Woodford men’s BAL team had a solid start to the 2017 Premiership season at Sheffield on Saturday. After a 3rd place overall in the division in 2016, a 4th place on Saturday was a reasonable start to the new season, especially as some key athletes were missing. Birchfield won with 311 points, from Newham, 303, Sheffield 296, Woodford 271, Shaftesbury and TVH each on 261, Southampton 253 and Liverpool 215. The cold and blustery conditions were not conducive to top class performances but nevertheless there were some decent ones from Woodford athletes, including personal bests for both Adam Kirk-Smith and Phil Norman as they took a double win in the steeplechase. There was a further double in the 800m from Dan Rowden and Cannan Solomon, and also a good shot win from Youcef Zatat.
The double win in the 3000m s/ch came from two new members. Winner of the “A” was Adam Kirk-Smith, now coached by Woodford BAL steeplechase stalwart Tomaz Plibersek in a fine time and personal best of 8m51.52secs, just ahead of Phil Norman who took the “B” and also recorded another fine time and personal best of 8m53.17 secs. Both should be capable of going quicker in more favourable conditions and with more competition. The “A” 800m saw World Junior Championship semi-finalist Dan Rowden run a very good tactically aware race to run away from a good field in the home straight, clocking 1m51.59 secs. Canaan Solomon who, like Dan, was a 1m48secs U/20 athlete last season, was similarly tactically strong and, off a slower first lap, he too was very strong at the end to win by more than a second in 1m54.94 secs. Given the windy conditions the 1500m was also a tactical affair, and Andrew Mariani, back to high class track running, was a good 4th in the “A” with 4m00.58 secs. In the “B” Tim Dalton, who gamely agreed to compete despite having missed a lot of training with a calf problem, also picked up useful points with 4th also, in 4m11.77 secs. Despite the wind the 3000m was run at a decent pace and picked up in the second half with Ross Tennant placing 6th with 8m31.13, and Darren Southcott, who had been added to the team to cover injuries, was also 6th on his BAL debut with 9m04.14 secs.
The 100m was not so good for Woodford with Justin Duru being disqualified for a false start in the “A” race. Shayne Dewar was 7th in the “B” with 11.35 sec (-1.5) into a strong headwind. Shayne, still a junior, then placed a good 3rd in the “B” 200m with 22.28 secs, whilst in the “A” former GB 400m international Nick Leavey drew the tight inside lane and had to be content with 8th in 22.20 secs (-2.1) into an even stiffer headwind. The 400m “A” race saw Daniel Gray (a 47.18 secs man at his best) out of sorts and placed 8th with 53.39 secs. In the “B”, Alex Bell had a strong second half of the race and closed fast for 3rd in 49.39 secs. The first track event of the afternoon had been the 400mH, and Jack Lawrie struggled a little with his stride pattern but still placed 3rd with 52.08 secs. Now only an occasional high hurdler, Jack also got good points in the 110mH “A” race with 15.16 secs (-1.4 secs), again into a tough headwind. The “B” 400mH saw great clubman Ryan McKinlay cover and pick up valuable points with 5th in 60.12 secs., having earlier picked up Woodford’s only points in the Pole Vault with a clearance of 2.20m for 8th in the “A”. The “B” 110mH also had to be covered by a non-specialist and Tomaz Plibersek was 8th with 24.29 secs.
Field performances were led by Youcef Zatat, who is already enjoying a fine season and currently holds second place on the UK rankings, produced a shot victory against a good field with 17.41 m. In the “B” Devon Douglas was 6th with 11.47m, having earlier placed 7th in the discus with 44.12m, as Chris Linque was 5th with 42.34m in the "B". The hammer as is usual in these BAL fixtures was a good standard and Andy Frost targeting his 4th Commonwealth Games next spring was 4th with 64.80m. In the “B” it was good to see Peter Clarke again competing and doing so well, as he placed 4th with 55.03m. The javelin was a problem on the day, with James Bongart who has made good improvements this season, injured in warm-up and unable to compete, leaving “B” man, Simon Bennett to score as the ‘A” where he placed 8th with 52.46m, and Devon Douglas gaining a valuable point, standing in, in the “B” with 21.89m, also for 8th.
The blustery winds, although following for the horizontal jumpers were not particularly helpful as it affected athletes' run-ups, but Woodford picked up useful points as another debutant Che Richards was 3rd in the “A” with 7.15m, and also a debutant Sam Khogali was 2nd in the ‘B” with 6.92m. Che also helped out in the triple jump and placed 3rd in the “B” with 13.42m, with Peter Kibabo, on this occasion the “A” man, 6th with 13.96m. The high jump was definitely tough in the conditions with the athletes having to run-up into the stiff headwinds, Robert Wolski placed 3rd with 2.05m, and Will Grimsey, also on his Woodford debut winning the “B” with 1.95m.
The 4x100m team of Nick Leavey, Che Richards, Omololu Abiodun, and Justin Duru placed 5th with 43.30 secs. The 4x400m squad of Jack Lawrie (49.9 secs), Dan Rowden (47.9 secs), Canaan Solomon (48.5secs) and Alex Bell (48.8 secs), all ran fine tactically aware legs finishing strongly into the wind and brought Woodford home into a close 2nd place with 3m15.11 secs.