Depleted HHH team struggles in latest NAL match

Jeff Cunningham, Joshua Lee-Baum & Alex Brown among finishers at Wimbledon 1500s

Herne Hill Harriers’ flagship senior men’s and women’s team travelled to Bedford on Saturday to compete in the second match of the National Athletics League season, writes Geoff Jerwood.

A perfect storm of a long bank holiday weekend, school and university exams and deadlines and some injury and illness led to what was a struggle for a depleted team to get an overall result on the day.

The final match position of seventh out of eight teams was ultimately a fair return with what was essentially only half a complete team in terms of numbers, albeit very frustrating given the very good quality among those who did compete.

A number of athletes filled two, three or four events on the day and it was clear that a couple of other clubs had similar problems. The biggest issue for Herne Hill was an almost complete lack of field event athletes and these absences proved very costly to the end result.

The team did feature some event winners and others who were placed highly. First on the track was a strong event win for Isaac Ogunlade in the men’s A string 400m hurdles with a good 54.02 in windy weather.

Sophie Harris won the women’s A 3,000m with an emphatic solo front run in 9:58.48, with Monika Gajek winning the B string in 11:38.75. Lily Newton and Katie Balme won the women’s A and B 2,000m steeplechase in 7:36.24 and 7:50.97 respectively.

Balme had earlier placed third in the women’s A string 800m in 2:29.36, then ran 4:55.95 for 1500m to come second in that A string category, a very strong contribution to the team cause.

The other Harriers event victory came from a hastily-assembled men’s 4x100m relay team of Ogunlade, Byron Robinson, Andris Thorpe and Myles Copeland.

Although field events were generally a weakness on the day, Zara Acton placed second in both women’s A shot and discus with best marks of 12.31m and 33.42m.

Dan Shaw and Mike Cummings were also busy as both doubled very well in the men’s 800m and 1500m. Despite the usual windy Bedford track Shaw clocked a PB in his 800m with 1:59.15 to snatch fourth in the A string on the line by the narrowest of margins and was then second in the B 1,500m in 4:14.91 for a good points haul. Cummings was a very smart second in the B 800m in 2:00.47 and then ran 4:03.88 to come second in the A 1500m.

Tony Macdowall was fifth in the men’s B string 400m hurdles as a “warm up” for placing third in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase in 11:50.83. Simon Coombes, who will turn 50 at the end of this month came fifth in the A 3,000m in 9:41.19 accompanied by Keith Newton, who is almost 10 years older and filled a gap to score sixth place B string points.

Newton was not even the oldest team member and none filled more events than 69-year-old Andy Lea Gerrard who threw discus, hammer, shot and javelin in an exhausting afternoon which ultimately still kept the team in a cumulative position to fight to move back up the division table in the two matches which remain.

Herne Hill’s Kristal Awuah clocked a season’s best 100m of 11.40 in Greece last week to move up to eighth in the UK women’s rankings and Jeff Cunningham raced at a specialist “Fast 5,000m” meeting in France organised by Harriers man Simon Messenger, where he ran a big season’s best of 16:00.22.

Herne Hill had a series of strong performances and PBs at the Hercules Wimbledon 1,500m track meet.
Joe Elliott and Ross Brown made their debuts at this distance in race six and Elliott won in 4:20.39. Brown finished eighth in an inaugural for him 4:26.84.

Race seven saw Cunningham finish second in 4:21.38. Quite close behind, Alexandra Brown was very narrowly outside her PB, clocking 4:25.12.

Jack Hillier is back track racing after eight years away and in his second 1,500m race of the season brought his best for the year down to 4:07.63 in race nine, with Joe Fenwick a little further back in 4:19.50.

Race 10 produced some sub four minutes times and these included Dan Shaw just catching Mike Cummings on the finish line as Shaw clocked 3:58.15 to Cummings’ 3:58.19.

Shaw went under four minutes for the first time and this feat was also achieved by Lewis Laylee in the penultimate race of the 12. Laylee improved his PB from three years ago by four seconds as he ran 3:56.84.

Ryan Willmott is starting a habit of winning road races. He finished first in Hyde Park in the RunThrough Chase the Sun event in a time of 16:36 after bagging a 5km win on Clapham Common last week.