Birmingham, Edgbaston - June 23rd
Wowza. Gosh. Man. Damn. Just a select few of the noises coming from people’s mouths as they attempted to describe the inaugural Birmingham Relays on Saturday, June 23rd. 264 individual performances across 37 races, spanning 6 hours of top-class, spectacular and action-packed athletic performances. The event was based around a match event between the University of Birmingham, Limerick, Birchfield and a combined team from the Universities of Cornell and Penn. The American combined team’s involvement is based on the 56-year strong Ivy League exchange that Birmingham and the Universities have, and it was truly amazing to have them here for the weekend.
The day featured a huge amount of wonderfully exciting and engaging events, including the unique relay format for which drama is almost always guaranteed. The athletics schedule was combined with an equally unique and powerful event format as loud and energetic music bellowed throughout the track in unison with some questionable commentary from yours truly. The icing on the cake to the meet was the intimate setting of the new University of Birmingham track, as we implemented specific cheer zones in the infields and outer lanes of the track in order to create an atmosphere like no other. So, let us run through some of the highlights of the day.
Beginning with the track events, the men’s mile was an awesome contest between Birmingham first year starlet James Gormley and the former Iona College man, Kieran Clements. Being paced by final year 800m savant, the two men battled hard towards the infamous sub-4-minute mile, with Clements taking the win from Gormley – 4:03.72 and 4:03.97 respectively. Meanwhile on the women’s side, it was a dominant performance from Limerick’s Amy O’Donoghue, who edged out Birmingham’s Lydia Hallam and Penn’s Danielle Orie to win the race in a time of 4:49.65. The sprints hurdles always provide a superb battle and Saturday was no different. In the women’s 100mH, 3 women went sub 14 seconds as Birchfield’s Heather Paton, Limerick’s Sarah Lavin and Cornell’s Brittany Stenekes battled it out to run some really quick times; 13.46 for Paton as she took the win, closely followed by Lavin and Stenekes in times of 13.65 and 13.79. The men’s 110mH was a stunning race between Birmingham’s own multiple BUCS medallist, Jake Porter and Cornell’s hurdle supremo, Austin Lyons. The two quickest men on paper came to lock horns and produced some great runs, with Porter doing enough to beat Lyons, as the Brit bested the Cornell man in a time of 13.99. The 3K was another brilliant race, in both the men and women’s side of things. In the women’s race, a commanding performance from the Commonwealth Games representative for Wales, Jenny Nesbitt, who ran a big PB of 9:17.98 to take the win. Whilst on the men’s side of things, Mark Pearce and Richard Allen fought hard, with the Aldershot athlete taking the victory in a time of 8:06.83 against Pearce’s 8:07.45. Meanwhile, in the women’s 400m, Penn SO. Nia Akins ran a time of 54.54 to take the win and run a PB which puts her 6th all-time in Penn, a massive run! The men’s race had an equally strong field, with 2018 World Indoor Championships 400m GB man Lee Thompson going against BUAC 400mH alumni legend, Chris Mac, with both men going all out through to the line and there was a whisker in the end result as McAlister taking the win against Thompson by a mere 0.04 seconds, 47.40 versus 47.44.
On the field event side of things, the competition was equally high with the standout performances of the day for the men coming in the pole vault as Penn’s Sean Clarke jumped a massive 5.40 to take the win by 50 cm to the man in second, a jump which was just 10 cm short of the Heps champions 5.50 PB. Whilst, perhaps one of the best performances of the weekend was from Penn’s Maura Kimmel, as she threw 16.05m in the shot put to break the Penn school record and win the event ahead of Cornell’s Michaela Smith and Leena Morris. In the high jumps, there was also some great competition. Beginning in the women’s, as Cornell’s Marguerite Lorenzo took the win ahead of Birmingham’s Emily Madden Forman, as she jumped a height of 1.70m, doubling up in the 100mH too, so a great day for her. In the men’s competition, it was a close contest between Highgate’s phenomenal talent Dominic Ogbechie and Birchfield’s Ryan Webb, with the both men jumping 2.10m, but the Highgate man took the victory on countback. In the women’s discuss it was a dominant performance from Penn again, with a 1-2 finish from Ashley Anumba and Maura Kimmel, each throwing 53.39m and 48.07m respectively. Whilst in the men’s long jump, the man, the myth and the legend – ALED PRICE – jumped a great 7.18m to win the event for Birmingham, what a man.
Being called the Birmingham Relays, it was only poetic that the day end with some scintillating relay action, which was duly delivered. The 4 x 200m relay was a 1 on 1 race in both the men’s and women’s side of things. Penn and Cornell took the win in both ahead of Birmingham, a winning time of women’s of 1:38.95 and a time of 1:26.80 in the men’s. The women’s 4 x 800m was the next relay event, with teams from Cornell/Penn, England Juniors, Harborne Hunz, Birmingham A and B making up the field. The race had been billed up as a real headline, with the England Juniors team going for the World Junior record of 8:37, around about a 2:09 average per leg – it was made even more exciting by the fact that the team was made up of girls who are all coming to Birmingham in September to begin their undergraduate studies. It was a closely run event in the end between the Cornell/Penn team and the England Juniors, as GB Junior Issy Boffey chasing down the Americans final leg, but in the end they just missed out, with the American team taking a great win in an equally great time of 8:38.11, with the England team running 8:39.78 – just missing out on the world junior record, but they are all eligible to run it next year! The final relay to call is the Men’s Distance Medley Relay; 1200m, 400m, 800m and 1600m to finish and what a race it was between Birmingham’s alumni team and Limerick. After a strong leg from Portland Pilot’s Stuart McCallum, the alumni were well in contention but then came the 1600m leg, where Limerick had opened up a considerable lead and it was down to Jonny Hay to work his magic and try to claw back time in whatever way he could. It came down to the final 200m where Hay managed to make up for at least 7 seconds on the Limerick athlete and he sprinted home to take the win in a time of 9:58.64 in an exceptional finish.
What a day. But of course, this was not only a celebration of the wonderful athletic heritage shared between our historic Universities, but a competition of the highest order and it was the combined Cornell and Penn team which took home the new Professor Michael Hayes trophy and so it will remain in America for 4 years when they come back and this all happens again!
The first Birmingham Relays has been an enormous success and we as a club and University are massively proud to have put on such a huge event in a largely student-led format, especially one which is so engaging within the athletics and university community. It is only going to get better from here!
And so, we say goodbye to our amazing friends from the University of Limerick, Penn and Cornell, the exchange this year was the best I have ever been involved with and I have made friends which will last a lifetime. Thank you for coming and we cannot wait to see you again, big love!
Photos of the day: https://www.flickr.com/photos/159158619@N02/page2 (Credit @dgmusson)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/142676467@N04/page1 (Credit @itsgbiggs)