A near-400 entries were received for the first of six North East Grand Prix fixtures which meant a revamp and an earlier start to the programme to ensure the events finished before Monkton Stadium closed its doors!
Despite the extremely cold conditions officials and athletes performed heroically to keep to a tighter-than-usual timetable which resulted in more than three-quarters of the competitors posting new personal bests. The weather may have been cold and blustery but competition was certainly hot throughout and while strict Covid restrictions were in force, those who were allowed into the arena certainly voiced their approval giving every competitor encouragement.
While age group athletes were certainly out in force that cannot be echoed when it comes to senior competition though that will surely change as the season unfolds. However, amongst the seniors who did turn out, there were two very interesting athletes on view, Lewis Robson and Charlie Myers. Not a lot of interest was forthcoming in race five of the 300 metres but on the start line was the extremely-talented three-time former English Schools’ champion Lewis Robson. Robson last set foot on the track back in 2008 competing in the Tartan Games at the International Stadium but he drifted out of the sport until finding a new lease of life recently by giving a helping hand to the coaches at Gateshead Harriers. And he showed he has still a lot to offer whether it be to don a Gateshead vest once more and compete for the Tynesiders or put his knowledge to good use from the sidelines after he scorched home to win his comeback race by over two seconds in a time of 38.23secs.
While Robson’s clocking wasn’t earth-shattering the winners of both the penultimate and final 300 metres events certainly made their mark. Evan Blackman (Corby AC) last competed in the region in 2016 when he finished in bronze medal position in the 300m (36.38s) at the English Schools’ Championships at the International Stadium. However, the East Midlands athlete showed he has improved over the years to win an exciting contest at Jarrow in 34.61s, a time which has him in third place in the Po10 rankings. Blackman had to be at his best though for pushing him all the way to the line was Gateshead’s under-20 athlete Josh McKeown who got the verdict for second place over team-mates Ben Schofield and Mark Collier.
In the 300m contest prior to that victory also went to a visiting athlete, William Ritchie-Moulin of Birchfield Harriers and a student at Durham University. Ritchie-Moulin, also an English Schools’ bronze medallist, beat off his rivals with an impressive 35.75s. Amongst the females competing in the 300m Gateshead’s Beth Pringle (u-20) was quickest with a time of 40.74s. At under-15 level North Shields Poly’s Reuban Moss posted 41.41s.
There were 11 150 metres races on the programme and down to run in the final contest was Olympic pole vault hopeful Charlie Myers, a surprise entry as he builds up towards a trip to Tokyo. And the Birtley athlete certainly showed he has speed to compete with the best by finishing in third place in 16.99s behind Gateshead pair Scott Hall (16.54s) and Matthew Lumb (16.62s).
Others who caught the eye over the rarely-run distance included under-15 Millie Wilkinson (Blyth) 19.49s; Melody Brooks (North Shields Poly), under-17 with 19.26s while, in the same age group Joel Brown-King (Gateshead) recorded 17.03s. Gateshead’s Philippa Ellis posted 18.61s for the quickest under-20 female.
In the 75 metres events Blyth’s Millie Wilkinson (under-15) recorded 9.74s while North Shields Poly senior, James Mole, was quickest overall with 9.59s.
Ten 1500 metres races were down for decision with final race a fitting climax to a superbly organised fixture. It turned into a truly-run race with in-form David Race taking up pace-making duties from the early stages. He was shadowed throughout by fellow Gateshead athletes Matthew Linsley and Josh Blevins, Houghton’s Henry Johnson, Dan Joyce of Tynedale and Morpeth’s Kieran Hedley. Race still led at the bell and as the pace increased his rivals were waiting to pounce. Down the back straight for the final time Joyce eased ahead but with around 150m to go Johnson, with an incredible burst of speed shot to the front which he held on well all the way to the line to win in 3:53.69. Joyce finished runner-up in 3:54.83 and Race completed the one-two-three in 3:56.07. All three athletes compete in the under-20 age group and their performances slot them into third, fourth and fifth place respectively in the current Po10 rankings. Blevins, meanwhile, an under-17 competitor, finished in fifth place in 4:00.60 and is now third ranked. Other notable 1500m performances included Birtley’s Noah Williamson (u-13) who posted 5:07.53; Harry Lyons (Darlington u-15) 4:29.27; Poppy Old (Elswick, u-15) 4:55.13 and Ines Curran (Gateshead, u-20) 4:38.35.
Among the field events, Birtley’s Rowan Mason and Neve Watson (Hartlepool Youth) were in good form in the long jump, Mason, u-17, posting 5:82m and Watson, u-13, putting a mark in the sand at 4:06. In the javelin contests, Gateshead duo Skye Marshall (u-13) and Phoebe Hall (u-15) were on song with throws of 21:99m and 32:81m respectively.
Competition moves to Teesside this weekend with another bumper entry when, hopefully, the weather will be a little kinder.
Photos Courtsey of David Hewitson Sportsforallpics.co.uk
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.