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The British Athletics European Indoor Selection Trial events in Manchester and Lee Valley saw several strong performances across the board.

In Manchester, there were 3000m victories for Verity Ockenden (coach: Tony Houchin; club: Swansea) and Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen; Aldershot Farnham & District) as both ran inside European Indoor qualifying standards again. Meanwhile, Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong; Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) and Lee Thompson (Sheffield & Dearne) were among those to impress in the 400m heats.

In Lee Valley, Jacob Fincham-Dukes (Zivile Pukstiene; Leeds City) jumped an outright personal best of 8.08 metres to win the long jump, also a European standard, while Andrew Robertson won the men’s 60 metres in 6.61.

In Manchester, for the second time in a week, Verity Ockenden (Tony Houchin; Swansea) ran a controlled race to win the women’s 3000m, while Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods; Bracknell) and Rosie Clarke (Rob Denmark; Epsom & Ewell) also went below the 9:00 European mark in second and third, respectively.

In a highly entertaining contest, Ockenden bided her time, taking the lead for the first time with over 100m to go. Prior to this, Aimee Pratt (Vicente Modahl; Sale Harriers Manchester) had been the main protagonist at the head of the field, dictating the pace for two-thirds of the race. As the laps counted down, Pratt, Quirk, Clarke and Ockenden were the main players, with Quirk making the first move with five laps to go. After her spell at the front, Clarke took a share of the lead with 600 metres to go and looked to be pushing on until the final lap. That was when the Swansea athlete showed great strength to close it out in 8:56.27. Quirk grabbed second, moving passed Clarke in the home straight; their times 8:58.57 and 8:58.97.

Ockenden said post-race: “I’m on a roll. I am so glad I did the race here last week as that really set me up well for this one, so thank you for Vicente (Modahl) for that. I really wasn’t that confident in my preparations coming into that. I’ve just been doing what my coach, Tony, says. I’ve been going through the motions so I’ve been unsure if it would be good enough or not. It has all come good despite the difficulties which everyone has had. Being tough and being able to cope with change is a big asset.”

Quirk added: “I was a bit nervous because I’ve never run indoors before. I’ve never even run a lap on an indoor track before! As races were cancelled, I thought ‘why not?’ So I wasn’t sure what kind of shape I was in and didn’t really know where I sat with European Indoors.”

Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen; Aldershot Farnham & District) overhauled Andrew Butchart (Barry Fudge; Central) in the closing stages of an entertaining men’s 3000m contest, clocking a season best of 7:54.35.

The pace was conservative in the opening few laps as Butchart headed the field before Emile Cairess (Philip Townsend; Leeds City) pushed on the pace after the halfway point. With the field bunched, it was a gradual wind-up. With 800m left, Butchart moved away from the rest of the field, bringing Rowe and Philip Sesemann (Andrew Henderson; Leeds City) away from the large pack making it a three-way battle. With a couple of laps remaining, Sesemann dropped off the pace and would ultimately hold on to third (7:57.22), but it came down to the last few metres for the other pair. As Butchart started to fade with 200m to go, Rowe made his move with conviction to seal victory.

Rowe said afterwards: “I have been training really hard, so it is was nice to race and get out there. It was really slow to start off with but then Emile (Cairess) put in a huge amount of work in the middle. I usually die in the last 200m so for once it was quite nice to kick on. I saw Butchart tiring and I thought if I got round him on that bend, he wasn’t coming back. That was probably my best race in the UK, so I’m really happy.

“I am in the shape of my life, but I haven’t been able to show it. My coach told me to express myself and be confident early on. I had to stay calm and wait for the move. I raced here six weeks ago, and it was me that made the move and then got kicked at the end. So, this time I just had to have patience. When it really went, I had to make sure I was in the right spot.”

Butchart, who was second in 7:56.01, added: “Jack ran really well. I got hit by a sniper with 200m to go, I had nothing. It was nice to get a race in. I know it isn’t British Championships, but I’m thankful this race was put on and it was a really strong field. British distance running is in a good place right now, and you could see that today as it was a high calibre race. To win it isn’t easy as I found out today.

“I just wanted to get a good effort in. I’ve got the 1500m tomorrow, so I wanted to get a hard effort in today. So, if no one was going to take it on, I was prepared to take it on. I did that and got bit at the end for it, but you live and you learn.”

Jodie Williams (Herts Phoenix), Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong; Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Zoey Clark (Eddie McKenna; Thames Valley) were all winners in the women’s 400m heats and will return for the final on Sunday.

Williams ran an indoor personal best – 52.76 – which was also inside the European Indoor qualifying standard.

In the second heat, Knight ran a superb two-laps to win in 52.46 while Clark looked comfortable on her way to the heat three win in 53.23.

In the men’s 400m, James Brier (Matt Elias, Swansea), Tom Somers, Lee Thompson (John Henson; Sheffield & Dearne) and James Williams were the heat winners.

Thompson impressively went inside the European standard with a time of 46.72. He admitted his first 200m was not as fast as he would have liked, but he picked it up on the second, gliding passed Efe Okoro and Ben Snaith to earn the heat win.

Thompson said: “It was smooth. Too slow through the first 200m. I’ve got to work on that, but I was strong on the second lap. I felt strong so went around them on the top bend into the back straight. I just tried to keep that going to see if I could get the qualifier and I did. I feel like the time is there, but I have to set myself up properly. I can run something really good, I just need to set it up.”

Brier won his heat in 47.14, while Somers came through in 47.07. Williams won the fourth heat in 47.30.

Andrew Murphy (Colin Sinclair; Kilbarchan), the sole participant in the men’s heptathlon, got off to a solid start in the 60 metres, clocking 7.24 which was a season best. He followed this with a 6.85m mark in the long jump, the best mark coming on his final effort.

However, three fouls in the shot put competition curtailed his overall chances. He returned for the high jump, committed to continuing the seven events. He cleared 1.80 metres on his second attempt.

Fincham-Dukes was the star of the show at Lee Valley with his third-round effort of 8.08 metres the best of his career to date, and it also was over the European Indoor qualifying standard.

He commented post-event: “Today went better than I could have expected. I am just really happy I got over the qualifier and set a PB. It means a lot. I’ve been working really hard over this last year and a half. It means everything. I did 7.99 indoors a couple of years ago and outdoor last year I was having a bunch of injury problems, so it’s always difficult going into the winter carrying that with you, but I just worked really hard and took real good care of my body. I made sure everything I was doing was at a better standard and it’s paying off and there’s more to come.

“About a month or so ago I actually had Covid, I tested positive, so I was like ‘oh my god’ am I going to get back [from the US where Jacob is based doing his Masters]. I got over it and was negative in time to come back so I am glad from that aspect as well. I am just happy I could put in a good performance.”

Also in the long jump, European T13 silver medallist, Zak Skinner (Aston Moore; Tonbridge) was narrowly outside his outright best as he jumped 6.80 metres.

In the women’s long jump, Jazmin Sawyers (City of Stoke) took top spot with a leap of 6.45m ahead of Abigail Irozuru (Self-coached; Sale Harriers Manchester) in second with 6.34m. Olivia Breen (Aston Moore; City of Portsmouth) jumped an indoor personal best of 4.65 metres.

Andrew Robertson (Sam Robertson; Sale Harriers Manchester) impressed in the men’s 60m as he won in a season best time of 6.61 ahead of Oliver Bromby (Marvin Rowe; Southampton) and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey (Benke Blomkvist; Sutton & District) – they both clocked 6.67 for second and third respectively.

Robertson said: “It was an OK run, not my best, but I’m just very grateful to be here today. It’s been such a difficult year for everyone. Hopefully that’s enough to secure the European Indoor Championships.

“I felt OK coming into today. I had a good run at Loughborough last week which probably took a bit more out of me than I thought. The most important thing is I wanted to come here and execute two good runs and I’ve done that. It’s a case now of sharpening up. I’ve had a fantastic winter preparation, just need races now. Hopefully I’ve done to get sharpened up enough now ready for two weeks’ time.”

In the women’s 60m, Alisha Rees (Leon Baptiste; Edinburgh) came home first with a time of 7.37, just outside her season best.

David King (Tim O’Neil; City of Plymouth), who flew in from America at 8:30am on Saturday morning, won the men’s 60m hurdles in a time of 7.73.

“I flew in from the US this morning, so I actually arrived at Heathrow at 08.30am. I’ve just flown in from Phoenix so it must be about 4am or 5am right now, for me. There has been such limited competition opportunity even in America. I just wanted to have the chance to come here and try and run the time. I just needed to prove some form and I’m really happy with the time of 7.73. To run that after that trip, I’m really happy.”

Efe Uwaifo (John Herbert; Enfield and Haringey) and Jahisha Thomas (John Shepherd; Blackheath & Bromley) were the winners of the men’s and women’s triple jump.

Uwaifo won with a best of 15.99m, while Thomas won the women’s contest with a best of 12.93 metres which came in round one.

Results from Manchester day one: https://www.britishathletics.org.uk/man-results/

Results from Lee Valley: https://www.britishathletics.org.uk/lvac-results/