ON THIS DAY FEBRUARY 24, 2001 Michael Openshaw was crowned National Cross-Country champion roared on by huge local crowd at Maiden Castle, Durham City
The superb victory by the Chester-le-Street-based athlete came out of the blue as pre-race media attention never gave him a mention possibly due to the fact that he was a doubtful starter plus the fact that he missed out on a place in the GB&NI team for the World Cross after finishing 10th in the Trials at the Inter-Counties at Wollaton Park, Nottingham three weeks earlier. So, for us who were there that day, it came as a huge surprise to spot Openshaw an hour or so before the off warming up as the rest of the championship programme unfolded.
I managed to catch up with Michael earlier this week and after jogging his memory of this time 20 years ago he vividly remembered the day that turned out to be the springboard to the best year of his athletics career.
“Despite the National being held so close to home it wasn’t in my plans to run after the disappointment of not making the team for the World XC Championships,” confessed Openshaw. “At Wollaton Park I could have opted to run the short course (4k) Trial but decided to take my chance over the longer distance which, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped. “In the early stages I was feeling really comfortable in the leading group but for some reason got into a verbal confrontation with another athlete which resulted in me shooting to the front and forcing the pace on. “That rush of blood probably proved to be my downfall for in the end I slipped back down the field to finish 10th just over a minute adrift of Glynn Tromans.”
By now Openshaw had left his home-town club and linked up with Midlands-based outfit Birchfield Harriers but at Nottingham, which was also the Inter-Counties Championships, he was a member of the winning North Eastern Counties team which was led home on that occasion by Dominic Bannister who had finished in third place. On all accounts on returning home Openshaw’s cross-country campaign was over especially as fixtures in March were cancelled up and down the country due to the foot and mouth disease. However, all things changed dramatically on February 24 when Openshaw made his intentions to contest his first-ever National as a senior.
“I didn’t have the motivation to do any serious training after the Trials as there didn’t seem any reason as I certainly had no plans of running the National at that point,” added Openshaw.
“However, on the morning of the race, literally four or so hours before it was due to start I rang Gordon (Surtees, his coach), who was on a train, and I said rather than go for that 10-mile training run which was what I had originally planned to do, I fancy giving the National a go and I think he said OK then so that was that and I started to gather my gear together before heading over to Durham."
“One thing certain I didn’t have any pre-race nerves and I just thought to myself go out and enjoy myself and that’s what I did. The race itself turned out to be what I had expected and surprisingly, despite the lack of training, I felt comfortable as the likes of Keith Cullen, who had finished second in the Trials, and Rob Denmark (formerly of Gateshead Harriers) pushed on at the head of affairs as I settled in the main group just behind.
“By half-way Cullen had opened up a slight lead as the bunch behind began to break up but I was still going along nicely at that point. With just over a lap to go I managed to reel Cullen in and ran with him for a short period then, for some unknown reason, he just stepped off the course, whether he felt he should save himself for the forthcoming World Championships or whatever left me bewildered."
"I certainly didn’t want to be left in the front with over a mile still to go it just wasn’t my way especially after what happened in the Trials. Luckily, Sam Haughian - who went on to win the National in 2002 but tragically died in a car crash in 2004 - managed to join me and we were stride-for-stride entering the closing stages."
“My confidence grew the closer we got to the finish for I sensed everyone lining the course was rooting for me and was banking on my track speed would to come into play and that’s the way it panned out as I went for home with around 200 metres to go and, thankfully, managed to get the gap before crossing the finish line."
In a way I supposed I surprised myself but not as much as it did to my old friend Jim Colpitts who was officiating at the finish. He was manning the ropes that day and the sight of me charging down the home straight caught him out so much so that he managed to drop the rope just as I crossed the line!"
It was a great feeling going up to receive the trophy with many people staying behind for the presentation and giving me a huge cheer. Being a local it was possibly the loudest of the day.
“Looking at the names on the trophy certainly gave me a proud feeling especially five or so hours earlier I wasn’t even going to run!’’
After missing out on a place for the Sydney Olympics the year before Openshaw’s target for the rest of 2001 was gaining selection for the August IAAF World Championships which were scheduled for Edmonton, Canada. However, for that to happen he had to run sub 13min 25sec 5,000m, a qualifying time over eight seconds quicker than his lifetime best of 13:33.26 which he recorded in Milan in June. Openshaw was in a quandary, should he line up in the Trials in Birmingham or should he take a chance and go to Heusden, northern Belgium where a high-class field was assembled.
“It was a huge decision to make and extremely difficult. By missing the Trials would the selectors take it as a slant against them but on the other hand endurance races at the Trials are usually slow-run so even if I managed to have won there would be a good chance it wouldn’t be quick enough “So, I made the decision to go to Belgium with the hope that I could get the time required and that no-one managed it at the Trials. In the end the Trials were won in 13:52.72 while I managed to just get under the figures required by running a huge personal best of 13:24.44 even though I could only finish 15th in the race."
“It was a huge relief to know that I had made the right decision though I still had an anxious wait before the selectors got in touch to say I was in the team. Big decisions seemed to be the order of the day for me during 2001 but thankfully the one to run the National at the last moment and the one to go to Belgium instead of lining up in the Trials certainly were ones to be pleased with.’’
Unfortunately, for Openshaw, who was the only British male endurance athlete to make it to Canada, he couldn’t quite repeat his Belgium exploits in the World Championships where he was eliminated in the heats after clocking one of his slowest ever 5,000m times of 14:00:84.
THE North East athletics family has been hit a double whammy with the news that long-serving officials John Keefe and Hudson Stoker passed away last weekend.
It’s a huge blow to everyone who knew the two superb servants who graced the field of athletics in a special style by going about their business in a quiet but exceptional way and with their passing the sport will be a lonely place without them.
The Harrier League in particular is hugely grateful and appreciative for the tireless work the pair put in over many years which, in a sense, helped make the NEHL the envy of other cross-country leagues throughout the country.
John started life as an athlete with his home-town club Jarrow Cycling and Athletics Club having notable successes giving the club a strong standing in the region. A move into the admin side with the likes of Tommy Power, Jimmy Hedley, Bob Charlton and Eric Huskisson after a name change to Jarrow and Hebburn Athletics Club, saw the South Tyneside outfit prosper even further especially when they had athletes of the calibre of Steve Cram and the largely unheralded David Sharpe, proud athletes who competed on the World stage in the famous gold with blue sash vest.
If his work at the club wasn’t enough – he filled all the major positions at one time or another – John took on the role as Harrier League secretary at a time when the organisation was struggling for funds. But he had the answer. He asked for volunteers on race days to go round with a bucket persuading competitors and their supporters to dig deep for the cause and it worked a treat so much so the league is now in a much healthier state now as the collecting bucket is no longer and in the archives of history!
Jonathan Gilroy presenting John Keefe with the Jarvis Award at Jarrow & Hebburn's 80th Anniversary
After passing over the league secretary position John continued to be a regular at Jarrow & Hebburn and local fixtures despite some atrocious weather working as an official at the finish line, a role he also enjoyed in warmer climes at track meetings throughout the region.
Hudson, meanwhile, was, in comparison to John, a relatively late starter to the local athletics scene after linking up with the Northumbrians in 1986. However, he quickly made his mark after working alongside great friend George Patterson as members of Morpeth Harriers.
A gentle gentleman, Hudson proved an asset to the Northumberland outfit where he took on many tasks without question, a fact quickly recognised by the hierarchy which resulted in him being installed as a life-member.
Away from his club duties Hudson found a new niche when he took up announcing duties like a duck to water. While local events were the bread and butter, especially with the mic in one hand and his beloved camera around his neck ready for action before proclaiming in that immaculate voice of his: ‘Slow pack you have five minutes to the start’ at a HL fixture. His calm delivery quickly got him recognised where he was installed at Northern Athletics’ events as well as English Road Relay Championships.
RIP John and Hudson, our thoughts and prayers are with all your family and friends at this sad time.
*For further tributes to John and Hudson check the relative club websites
George & Hudson at the 2019 Northern's XC Champs
IT MAY not have been what we have been accustomed to but the weekend’s track and field action at Middlesbrough and Morpeth was a huge step forward since athletics was suspended from the offset of the season.
However, what came through loud and clear from the fixtures at both ends of the North East Counties region was that club coaches and their athletes certainly hadn’t let boredom set in during the past six months or so for numerous new personal bests were the order of the day at both venues.
On Teesside 33 new pbs were set while the Northumberland King Edward VI School track witnessed an incredible 82 life-time best performances – a truly amazing statistic which saw the majority of competitors, many of whom were having their first competitive outdoor action of the year, going home happy.
With such a high number of spectacular offerings on show it would be impossible to highlight them all but a number certainly caught the eye despite their being no spectators in attendance due to current Government guidance.
However, with the hope of not upsetting anyone, here is a short round-up of events from both stadia where windy conditions prevailed.
Fastest sprinter on view at Middlesbrough Sports Village was Gateshead’s Scott Hall who posted a 100m time of 10.90s with Kingston-upon-Hull visitor, David Morgan-Harrison (u-20), pushing him all the way to line in 10.97s. The Humberside athlete, with Hall an absentee, went on to win the 200m later in the day. Fastest female over 200m was home-based Charlotte Kelsey (u-17) who recorded a superb 24.64s, a time which moves her up to fifth place in the current Po10 rankings for 2020.
Since lockdown has eased, Houghton’s Henry Johnson (u-20 ) has excelled over two laps having dipped under 1:50 for the first time. However, the teenager dropped down in distance to contest the 400m and proceeded to produce an excellent sub-50 seconds for only the second time where he recorded a new pb of 49.34s. Johnson’s Houghton team-mate Will Bellamy (u-20) triumphed in the two-lap event after his superb run recently at Stretford, to win in 1:53.07 while Steve McMahon (Sunderland) posted 2:07.66 competing in the over-40 category.
Among the field events Leeds City duo Mark Johnson (v55) and Colin Hayton (v60) were best pole vaulters on view clearing 3:92m and 2:70m respectively; former Morpeth athlete Craig Charlton, now competing for Woodford Green, set a new pb of 17:08m in the shot put, a distance which sees him move to fourth in the 2020 Po10 listings while Emily Stewart (Gateshead) set a new pb of 9:79m and Alnwick’s Talia Thompson was just three centimetres short of her best (10:93m) in her under-17 section.
Twenty-fours after the Middlesbrough fixture action moved further North to Morpeth with a number of athletes lining up for a second time. On the track there were 13 races at both 100m and 800m with Hall among those in the sprint after competing in Teesside. This time however, despite running quicker (10.84s) he had to give way to Leeds City’s European Junior Championship representative Joe Ferguson who got the verdict in 10.65s. Gateshead’s Josh McKeown (u-20) lined up in the same race and posed a pb of 11.15s while Matthew Lumb (u-17) was the quickest in his event with a huge new pb of 11.17s, a time which places him inside the top 10 in the country. The quickest under-15 athlete on the day was Joel Brown-King (Gateshead) with a new pb of 11.17s which moves him up to fifth in the current UK rankings. Nicola Caygill (Jarrow and Hebburn) was fastest woman on view (12.10s). Gateshead’s Joy Eze was quickest under-17 with 12.24s after posting a wind-assisted 12.11s the previous day. The Tyneside club were also celebrating after Amelia Sherlock recorded a new pb of 12.87s as the fastest under-15.
Despite the suspension of competition Gateshead’s David Race (u-17) has come on leaps and bounds this season under the guidance of John Stephenson and he showed a good turn of foot once more to post the fastest 800m time of the day of 1:55.23. Rotherham’s Zak Ferguson celebrated the trip north to set a new pb of 2:04.42 at under-15 which moves him to fifth in the Po10 listings. Back competing in a Morpeth vest Nisha Desai was the fastest female in action posting 2:14.59 while Millie Breese (Alnwick) was quickest under-17 with 2:26.62 and Elswick’s Poppy Old was quickest under-15 with 2:23.47.
In the long jump Gateshead’s junior international Lucy Turner, another who had competed in Middlesbrough, put a mark in the sand with a season’s best of 5:56m while Blaydon’s Liam Reveley led the field with a leap of 6:40m to finish ahead of Jarrow and Hebburn’s Thomas Paterson (under-17) who set a new pb of 5:95m. Gateshead’s Lily Cassidy also a set a new pb of 4:77m to top the under-17 section.
North Shields Poly’s James Wordsworth moved to sixth place in the under-20 shot put rankings with a superb new pb of 15:29m while Sophie Littlemore (Gateshead) took the honours in the senior women’s section with a put of 13:32m. There were also shot put pbs for Thomas Mann (Gateshead, u-15) 11:74m; Ryan Cook (Birtley, u-15) 10:85m; Eve Robson (Middlesbrough, u-20) 10:72; Grace Arthur (Jarrow and Hebburn, u15) 9:23m; Rebecca Harrison (Jarrow and Hebburn, u-15) 7:63m and Ellie O’Halloran (Jarrow and Hebburn, u-20) 7:20m.
Border Harrier Damon King (u-17) produced a huge pb of 48:14m in the hammer competition which slots him at fifth in the UK rankings. Birtley’s Fynn Errington won the under-15 section with a new pb of 25:82m while Middlesbrough’s Grace Mcdonald was the pick of the under-17 women with a throw of 48:70m and the best of the under-15 girls’ contestants was Gateshead’s Lexie Ellis with a pb effort of 39:85m which consolidates second place in this season’s rankings.
NECAA are pleased to announce their second Track & Field competition of 2020, with the competition again being at King Edward School Track, Morpeth on Sunday September 6th.
More events have been added to the timetable and these will be;
Track; 200M, 300/400M, and 1500M
Field; Long Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Discus and Javelin
We will also allow entries from All Age groups from U13’s upwards
Entries close on Sunday 30th August and further details here: www.necaa.info
THE region’s multi-eventers were in action both here in the region and in Sheffield which saw some extremely fine competition with performances of the highest calibre. The North Eastern Counties Pentathlon Championships took place at Gateshead College indoor facilities while Sheffield hosted the English Age Group Pentathlon.
TWO weeks after claiming the Scottish under-15 Indoor Pentathlon title Gateshead’s Georgia Mabbott did likewise when she travelled to Sheffield for the English equivalent. While Georgia had a comfortable victory in Glasgow by over 100 points after totalling 3,176, the competition however was much closer in Yorkshire where she came out on top by just ONE point after accumulating one point less than she did when winning the Scottish gold medal. In Sheffield the victory wasn’t confirmed until the last of the five phases though the Tynesider did manage two new pbs during the day-long competition which just gave her the edge over Alice Wilson of Team Bath with Sophie Lisk (Cardiff Archers) claiming the bonze award just 19 points adrift of the runner-up.
NUMBERS were slightly down on previous years but the standard of competition was excellent which resulted in two new championship best performances and one meeting record.
Sixteen competitors were in action in the under-13 girls contest and once again Emily Bond was in outstanding form where she not only set a new championship record but also scored 60 points more than the two-year figures of Southport Waterloo’s Amber Hughes. The North Shields athlete, who was recently crowned Scottish champion, set out her stall from the first event and was never headed thereafter. Emily recorded the fastest 60m hurdles time (9.37s) before setting a new pb of 7:98m in the shot put phase, a distance which was second best behind Hannah Wilson, the Blyth athlete eventually finishing runner-up at the end of the day behind Emily. Next up was the high jump which saw Emily increase her advantage after a clearance of 1:49m. The momentum was maintained in the long jump, the penultimate phase of the competition where a mark in the sand at 4:74m saw her add further daylight ahead of her rivals. The 60m was the final event of the day and while Emily sprinted to a pb of 8.47s it was only the fourth fastest overall with Millie Wilkinson (Blyth), who eventually finished in bronze medal position, recording a superb 8.16s. The championship medallists: Gold: Emily Bond (North Shields Poly) 3,041pts; Silver: Hannah Wilson (Blyth Running Club) 2,787pts; Bronze: Millie Wilkinson (Blyth Running Club) 2,549pts.
The second new championship best came in the under-13 boys event which saw Blyth’s Luke Pichler add a huge 231 points to the old 2013 figures of Gateshead’s Oliver Herring. Luke led the way from the first phase and, like Emily was never headed after that. He was quickest over the hurdles; best in the high jump, despite a couple of run ins with the uprights, long jump, shot put and 60m. Luke totalled 1,808 pts with Dante Evans (New Marske) finishing in silver medal position on 1,47pts. City of York’s William Hickling accumulated 1,234pts for third place while Chester-le-Street’s Owen Barron claimed the county bronze award with 1,201pts.
The under-15 girls’ championship was won by New Marske’s Molly Thrower setting three new pbs along the way. The Teessider opened with a pb (9.53s) in the 60m hurdles and followed that with a pb in the high Jump (1:49m) and finally in the 60m (8.53s). Molly totalled 2,991pts with City of York pair Emily Maude and Rosie Hickling finishing in second ad third place with 2,921pts and 2,716pts respectively. Ella Jones (Chester-le-Street), in fourth place received the county silver medal with Emma Sedgwick (Middlesbrough Mandale) completing the podium places.
Ashley Watson (Hartlepool Youth) claimed victory in the under-17 women’s event after accumulating 3,222pts. Asley won by just under 200 points which wasn’t surprising as she set new figures in four of the five phases. Ashley opened with a 60m hurdles pb of 9.06s; followed that with a high jump life-time best of 1:46m; she did likewise in the long jump (4:91m). Unfortunately, Ashley missed out on a shot put pb with 8.35m but was back in pb mode in the final 60m phase where she recorded 8.19s. Alena Dixon, of Bury AC, finished in second place with 3,025pts with Quisha Graham (North Shields Poly) finishing third and second in the county championship with 2,836pts. Jarrow and Hebburn’s Lexi Brown, who finished in fourth spot (2,808pts), received the country bronze medal.
In the under-20 men’s contest victory went to Blaydon’s Sam Gorman after totalling 3,186pts. Wakefield’s James Simms finished runner-up (2,864pts) while Regan Langley (Doncaster) claimed third place with 2,161pts.
The senior men’s event was an all visitor affair with victory going to Hallamshire’s Thomas Hughes (3,086pts); Doncaster’s Nathan Langley finished runner-up with 2,960pts and Dartford’s Matt Rushden completed the one-two-three.
In the under-17 men’s competition Leeds City’s Morgan Williams came out on top finishing with 3,037pts with Jarrow and Hebburn’s Thomas Paterson claiming the county title in second place after accumulating 2,901pts. Amber Valley’s Ben Pitts finished in third place (2,492pts) with Hartlepool Youth’s Scott Temple fourth with 1,595pts.
The under-20 women’s championship was won by Gateshead’s Philippa Ellis with a total of 3,325pts. City of York’s Leah Attack finished in second place with 2,125pts.
Stockport’s Cory Beechall claimed victory in the under-15 boys competition while Katie Robinson (City of Sheffield) scored 3,285pts to defeat City of York’s Rebecca Lister (3,078pts) to win the senior women’s contest.
*Thanks go to championship secretary Keith Wilshire and the technical officials for making it another highly-successful championship. And to all the supporters who encouraged all the athletes throughout the day.
ONCE again a small number of North East athletes travelled to Glasgow’s Emirates Arena for the Scottish Under-13/15/20 Indoor Championships returning on a high after trawling in four gold, three silver and four bronze medals.
And for one particular athlete she will not want the season to end for she thrilled the Scottish spectators on the opening day of the championships by breaking two National records on her way to setting new British records!
North Shields Poly’s Emily Bond set the standard in the first heat of the under-13 hurdles, the opening event on the programme, and in doing so erased the existing 9.65sec from the record books by producing, not only a new pb of 9.19s, but also setting a new British record on the way. In the hurdles she was joined by Blyth Running Club’s Millie Wilkinson who went into the fixture with a pb of 9.92s. However, after progressing through the heats and semi-finals she produced the run of her life to finish in second place behind Emily after setting her best-ever figures of 9.73s.
That wasn’t the end of the action for the duo especially Emily who had her eyes on two other events practically running side-by-side during an action-packed day. First up was the long jump and after breaking the Scottish record of 4:85 metres in the opening round with a mark in the sand at 4:94m she leapt even further in round four to 5:03m, another British record to cherish. Blyth's Sadie Parker was inspired by Emily’s winning leap which urged her on to joining her on the podium after finishing in third place with a new indoor pb of 4:42m. Then it was on to the high jump for Emily and though it had already been a tiring day she still managed to clear a new pb height of 1:55m, a height just one centimetre shy of the existing Scottish record.
Three events, three gold medals, not a lot more can be asked for an extremely talented local athlete who now tops this year’s UK rankings at 60m hurdles, long jump and high jump.
Millie Wilkinson was back on the starting blocks an hour or so later to contest the 60 metres where she was joined by fellow Blyth athletes Abigail Huntley and Maya Turner and all three progressed through to the semi-finals. However, both Millie and Maya managed to make it to the final with Abigail just missing out. And the pair were just pipped for the gold medal with Millie finishing in second place -another silver medal – and Maya third ensuring the required celebration for the Blyth outfit.
In the under-20 60m hurdles, Gateshead’s Philippa Ellis finished in second place in her heat (9.31s) and then produced a new life-time best of 9.00s in the final where she finished in third position.
Not long later a Gateshead athlete was topping the podium. Twelve months ago the Tyneside club’s Jazmine Moss won the under-20 200m in 24.74s, however, this time round Rachel Bennett, in her first outing over the distance this winter, claimed the title with a new pb of 24.25s, a time which slots her into third place in the UK rankings.
In the under-13 200m Blyth’s Sadie Parker progressed to the final after setting a new indoor pb of 28.64s in the earlier rounds. However, she couldn’t quite repeat that performance in the final and finished in sixth position in 29.27s.
Tynedale's Will Ainsley claimed a maiden Scottish National medal, crossing the line in his U13 60m hurdles race with huge smile on his face to take the silver medal.
In the under-20 shot put competition, Gateshead’s Lucy Giles produced a huge pb of 11:48m to claim the silver medal with team-mate Philippa Ellis finishing in fourth place while Alnwick’s Leila Thompson also made it onto the podium in third spot in the under-13 shot contest with a put of 9:12m.
Gateshead’s Hannah Buckton and Lexie Ellis were the only athletes to make it onto the podium on the second day, Hannah progressing through to the final of the under-15 60m hurdles where she finished in third position in a time of 9.52s while team-mate Lexi produced a new life-time best of 10:88m to finish runner-up in the under-15 shot put contest.
There were fourth place finishers for Tynedale’s Lewis Davison in the under-15 200m where he returned 25.41s after clocking 25.05 in the semis; Megan Costello was fourth in the under-20 60m (7.92s); and fellow Gateshead athlete, Amelia Sherlock was fourth in the under-15 60m in 8.17s. Darlington’s Kate Williams joined Amelia in the final and finished in eighth place in 8.44s though she recorded 8.29s in the heats. Matthew Lawson (Gateshead) made it through to the final of the under-20 60m where he finished seventh but was rewarded with a new pb of 7.17s.
Bill McGuirk is the North East's top athletics correspondent. NECAA Chairman and official, Bill can be found at all local athletics events supporting the sport he loves.