Welsh Schools enjoyed their best Combined Events International performance since 2013 as they picked up 2 team medals following the disappointments of drawing a blank in both 2014 and 2015.
The event saw a staggering 41 new personal bests set by Welsh athletes as well as 7 top 10 finishes overall and 11 athletes breaking the 3000 points barrier, many for the first time in their athletic careers. The impressive Athlone International Arena proved a fitting backdrop for a string of fine performances, well supported by the large contingent of supporters who had made the journey across.
The team of 16 plus 7 support staff had flown from Bristol to Dublin on Friday followed by a 90 minute coach transfer to the Hodson Bay Hotel on the banks of Lough Ree. After settling in and the evening meal there followed the customary team meeting led by Steve Jones and Nigel Lewis as well as passionate and heartfelt contributions from team captains Lauren Evans (Cardiff High) and Michael Thompson (Gower College) who was truly inspirational.
Battle commenced at midday on the Saturday with the Under 18 boys first on the track for their 60m Hurdles. Three out of the four recorded new personal bests on a surface which has quickly become renowned for fast times with Michael only 0.01 seconds outside his best. Thomas Britt (Blackwood) and Harri Wheeler-Sexton (Gartholwg) both went on to record new personal bests at Shot and 200m, with Michael taking his turn to pick up a PB at Long Jump with 6.45m. He then followed that with a 7 second best at 800m as did Harri as he picked up his fourth personal best of the day. However it was Kellen Jones (Gwent College) who led the team scoring with 3376 points after a string of solid performances punctuated by his 8.33 second PB in the hurdles as he claimed 5th place overall only marginally ahead of Harri with 3362. The combined score of 9946 just failed to capture a podium finish as they lost out in a very tight team competition.
Also on the PB trail was Ben Hillman (St. Teilo’s) in the Under 16 category. Ben got new personal bests in all 5 events in scoring 2884 points, good enough for 9th. place overall. Daniel John (Gartholwg) was the only athlete to break the magical 3000 point barrier as he scored 3022 with PBs in Hurdles, 200m and Shot. Harvey Reynolds (Caldicot) set new bests in his last 3 events (200m, Shot and 800m) as he pushed his points score to 2678. Luca Contino (St. Martin’s) was not able to repeat his heroics from NIAC a month earlier, but still recorded a new 200m best as he closed out the team scoring with 2704. The combined points tally of 8610 enough for team bronze behind England and Ireland.
Hopes were high for the Under 18 Girls with 2015 individual silver medallist Lauren Evans still eligible for this year. However, the standard this year proved incredibly high with the bronze being won with 3810 points and the gold medallist only 8 points off the 4000 point mark. Lauren quickly put a disappointing opening Shot event behind her with a PB of 8.91 seconds in the Hurdles, and further solid performances in her final 3 events to reach 3430 points and 8th. place overall. Equally impressive were Charlotte Mitchell (Caerleon) and late replacement Taiya Jones (Stanwell) who both exceeded 3000 points, Josie Sivak (Bryngwyn) was agonisingly short with 2984. What is encouraging is that only Lauren is not eligible for next year and with the others continuing to develop and Charlotte able to produce 3 personal bests under the pressure of International competition the future looks bright.
Arguably the stars of the day were our Under 16 Girls. They set no fewer than 15 new personal bests with all achieving 3000+ points as they too took bronze this time behind England and the Scots. Emma Martin (Whitchurch High) was the second athlete on the day to set new bests in all 5 of her events, closely followed by Emilie Davies (Gwynllyw) with 4 and both Grace Morgan (Radyr) and Sofia Vella (Corpus Christi) with 3 apiece. For much of the day they had held onto the silver in the team event only to be overhauled late in the day by Scotland. However three top 10 finishes by Emma 3138 (6th), Grace 3102(8th.) and Sofia 3075 (10th.) well supported by Emilie in 12th. also with 3053 was more than enough to see off the Irish team and secure a well deserved team medal.
WSAA is proud of all the performances this weekend as well as the team conduct which was exemplary. It would also be remiss not to thank the coaching staff (Nigel Lewis, Adrian Palmer and Francis Baker) who travelled with the team and to all those coaches who helped prepare our young athletes (especially Steve Ingram and Pete Roberts for their input at the team get together). Team Leader Steve Jones is also grateful to Joan Goldsmith and Zane Maynard (Girls and Boys Team Managers) for all their hard work. The weekend was also a celebration of the Centenary of the Irish Schools Association. Our congratulations to Ireland on this landmark and thanks to new WSAA Chairman Gareth Oldham for representing us at the celebrations to mark the event. Our thoughts now turn to Glasgow 2017 and a further opportunity to showcase the talent pool being assembled.