enjoy it, really embrace it, no pressure’.

“Once the pace got rolling, I really tried to focus, not letting gaps open up, staying tight to the inside, and just focusing on the person in front of me. If I thought they were slowing, I tried to make that move around quite decisively. I feel like I did that. I came away with a PB, a top ten, so I can’t really complain.”

Two-time world champion Johnson-Thompson and O’Dowda placed fourth and sixth, respectively, ahead of the second evening of competition in the heptathlon. However, they had differing fortunes in the third event, the shot put.

Both drawn in group B, Johnson-Thompson threw a best of 12.44m on her second attempt to drop to ninth. Unfortunately, she has withdrawn from the competition shortly after.

Aston Moore, Johnson-Thompson’s coach, provided an update, saying, “Kat has developed a small niggle in her right leg, and in light of the proximity of the Olympic Games, we have chosen to bank what we have learned from this first day of competition and withdraw from the heptathlon.

“We don’t want to risk losing any time from training, which could result if she were to continue competing with it for another day. We wish all the other competitors well for the rest of the competition.”

O’Dowda meanwhile recorded a best of 12.82m with her last effort to rank fifth overall in the shot put and move up to the same spot overall after three events. Now the only Brit left, O’Dowda ran 24.82 in the 200m to end day one in ninth with 3655 points.

O’Dowda said: “I would have liked to have gone a bit quicker there in the 200m, but it was OK. I wasn’t so happy with the shot – quite disappointed with that. It was a mixed day of emotions.

“Looking back, the hurdles weren’t a great time, but they weren’t an awful time for me. I was really happy with my high jump, but not so happy with those last attempts. The 200m was my first of the year. Obviously, I would have wanted to go quicker, but overall, it was a pretty good day one.”

Elsewhere, Lincoln reached his second successive European final in the men’s shot put with supreme ease. Drawn in qualification group B, he needed just two throws to earn a place in the final, having reached the Munich medal showdown in 2022.

Lincoln threw 20.31m on his second attempt to rank sixth overall. He said, “The job was just to go out and qualify for the final. This time, two years ago, it was my first Europeans. I threw just short of my season best in the qualification round, got overexcited, and blew myself out for the final.

“So, this time around, I feel very relaxed. I didn’t quite hit one, but it’s two comfortable throws, and I have done what I needed to do. The only guy I haven’t beaten this year in the field is [Italian] Leo Fabbri, the big favorite. So, there is no reason why I can’t go out there and show them what I can do.”

Lake then made it a clean sweep of British athletes qualifying on the night as she reached another European Championship final in the women’s high jump. Twice seventh in 2018 and 2022, Lake will get another shot at a medal after clearing 1.89m in qualifying.

She cleared 1.85m at the second time of asking before succeeding at 1.89m the first time up. The next height of 1.92m proved too much with her first two attempts before her qualification group was halted, with seven having done enough to progress to the final.

Lake said, “The main goal was to make the final—to get used to the track and my jumping. We have been working on quite a few things in training, so I wanted to get out there and execute them.

“At this stage of the season, it is all about getting confident jumping higher heights again, taking each bar as it comes, and just being super confident. That’s all I’ve really got as an aim this champs—putting myself in the best position, and whatever happens, happens.”

In the heats of the men’s 100m, Ujah—a late call-up to the GB & NI team for these Championships—made light work of advancing to the semi-finals. He produced a solid run to win the third heat in 10.23 seconds.

He said: “I’ve gone to many championships and been drawn in many different lanes, and I think it was about getting over the nerves and getting the first one out. I probably sat in the blocks too long and then navigated my way through.

“I’ve just got to fix that – I won’t get a chance like that in the semi-final, I’ll be ready for that. Because I haven’t been at this level for a long time regarding championships, it was good to get out there again.”

Results

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