UK Athletics Indoor Championships Round-Up
Aled Davies and Melissa Courtney-Bryant led the way on a successful weekend for Welsh athletes at the UK Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
Davies smashed his own F42 world Indoor shot put record while Courtney-Bryant claimed gold in the women’s 3,000m final.
Meanwhile, there was an array of other medal-winning and personal best performances from a large Welsh contingent competing at the Utilita Arena on Saturday and Sunday.
Jeremiah Azu set the standards on day one in Birmingham with a brilliant performance in the men’s 60m.
The Cardiff Athletics flyer boasted an immaculate record on the way to the final, winning his opening heat in 6.73 and then triumphing in his semi-final in a time of 6.63.
Having won the UK 100m title last summer, Azu was looking to improve on the bronze medal he won at last year’s indoor championships.
For much of the race it looked as though he may upgrade to gold, but Reece Prescod, of Enfield and Haringey, just managed to come through to claim the title in 6.54.
Jeremiah Azu claims silver © Owen Morgan
Azu’s season’s best time of 6.57 was enough to secure him the silver medal and an automatic place at next month’s European Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
After the race, Azu, who has relocated to Italy where he trains with Prescod under coach Marco Airale, said: “Obviously I wanted to win it, but honestly I’m just as happy with the outcome.
“I’m training with Reece now so we’re going to war every training session. It’s good to actually put it out on the track and for people to see.
“We’ve got European Indoors in two weeks, and I’ll actually be back here for the Grand Prix next week.
“Then we’ve got outdoors and I want to make all the teams possible and Worlds in August.
“I need to run 10.00 or 9.99 so I can make the team and then go to the trials. Same again, 100m and 200m, no questions about it.”
Azu missed out on an individual spot at last summer’s World Championships in Oregon and is determined to do all he can to make sure he books his spot at this year’s championships in Budapest.
“Most people can see that I have a really good start and obviously I’m a shorter guy so working on my maximum speed is more important for me,” said Azu.
“I’ve started from scratch and I’m loving it because I’m learning every day. I’ve moved to a different country and every day I’m learning something new.”
Azu had been joined in the semi-finals by fellow Cardiff duo Sam Gordon and Dewi Hammond. Gordon finished second in his heat in 6.77, while Hammond was third in his first round in 6.84.
In the semis, Gordon missed out on a place in the final by just two hundredths of a second as he finished third in 6.76, while Hammond was seventh in his semi clocking 6.83.
There was almost more Welsh sprint metalware delivered on the first day of the championships by Tom Wilcock in the 60m hurdles.
The Northampton AC man qualified for the final by finishing second in his heat with a season’s best time of 7.98.
Drawn out in late eight for the final, Wilcock produced another excellent run and season’s best time of 7.97 – finishing fifth just four hundredths of a second outside the medals as David King, of City of Plymouth AC took the title in 7.62.
Tom Wilcock © Owen Morgan
The women’s 60m hurdles saw a private Welsh battle between Cardiff Athletics’ Lauren Evans and Grace Morgan, of Cardiff Archers. Drawn side by side in their heat, the Welsh athletes crossed the line in the same time of 8.56.
Evans was given third, with Morgan claiming fourth, but unfortunately neither progressed.
There was Welsh success in the longer sprints where Tokyo Olympian Joe Brier was in excellent form in the men’s 400 metres.
The Swansea Harrier cruised to victory in 47.46 in his opening heat, before also winning his semi-final in a season’s best of 47.00.
Following the win in his heat, Brier said: “I feel good, that was a nice run out. I’ve had a couple of rough races leading up to here, but feeling good now.
“I want to just keep running well and do the best I can and see where it goes. I’m feeling good so that’s the main thing.
“Training has been good, I recently finished my Master’s about three weeks ago. It’s been difficult but I enjoyed it.
“When I’m running I just focus on maintaining nice form and nice relaxation down the back straight. The moment you tense up is the moment you lose some rhythm.”
The women’s 400m also saw some Welsh success with Seren Bundy-Davies, of Trafford AC, Ffion Roberts, of Cardiff Athletics, and Sian Harry, of Belgrave Harriers all progressing from their heats.
It was a welcome return to the big stage for World Championship and European Championship medallist Bundy-Davies, who last competed at a national championships in 2018.
The 2016 Olympian finished third in her heat in 54.68, while Roberts and Harry claimed season bests of 55.02 and 55.24 respectively.
The semi-final, where all three Welsh athletes were drawn together, saw Bundy-Davies finish third in 54.65, but it wasn’t quite enough to qualify for the final. Roberts was fourth in 55.62 and Harry fifth in 55.96.
If day one had gone well for the Welsh, day two was about to get a whole lot better.
The first successes of the day came in the shot put competition, which was given pride of place in the centre of the impressive Utilita Arena.
Aled Davies, along with countryman Patrick Swan, of Cornwall AC, certainly responded spectacularly to being centre stage.
Patrick Swan & Aled Davies © Owen Morgan
Multiple Paralympic and World Champion Davies, who had been suffering from a painful condition since winning discus gold for Wales in the same city at last summer’s Commonwealth Games, certainly proved his fitness.
The 31-year-old twice bettered his previous world record of 16.14m, which he set in Sheffield back in 2016.
Prior to the competition Davies had said he was targeting the record having overcome the condition called Osteitis Pubis which created lower abdominal and pelvic pain.
“I’m pain-free now and I’m in great shape,” said Davies. “Everything is there to throw far. I feel like it could go a long way, so we are going to target the world indoor record. Shot put is what I’m built to do. I still feel like I haven’t thrown as far as I can so it feels good to be back.
“Getting the chance to compete alongside able-bodied guys and take a few scalps is always fun. The indoors is always a fast and furious kind of season, and with the shot put being the only throwing event, we get a lot of attention.”
Davies duly delivered in the third round when he registered a massive 16.39m, which also earned him fifth place in the overall competition.
There must have been something in the air during the third round as Swan also posted his longest effort of the competition – 17.39m, which earned him a bronze medal.
While Davies and Swan were launching their bombs from the shot put circle, Pembrokeshire Harrier Gracie Griffiths was metronomically ticking off the laps in the women’s 3,000m race walk.
The youngster produced a personal best display of 14:34.12 to take bronze behind champion Abigail Jennings.
Gracie Griffiths © Owen Morgan
In the men’s race, Tonbridge AC’s Guy Griffiths looked to have finished amongst the medals but was unfortunately disqualified.
Melissa Courtney-Bryant, of Poole AC, was competing over the same distance but at a considerably faster pace in the women’s 3,000m final.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medal winner ran a perfectly measured race shadowing Amy-Eloise Markovc, who made most of the running.
But with three laps to go Courtney-Bryant made her move to hit the front and that’s where she stayed despite a fierce battle with Hannah Nuttall which continued right up until the line.
Courtney-Bryant’s win in a time of 8:50.76 not only earned her gold but also a place on the Great Britain team at the European Indoor Athletics Championships.
“I’m really pleased, it’s been a while since I’ve won a British title, the last time I won it was 2020 indoors,” said Courtney-Bryant afterwards.
“The crowd on the last 50m was really loud, that was amazing, actually I’ve never heard it so loud In here, so that was really fun.
Melissa Courtney-Bryant takes gold © Owen Morgan
“It was hard to know when to go and also I wanted to go ahead a bit earlier but I didn’t want to do anything silly, I just wanted to book my place to the Europeans.
“I would really love to medal again at the Europeans, but first I need to focus on getting into the final.
“I had an injury in 2021, so 2022 I was trying to come back from that. So I was just trying to pick myself back up. But I’m really happy with how the winter season has gone and that’s all thanks to my training partner and coach.”
There was more medal success in the men’s 3,000m where Osian Perrin, of Menai Track and Field, also produced a well-measured race.
Sitting at the rear of the leading group, Perrin made his move as the pace increased and chased home champion James West to claim silver in a new PB of 7:50.86.
Osian Perrin © Owen Morgan
Perrin said afterwards: “I’m so happy, because last year I did an awful race and to come and achieve this today, I’m really happy with that. Hopefully I can move on and have a really good summer.
“My main aim is probably Europeans U23 and try to medal there in the 5,000m and 10,000m and I think this is a step in the right direction.
“The crowd really helped and it meant a lot. I thought that track was really quick, probably the quickest track I’ve ever been on and I loved it.”
There were two Welsh athletes in the women’s 200m final in the shape of Swansea Harrier Hannah Brier and Hannah Longden, of Cardiff Athletics.
Hannah Brier & Hannah Longden © Owen Morgan
Reigning champion Brier booked her place thanks to wins in both her heat and semi-final where she ran a PB of 23.56. Longden also won her semi in a new personal best of 23.66.
Brier looked to be on her way to gold in the final as she came down the final straight in pole position, but was pipped on the line by fast-finishing Success Eduan. The Swansea athlete took silver in 23.60, while Londgen finished fifth in 24.00.
The Brier family looked set for another medal in the 400m final where Hannah’s younger brother Joe made the early running, taking the bell in the lead.
However, he moved back through the field during the second 200m and eventually finished sixth in 47.92 with Samuel Reardon taking the title.