Hammer the Highlight in Nuneaton
Having been displaced from their facilities at the de facto home of athletics, the Alexander Stadium, Birchfield Harriers’ first meeting of the season was hosted at nearby Nuneaton, in the enticingly named Pingles Stadium (not Pringles, as was stadium announcer Katharine Merry’s Freudian slip to open the meeting).
Northern Warwickshire is now home to what has been dubbed by some as the fastest track in the Midlands, those ‘some’ clearly not having made the trip to Edgbaston Park Road to visit the home of Birmingham Track Elite feeder club, BUAC.
At the second fastest stadium in the Midlands though, the tired tartan track surface was changed for a brilliant blue in the spring, and has since played host to many of the COVID protocol-dominated open meetings in the post-lockdown period.
While the core of the meeting was built around a four team inter-club match between Birchfield, Coventry Godiva, Thames Valley Harriers and the newly christened ‘Nuneaton Nomads’, guests were invited in all events, leading to some sparkling competition.
As if scripted by an athletics-mad Charles Dickens, 16 BUAC members of athletics seasons past, present, and future were competing, with plenty more in attendance, including one official.
While the hammer throw may have fallen out of favour with those in charge of the Diamond League, no-one can say that Poppy Bean does not provide entertainment in the cage. Exactly 365 days after her last competition, where she set a club record of 48.97m, she threw another Club Record of 53.45m, breaking her personal best by almost four and a half metres in the process.
At Nuneaton, the circle, unlike the 2017 film of the same name starring Emma Watson and cinematic everyman Tom Hanks, was actually worth watching, as Eve Hodson competed in the match discus for Coventry. On home turf, the Warwickshire county champion produced a near 3m improvement on her personal best with 43.42m in the discus.
To complete the BUAC field eventers, alum Myles Durrant-Sutherland competed in the long jump, a windy season’s best of 7.00w (+3.6) the product of excellent jumping and the gale that blew down the home straight for much of the day.
Much like buses, the boys of BUAC MD are frequently found wearing red, and running through the streets of Selly Oak. Also much like buses, you can spend a while (in this case the entire morning of an athletics meeting) waiting for them, then three come at once. The men’s A 1500 was a 50% BUAC affair, with Matt Rawlings, Adam Day, and Dan Maud involved.
Running in a close bunch, the pace picked up at the bell with Rawlings and Maud in front of a separation, and Day behind. Using the speed which has carried him to an 800m best already in this abbreviated season, Day made good ground on the others in the home straight, passing under the 4-minute barrier for the first time with a 7 second PB of 3:57.96.
English U20 silver medallist over the distance in February, Maud went a second faster than his medal winning run with a time of 3:57.50. However, the fastest BUAC run in field came from Rawlings. In the old-style BUAC club vest, the Reading athlete proved that while some things go out of fashion, running fast is not one of them, clocking 3:56.05 for a half-second PB.
In the women’s 1500, incoming transfer from the dark side (read Aston University) Lucy Jones led the field for much of the race, losing out in the final 150 metres to a strong Thames Valley athlete. 4:39.84 was her time, a strong season opener after 15 months away from track racing.
In the two-lap, lactate-filled, middle-distance counterpart to the 1500, there were again four athletes leading the BUAC charge. Ollie Johnson was the sole representative in the men’s race, a competitive heat of eight athletes the beneficiary of the last-minute update to England Athletics guidance at the beginning of the weekend. Finding himself with a lot of work to do with 100 metres to go, Johnson’s late charge carried him to a personal best by over a second, in 1:54.14.
The women’s 800 races were split into two heats, with this year’s endurance social sec Abby Rex in the pinstripe-style strip of Basildon in the first heat. After a gap of some 40 metres was built up by the eventual race winner over the first lap, Rex and those behind ran a more measured race, 70 seconds for their first circuit of the track. Bearing down on the runaway Thames Valley Harrier in the home straight, while she was unable to reel her in, Rex’s controlled pace garnered a time of 2:23.56, her fastest in 3 years.
In the second heat, fellow British Indoor 1500m finalists Sabrina Sinha and alum Izzy Cotham reprised their duel over the shorter distance. Fresh from a stellar PB over the metric mile in Bromley 2 days prior, Sinha led from the break line and never relinquished her lead, pulling away from the field for a new personal best of 2:05.31. In second for most of the race, including where it mattered, at the line, Cotham produced her fastest ever outdoor 800 with a time of 2:12.90.
The only athlete to double up on the day, incoming fresher Louise Robinson, covered both the 400 hurdles and the 200. With winds swirling, Robinson battled to a time of 65.68, two and a half seconds slower than her time at the same track a week prior, a testament to the tough conditions. In the only wind-legal 200m race on a day where readings of +6.9 could be seen, Robinson, along with fellow newcomer Imogen Sheppard, and clubmate Lauren Butler, appeared in heat 2.
Robinson battled an athlete from Blackheath and Bromley around the bend before distancing herself from the others, crossing the line a clear winner with a new personal best of 25.02 (0.7). Butler finished strongly for second position, a time of 25.72 her reward. Sheppard ran a season’s best of 25.98 for fourth, a second’s improvement from her time a week earlier.
The final BUAC involvement of the day was found in the men’s 400, with former track captain and club 4x400 record holder Mark Cottam featuring alongside Rory Keen, more typically seen running over barriers for one lap. Keen led early on, making up the stagger on the athlete outside of him, but strong running down the back straight gave Cottam the lead.
He carried his advantage into the home straight but was just pipped by a fast-finishing Swansea Harrier, his 48.12 delivering 2nd place, and only three hundredths outside of his personal best set earlier in the month. Keen also finished strongly, but his fast start had cost him, crossing the line in 49.33.
Full results can be found here.
Coverage of all races can be found on Vinco.