Sat 18 Aug 2018, Alexander Stadium, Birmingham Preston Harriers’ relay teams demonstrated their class at the British Athletics Club:Connect meeting at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium on Saturday 18th August. The event saw the best 4x100m relays teams from across the Midlands and the North of England compete in front of a lively stadium crowd and served as an entrée to the main course, the Müller Grand Prix meeting which featured some the world’s best track and field stars, including Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes.
The under 13 4x100m for girls was the first track event of the day and the team did not disappoint, winning in a time of 51.60 seconds, a new club record and the fastest time in the country this year. Elle Sumner ran the lead leg, handing over to Cerys Allen. By 250 metres, Preston Harriers had opened up an unassailable lead. A safe final handover from Evie Noblett to Emily Rankin was cheered on by the Alexander Stadium crowd. The team crossed the line with a huge gap over Reading Athletic Club and Birchfield Harriers who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Their delight was further heightened when the four girls were presented with a winner’s cheque of £250 from British Athletics.
The next event on the track was the under 13 boys’ 4x100m. The nerves were visible as the boys waited for the starter’s commands. Alert to the bang, Cory Middleton was quick out of the blocks and ran a perfect bend which culminated in a slick handover to James Ince. A blistering back straight by James kept the team in contention. Sebastian Chiarella ran a superb third leg to hand the baton over to James Clark and with only the home straight remaining, the battle was on. The boys finished third behind Coventry Godiva Harriers and Marshall Milton Keynes but ahead of a strong chasing pack in a time of 53.30 seconds; a season’s best and a great effort.
It was now the turn of the bigger girls and boys. The next event was the girls under 15 4x100m. The audience was treated to a masterclass of explosive speed, powerful bend running and efficient baton exchanges to finish in a time of 50.54 seconds. The girls’ team of Isabella Caven, Kianna Procter, Lois Carroll and Alesha Azonubi were outstanding. With each leg, the opponents on Preston Harriers’ outside were run down; those on the inside were left in their wake and with 100m to go, Alesha completed the masterclass with a “catch me if you can” challenge. Amber Valley & Erewash, Marshall Milton Keynes and the rest of the field tried but to no avail. As with the under 13 girls, the under 15 girls also received a cheque for £250 from British Athletics. Given their finishing time, that’s £4.95 per second. A nice little earner!
Next event on the track was the boys under 15 relay. Harriers’ lead leg was by Taylor Jacob and an assured start and a swift exchange with Harry Burrow kept the team in the hunt. With elegant strides at pace down the back straight, Harry Burrows handed the baton over to Harry Booth. The best team in the race was Coventry Godiva but Preston challenged strongly during the third leg. Another safe exchange saw the baton passed to Will Walmsley. A great anchor leg by Will but Coventry Godiva proved too good. The race for second was tight. As the athletes dipped for the line, delight and sharp intakes of breath gripped the Preston supporters; some thought second place, others thought third. When the electronic scoreboard displayed the final results, the boys had finished third; a fantastic effort and another great result.
The girls and boys under 17 relays took place with no Preston interest and so did the 4x100m women. The last Club:Connect relay event was the under 20 men’s race with Preston Harriers drawn in lane 6. Alex Marsden, George Reed, Edward Coles and Declan Taylor were the Harriers team. If the Preston Harriers girls under 15 relay team had served up a masterclass 30 minutes earlier, these young men demonstrated the art and science of sprint relay racing. As the baton passed from Marsden to Reed, and from Reed to Coles, its speed almost never wavered. On the final bend as the team approach the straight, Harriers had left the rest of the field seriously flailing; if only this was the 3x100m men’s relay as over the three-quarter lap, these young men were in the zone. However, sport can be cruel and after some 30 seconds of pure relay perfection, disaster struck; from the jaws of victory, the team was dealt a bitter blow. At the final exchange, Declan Taylor set off too soon and at those speeds, 0.01 seconds too soon can be catastrophic and indeed it was. In a last-ditch attempt to complete the exchange, Edward stretched but it was not to be. He went tumbling across the Alexander Stadium track and judging by the redness of his arm, the track had left its mark. Thankfully, there were no broken bones. If only the trance and perfection of the first 30 seconds had not been broken, an outstanding club performance would have been near-sublime.
In a fitting tribute to all the clubs and athletes who took part in the Club: Connect relay races, the recently crowned European champions and gold medalists, which included Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes, took the athletes on a lap of honour around the track. The entrée proved very tasty. The main course followed and the young Harriers got to see the world’s best track and field stars in action. CJ Ujah (GB), Zharnel Hughes (GB) and Christian Coleman (USA) delighted in the men’s 100m. Dina Asher-Smith (GB) and Dafne Schippers (Netherlands) and Marie-Josée Ta Lou (Ivory Coast) entertained in the women’s 200m. Other notable names included Laura Muir (GB) in the 1,500m, Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GB) in the long jump, and Matthew Hudson-Smith (GB) in the 400m. It was also a farewell tribute for Greg Rutherford in his final long jump competition. It was a day a fantastic day of athletics and all the more special for the outstanding performances of our young Harriers.