WHAT do Holly Whittaker (Elgin), Charlotte Dillon (Durham City), Leila Thompson (Alnwick), Joe Perkins (Birtley), Josh Blevins (Gateshead), Corey Campbell (Team East Lothian), Callum Hendry (Victoria Park, Glasgow), Joy Eze (Gateshead) and James Wordsworth (North Shields Poly) have in common. The answer is they all top the early-season Po10 rankings in their respective events after competing in the highly-successful NECAA fixture at Morpeth.
On a near-perfect weather day over 200 eager competitors took to the track – and field – and they certainly excelled with over 150 of them setting new pbs though, due to Covid regulations firmly in place, spectators were at a premium to witness their efforts.
From sprints to middle distance and jumps to throws, the smile on competitors faces throughout the day told it all as the action unfolded. And exciting action was the name of the game time and time again. On the track 14 800m races opened the progamme and it was pbs all the way ending with a superb encounter in the final race. The line-up certainly lived up to its billing despite no senior athlete on the start line. Middlesbrough Mandale’s Sam Tyers was the fastest on paper and immediately took up the running pulling his rivals through to the bell in an extremely brisk 53 seconds. Sam, an under-20 athlete, was tracked by Gateshead duo Josh Blevins (u-17) and David Race (u-20), Birtley’s Chris Perkins (u-17) and North Shields Poly entry Zac Old (u-17).
Sam kept the pace going and was still heading the field entering the home straight for the final time. However, it was David who proved the strongest in the closing stages overtaking the Teessider to go on and win in a superb 1min 52.36secs, a time which is the fastest outdoors in the UK this term. Sam finished runner-up 1:53.95 while there were Grade 1 standards for third-placed Josh (1:55.12), fourth-placed Chris (1:56.65) and fifth-placed Zac (1:57.00). Middle distance running in the region is on the up once again if those youngsters is anything to go by.
In an earlier two-lap event Elswick’s Poppy Old also produced a Grade 1 under-13 performance of 2:19.13 which places her in sixth place in the current rankings.
In the 12 heat 200m there were two Grade 1 performances, both by teenagers. Scottish visitor Holly Whittaker (Elgin Amateur AC) stormed home in her event in 28.38s, a new pb and an added reward which sees her top the under-13 Po10 rankings. The second Grade 1 came as no surprise when 2019 England Schools 100m champion, Joy Eze (Gateshead) after moving up an age group defied a slight headwind to win her event an a new pb of 24.28s, a time which is the best under-20 recorded in the UK this year.
To round off the track events there were four 3,000m races and once again a Scottish raider was prominent, so much so Corey Campbell’s new Grade 1 pb of 8:46.92 in finishing runner-up behind Blyth’s Josh Fiddaman (u-20) places him at the head of the Po10 rankings. After the initial jockeying for position in the early laps Josh, Corey, Morpeth’s Daniel Melling and Newcastle University’s Jack Douglas broke away from the rest of the field as the pace wound up. At the bell Corey had a slight advantage with Josh tracking him all the way until entering the home straight where he managed to forge ahead to cross the line in an impressive 8:45.06. Daniel finished in third place in 8:52.74 with Jack forth in 8:59.84.
Not content with an eye-catching performance in the 200m Holly Whittaker then lined up in the long jump where she managed to produce another life-time best by putting a mark in the sand at 4:68 metres, a distance that also heads the Po10 rankings.
While it’s always nice to report on good performances the opening fixture was all about giving athletes the chance to blow away the cobwebs after an extremely difficult year-and-a-half and what came through loud and clear is that athletes and their coaches have continued to work against the odds through the pandemic and despite the drawbacks they were back and the smiles told it all so a massive pat on the back to everyone who took part and to the officials and the main man, meeting organiser Keith Wilshire, for making it all happen.
This weekend sees track and field action return to Shildon after an absence of four years while the first of the region’s Grand Prix series is scheduled for Monkton Stadium on Wednesday, April 28 which will be followed by the second NECAA Open fixture at Middlesbrough on Sunday, May 9. After such a long break from competition fixtures are now coming thick and fast so to everyone keep fit and healthy and continue to enjoy your athletics.
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.