The opening match of Gloucester Athletic Club’s Midland Track & Field League season at Solihull on Saturday proved, if any proof were needed, that there is a huge amount of young talent in the club’s ranks waiting to burst onto the senior scene.
Over recent seasons, the club has used this league to give their talented youngsters their first taste of senior competition and many of these are now established team members and on their way to successful athletic careers.
The cold and often blustery conditions were hardly ideal for the season’s opener or conducive for good performances but the sprinters, in particular, put these to one side and rose to the occasion.
Sophie Rowe (nee Lambert) has been in scintillating early-season form and is clearly on a high following her recent wedding.
She opened up the day with a 26.0 clocking in the 200 metres, her fastest for three years, before smashing her previous 100 metres best time by a massive three tenths of a second, taking victory in 12.1 seconds, the fastest time ever by a Gloucester senior lady.
Afterwards, she said: “I’m ecstatic! My training and racing has been going very well over the past few months and I was hoping to beat my 100 metres best time at some stage during the season, but didn’t expect to break it so early on, or by so much. In the space of one week I’ve got married and have run my fastest 100m in a 17-year athletics career, so I couldn’t be happier!”
As the club’s senior sprinter, Sophie is a mentor to many of the younger members in the squad, one of whom, Erin Macfarlaine, was making her debut in the senior team on Saturday.
Erin, who has worked hard over the winter to overcome injury which curtailed her 2016 season, responded by knocking nearly a full second off her 200 metres best time with a 27.6 seconds clocking before shaving one-tenth off her 100 metres best time.
The ladies were not the only ones setting the track on fire. In only his second season of competing for the senior team, Rory Cawkwell gave glimpses of his potential with two personal bests, 11.1 seconds and 22.9 seconds over the 100 and 200 metres to establish himself as the club’s leading male sprinter at the early stage of the season.
LJ Phillips and Ian Beard provided solid support in the relay squads as did Kirstie Constable, who set two new personal bests in the long jump and non-scoring 200 metres.
Joel Townley is another young athlete with great potential. He won the high jump with a 1.80m clearance before moving on to his preferred event, the triple jump, where he won with a huge personal best leap of 13.88 metres to remove the previous club U17 mark, set by the great Donovan Smith 40 years ago this summer, from the record books and to move to the top of the UK U17 ranking lists at the early part of the season.
There was a personal best, also, for James Etheridge who cleared 2.75 metres in the pole vault to improve her previous best by 35 cms.
Chloe Jones is still only 17 but is now an established member of the member of the team.
On Saturday, she competed in four throwing events and set two new personal bests in the javelin and shot put.
She said later: “I’m pleased with the personal bests but I really wanted to set new marks in the discus and hammer, which are my favourites. I’m happy with the day and will aiming to improve over the season.”
Another youngster making her senior team debut was one of the Club’s top junior cross-country runners, Briony Bishop, who ran a well-judged race to win the ladies ‘B’ string 3,000 metres race, while another young middle distance runner, Harry Wells, produced a much-improved run to come home third in the men’s 800 metres ‘A’ race.
Some of the team’s more mature stalwarts added some much-needed points as they all competed in a range of events to keep the youngsters’ feet firmly on the ground.
Jeremy Mower set two new club M50 age group records in the 2,000m steeplechase and 400m Hurdles, while Alex Purcell set three new ladies W35 Club bests in the 100m Hurdles, 400m Hurdles and Triple Jump.
Helen Pritchard celebrated her birthday by gaining excellent points with a win in the 100m hurdles and a second place in the pole vault as well as securing good places in the 400m hurdles and long and triple jumps.
Team captain Steve Millward was a clear winner of the 2,000m steeple- chase ‘A’ string and added good points in the 400m hurdles, javelin, discus and high jump.
Team manager Richard Blackwell was delighted with the performance of his youngsters, saying: “They are the future of the club and have set a standard that all of our young athletes must aspire to.
“The more established athletes showed they still have what it takes to succeed at this level and set a great example to the younger members. I’m really pleased with the attitude and approach of the whole team and we can only move on from here.”