Herne Hill Harriers’ flagship men’s team maintained our battle in the second tier of top British League club athletics with a long trek north to Gateshead, where we finished 6th for the second time in two matches of our season to date. Enduring horrendously wet weather conditions throughout the afternoon when other parts of the country were basking in sunshine, our team are now one of three level on points at the bottom of the league table and with three more clubs lying one, two and three points ahead of us respectively. The standings are so close to call with two fixtures remaining that any two of six teams of the eight in the division could be relegated.
Our women’s national league team competing a day later in the UKWAL at Newham, placing 7th on the day and with only one more match to contest look likely to drop a division, but as with our men it was a wonderfully spirited effort by all and the team ethic is good in both of our teams. Our men’s performance as a collective featured a number of high quality individual efforts which unfortunately were unable to outweigh our weaknesses in a number of technical events in particular, while our better women’s events also failed to compensate for deficiencies in the hurdles and some field events. The Newham fixture featured the added interest of a competitive appearance for the host club of former Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu.
Blade Ashby was our only A string winner at Gateshead, in the opening track race, the 400m hurdles in 52.80 seconds, a very decent time in the inclement weather. In the B string events Byron Robinson won the 200m in 21.98 and Peter Phillips won the B 400m in 48.37. Blade’s brother Thomas had the sort of up and down day that can happen to a multi event athlete, his highlight being a PB of 7.10m in placing 2nd in the A Long Jump. Junior international Marvin Popoola made his BAL debut finishing 3rd in both of the A string sprints against good opposition. Our sprinters all ran well, as Idris Ojuriye was 2nd in the B 100m, while our 4 x 100m relay team came 2nd and our 4 x 400m relay team were 3rd.
Among our younger team members, under 17s Phillip Thomas and Feysel Nadew made their senior team debuts and acquitted themselves well, with Phillip only a centimetre shy of his triple jump PB with 12.60m, while under 20 John Tayleur was close to his 3000m steeplechase best time. In the throwing events Michael Wheeler was 4th in a strong shot contest and Alex Hill-King was another BAL debutant competing in the hammer and discus. As well as Feysel in the 800m and John in the steeplechase, Mike Cummings, Chris Busaileh and Jeff Cunningham filled our longer distance berths, these three all running two races each in a busy afternoon.
In our women’s team our distance races were covered by Steph Mitchell, Nicola Richmond, Karen Ellison, Julia Wedmore and Hannah Viner, who generally scored good points in an area that was not her weakest. Hannah ran a very good PB in the 2000m steeplechase, while Steph was an absolute star with 3rd in the A string 800m with her first sub 2.20 clocking since her school days, a resounding 2.18.67. To this she added a big 1500m PB of 5.04.03 and to cap things off she ran the fastest split in our 4 x 400m relay team on the anchor leg, clocking 60.8.
Our women sprinters ran well too, with Eva Joseph placing 4th in the A 100m and was then 3rd in a 200m race in which Christine O was 2nd. While those of our field event women we could muster battled for scraps, Liz Donnelly placed 3rd in the A 400m with another sub 60 clocking following her Surrey bronze medal and was 2nd behind the famous Olympian on the opening leg of the 4 x 400m relay.
Elsewhere in a weekend of breakthroughs, Steph’s sub 2.20 was preceded by a first ever sub four minute 1500m clocking for 16 year old Lascelles Hussey at a British Milers Club meeting in Milton Keynes as he ran 3.59.9, with more targets for his season ahead.
Despite having some strong individual performances in our matches our teams must now really pull out all the stops at our next fixtures, our men at home at Tooting Bec on 5th July and our women the following day in Portsmouth, as we will not be able to afford to have gaps or weaknesses where avoidable for the remainder of this league season. With only one match remaining for our women it may already be too late, but our men have a home fixture and another also in London a month later, so should still have a good fighting chance to move up the table and out of trouble.