Marc Scott. Image Credit: British Athletics

During an evening of qualification events in both track and field, British athletes dominated the women’s 3000m heats with qualifications to finals also secured in the men’s 1500m and the men’s long jump at the European Athletics Indoor Championships.

The opening night in Toruń, Poland saw all three British athletes safely through to tomorrow evening’s final of the women’s 3000m heats. In the first heat, Amy-Eloise Markovc (Chris Fox; Wakefield) took complete control of her qualification by staying out of trouble throughout the crowded field, broke to lead at the bell and showed a very strong finish to cross the line first in 8:56.26.

America-based Markovc arrived in Poland on the back of setting a British record of 9:30.69 in the 2-miles indoor last month in New York.

After the race she said, “I tried to stay relaxed especially in my first senior championships and in the prelims it can be tactical so I just tried to take care of business. I wanted to stay calm and confident and I trusted my gut that I could get out of trouble. I am really pleased to get to my first senior final and now I really want to do well.”

Verity Ockenden (Tony Houchin; Swansea) and Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods; Bracknell) lined up in the second heat with Quirk leading from the front in only her second ever indoor race. The Birmingham University athlete led a breakaway group of six that included Ockenden, who is ranked third of those entered in the event. The Swansea athlete had kept within touch of the leaders throughout the race and with 400m to go the six became four with Ockenden finishing an impressive second in 8:52.60 and Quirk achieving a personal best in fourth place in 8:53.21.

A delighted Ockenden said, “It was a bit of a scruffy race and not really the way I planned to race it. I wanted to stay out of trouble, but you have to deal with it as it comes. I am glad that I managed to work my way through, and I am feeling good. It is great that we have all made it which maximises the chance of Britain getting a medal.”

Quirk added, “I am really happy I got through and my plan was to make sure it was honest race. I think that was the right decision as I could hear the splattering of spikes behind me, so I was happy to be running smoothly in the front. I just wanted to stay calm.”

In the men’s long jump, Jacob Fincham-Dukes (Matt Barton; Leeds City) qualified for Friday evening’s final with a jump of 7.74m to finish in eighth place. The American based athlete is looking to build on his recent 8.08m jump at Lee Valley that put him fourth in the UK all-time indoor rankings.

After his narrow qualification he said, “It was a bit too close for comfort but I am through and I can improve on my mishaps tonight. I really only had one good jump tonight but that was enough. I will focus and get the jitters out of my legs and tomorrow I will hope to be in contention.”

The men’s 1500m final is one of the most eagerly awaited of the four-day competition and after this evening’s heats two British athletes will be taking their place on the start line.

Piers Copeland (Bob Smith; Wimborne) was making his senior GB & NI debut following a great result at the Manchester Selection Trials event. He ran a very professional heat sitting at the back for the first half of the race out of trouble. He comfortably moved up the field into third at the bell and after a brilliant kick on the final straight finished second in 3:38.88.

After the race Copeland said; “There were a lot of quick guys in that heat so it wasn’t comfortable. I knew I would have to run at my very best to get through. My goal was to qualify for the final, so I am pleased with that. Now I am there I will see what I can do.”

In heat three, Neil Gourley (Ben Thomas: Giffnock North) was up against one of the favourites, Jakob Ingebrigtsen (NOR). In a two-horse race. The Scottish athlete qualified comfortably in first place in 3:39.84 followed by the Norwegian. Gourley, who qualified for the final two years ago but was unable to race due to illness, was delighted to progress.

He said, “I didn’t really put a foot wrong. I would be selling myself short if I said I was just happy to be in the final; I am looking to win a medal tomorrow and we will see if I can back that up tomorrow. I am confident that my best performances will come in the championships, so I hope that is the case tomorrow.”

In the final heat, British senior debutant, Archie Davis (Joel Kidger; Brighton Phoenix) was up against home favourite Marcin Lewandowkski (POL). Davis finished in a creditable sixth place with a season’s best of 3:41.40.

On his GB & NI debut, Jacob Fincham-Dukes (Matt Barton; Leeds City) progressed to the men’s long jump final. 7.74m was his best of the three-jump series, and he faced a nervous wait as he sat in the eighth and final qualifying spot with a large section of the field still to have their final attempt. However, he secured the spot and will contend in the final on Friday evening.

The Leeds City athlete said, “It was too close for comfort but I’m glad I am through and I can improve on the mishaps from today. I only really had one half decent jump and that was enough to secure me. I’ll talk to Aston (Moore) and see what went wrong. I’ve been doing 7.70/80m like it’s nothing this year, so I need to get back to that tomorrow.

“It was good to get out there and get a feel for the major championships environment. Now I’m settled in I can focus on doing better tomorrow. Hopefully I’ve got the jitters out of my system and we can be in contention for something tomorrow.”

In the women’s shot put, there was frustration for Amelia Strickler (Zane Duquemin; Thames Valley) and Sophie McKinna (Mike Winch; Great Yarmouth) as they missed out on qualification to the final.

McKinna finished just one place outside the top eight qualifiers with a throw of 17.95m. She said, “I am very frustrated with that. I am in much better shape than that as my results have shown. But I have a lot of positives from the indoor season although not ending in the way I wanted. My mind was there but body wasn’t quite. Last year a 17.95m and I would have been jumping up and down so that shows my progress.”

Strickler, who was 13th place with a best throw of 17.12m, said, “I haven’t had a great build up as I have been injured but I wanted to come and get something from the indoor season. I didn’t do well at my first Europeans. This time I wanted a least a season’s best. I am proud of myself to be competing today; I can’t be too cross with myself as I have really only been fit for a month. But I will be back stronger as I really want to be on that plane to Tokyo.”

In the men’s high jump, Joel Khan (Deirdre Elmhirst; Worcester) was making his senior debut following jumping a personal best of 2.23m in the trial event last month. After two fouls at 2.10m and two at 2.16m he was up against it but cleared under pressure on the third attempt. However, on his third and final attempt at 2.21m, he knocked off the bar, finishing in 13th place.

Khan, competing in only his third competition in two years, following injury, said, “The plan had been to get first-time clearances but it didn’t quite pan out. I am really happy to have been given the opportunity to come here and compete so in the future I will be a more experienced athlete.

“It was all about gaining experience tonight – it was probably playing in the back of my mind that it was as big as it gets. Next time I won’t have that I really need to just be myself and I am sure I will learn to relax and be me.”

The action continues in Toruń tomorrow morning from 1000 hours (0900 GMT).