HHH Club 14-70 Competing Abroad. Viterbo, Italy T&F International, Italy.

                   5th to 8th April 2018.   (Much more extensive than Club 18-30….)
It was as our coach came to a standstill next to a tall barbed-wire fence, and a soldier got on board to check our passports, that it dawned on us we weren’t staying at the same accommodation as during Herne Hill Harriers’ last trip to Viterbo, in 2012. Arriving quite late at our new home the air force base, we only had time to add a few Slovakian athletes on Instagram before climbing under fleeces emblazoned with the air force logo to dream about what the rest of the weekend had in store.

The next morning we got up in time for our 07:45hrs soldier-escorted caffeine-free breakfast, and we were starting to wonder if we had in fact accidentally joined the Italian air force. Fortunately, coaches arrived to take us into Viterbo’s historical centre for the competition’s welcome presentations. We met the athletes from the other teams – Italy, Spain, Malta, Romania and Slovakia – and were greeted by some people who didn’t speak English but looked important. Sadly our translator, Waldy, was unable to make the trip but it sounded like a lovely welcome. Keith stepped in to give a speech on behalf of Herne Hill Harriers, as did the leaders of the other teams, after which we regretted not bringing some Tooting delicacies to thank our hosts.

The rest of the morning involved a walk around Viterbo’s beautiful old buildings. Ivor did a good impression of knowing the Spanish team’s chants, the Maltese athletes impressed with their matching outfits and personalised bags, and we maintained our reserved reputation by quietly mumbling when the other athletes stood in front of our attempt at a team photo.

It was back to the air force base for lunch before having a tour of an ancient amphitheatre and baths in the beautiful Italian sunshine. Our tour guide had a lot to say, and possibly a bit to drink, but she had a strong fan club in the Maltese kids and later the London team when the kids got bored.

Saturday arrived and it was finally competition day, starting with the junior meet in the morning. After the opening ceremony, Ben suddenly remembered it was his birthday and, after a quick coffee and pastry to celebrate, Morgan continued the party with a win in the 80m boys’ race. Jaden then had a great tussle in the 600m, ending up with silver. The tone was set for the senior competition in the afternoon.

It began with another opening ceremony where the Italians put us to shame with their patriotic singing. But the formalities didn’t end there, with presentations of athletes to the crowd before each event, and medal ceremonies for every competitor afterwards. It was non-stop all afternoon, and Herne Hill athletes came away with a huge number of medals. This was partly because every position after 2nd received a bronze medal, but we did also have a lot of podium topping performances: Zoe in the 400m hurdles and the 3000m, Cheyanne in the 100m, Jeff in the 3000m, Sharon in the javelin, and Seb in the long jump. The mixed relays electrifyingly rounded off the evening. The girls unfortunately dropped the baton (it wouldn’t be a British relay otherwise, would it?), but the boys flew round to win their race, and then frustratingly received silver medals after the Viterbo team ran faster in the second race. We had done well as a team and took home a ginormous second placed team trophy, plus another trophy for the junior competition.

It was then back to the base, where a few one euro beers and precisely three songs got the party going, before the Spanish team left and we realised that they were the party.

The next day we were treated to coffee and croissants at breakfast, and just as the air force started to seem pretty tempting and Ella made enquiries for the next Newton family holiday, it was time to leave. A relaxed day in Rome watching the marathon, seeing a few sites, and squeezing in one more gelato in the sun ended a fun and competitive weekend for us international athletes. Federica, Sergio and the rest of the Viterbo team had been fantastic hosts, and thanks must go to Waldy, Keith, Glen and Ivor for making things so easy and enjoyable for the rest of the team. Now when are we going on that warm weather training trip to Malta … .. . ?

by Julia Wedmore.