English Schools Athletics Association Championships (ESAA) 2022
Report – Paul Bearman
The 91st English Schools National Track and Field Athletics Championships is the biggest volunteer led athletics competition in the world, with over 1700 of England’s top young athletes from 45 counties competing over two days at the championship held this year in Manchester.
The championships were the first to be held in 3 years post Covid and are an amazing spectacle, run with military precision, with hardly a minute passing over the 2 days without something happening, bang on time.
The journey to the ESAA champs starts with selection to represent a county school area, then competing at the respective county school championships, then selection to compete for the county at the inter county (e.g., the Mason Trophy) competition and then, if the entry standard is met, representing the county at the national championships.
To go through that journey and to achieve the stringent entry standards and then to gain selection for the county teams is tough and an achievement in itself and this year 8 of Stratford upon Avon AC Junior athletes were selected to be in the squads to represent Warwickshire and Gloucestershire.
To step up to this national level is a very hard jump, but once again Stratford athletes proved worthy and capable of competing against the very best athletes in England.
Nerves on such a big stage can play a big part in an individual performances and the Stratford contingent went away with varying degrees of satisfaction with their performances but all of them will have gained invaluable experience for the future.
On day one the athletes were met with warm, cloudy/sunny conditions and for once the wind was relatively light but with a head wind in the home straight.
Caitlin Buckley was the first Stratford athlete on the track in the senior girls 100m and lining up in heat 2 she controlled her nerves to run probably her best ever race to be in the pack at the blanket finish and despite running a Personal Best of 12.52s she still only managed 6th place in the mass dip for the line.
Freddie Clemons was the winner at his previous ESAA champs as an U15 hurdler but with Covid wiping out his two U17 competitive seasons completely he was now lining up in the U20 hurdles. In technical events the transition through the age groups is vital and with Freddie having to go from 80m as an U15 to 110m he is making good progress towards his goals of being a top U20 hurdler, starting with qualifying for the ESAA champs.
In his heat he had a good start and maintained his form throughout until fading slightly towards the end finishing 5th in a “disappointing” time of 15.77s.
Millie Leighton had the honour of being appointed team captain and lined up in a very competitive senior girls Triple Jump. With several competitors in the rankings jumping over 12 metres Millie knew it would be a tough job to emulate that but she produced the best sequence of three jumps she has for a while to finish in 11thplace and with a huge new PB of 11.36m.
Joel Masters is a new member of the club after being spotted by junior coach Lucy Edwards at the Gloucester and South West schools champs winning the junior boys (U15) 100m…..with a standing start
After Lucy recommended Joel to me, we invited him to train and in the 2 weeks we had available to us it was simply a case of keeping things simple and introducing him to a crouch start and that was before he was able to try a block start. In the 4 sessions before ESAA he mastered both which set him up for lining up on the biggest stage of his sporting life so far.
In his heat after a “dodgy” start with no blocks and a near wobble into another lane he got to the finish in 11.74s and after finishing 10th overall he scraped through to the semi-final by 1 100th of a second.
The semi-final went a lot better and Joel was shocked to hear he had qualified for the final the following day after running 11.74s again, finishing 6th fastest overall.
Catherine Reynolds completed the first day for the Stratford contingent. She qualified for the ESAA champs early after a series of encouraging and quick runs before the champs but her nerves were jangling when she lined up for the senior girls 400m. With a race plan firmly fixed in her head she executed it perfectly finishing 2nd in a big new PB of 57.06 and qualified for the final as 2nd fastest ….so a medal was a possibility!
Day 2 started with searing heat right from the outset and it was obvious that was going to have an impact on all the athletes, particularly the distance runners.
Alex Adams is known for his cross-country exploits but qualifying for the ESAA T&F championships was a completely new and challenging experience for him. Three weeks ago in the South West schools champs and competing for Gloucestershire, he ran the 3000m and knocked 13 seconds off his PB and so his form was good going into the race.
Going into the inter boys 3000m with many seasoned and quick athletes in the race, an anxious Alex lined up with his own game plan and he stuck to it. He ran an intelligent, typically gutsy run to finish 9th in a time of 08:53.7 knocking another 7 seconds off his PB.
Along with Millie Leighton, the juniors have had a lot of success at national level over the years in Triple Jump and the club also had Zach McKenzie competing in the Inter boys Triple Jump against some very established competitors.
With no preparation due to joining up with Forest Green FC academy 2 weeks ago, plus having a bout of Covid, Zach arrived in Manchester relying on the hard graft he had put in before leaving and the “rest” appeared to do him good by producing his best ever series of 6 jumps.
The first objective is to jump well enough in the first three jumps to qualify in the top eight to continue with a further 3 jumps. In the first 3 rounds he nudged up his PB to get into the top 8 and then in his last jump he eclipsed his original outdoor legal PB before the competition by an enormous 53cm, finishing with 13.34 in 7th place.
In all the jumps building rhythm is critical and without proper final preparation in training it’s difficult to go into a championship and perform to expectations. An unfortunate clash with a holiday in Tenerife post A level exams, meant that George Fox-Rowe was another athlete a bit under prepared for his senior boys High Jump.
His Mum Kate, a junior coach, met him from the airport and whisked him straight up to Manchester to join up with the team. After a day’s rest George took his place in the stadium and jumped with confidence up to 1.87, keeping him in contention for a medal. However, as with several others, George failed at 1.92 and bowed out in a very creditable 7th position.
Finals come thick and fast on day two and Joel Masters was in a position none of us expected but wow did he stun us with his performance. Prior to the race we got a message how understandably anxious he was. With no access to the athletes I text him …..
“I hope you are chilling ?. Don’t forget to set your blocks and concentrate at the start and go on B of the bang of the gun, get into your running and just go for it. Have a good run”
“I’m practising blocks and hopefully it all goes well” came the reply”
OK , take it easy…..don’t wear yourself out” ?
The race itself was a blur but Joel literally flew out of the blocks and stormed into the lead and held that position until the last 5 metres and against all the odds he ran 11.42s to win the silver medal. Truly an incredible rise from the school playing field to the podium at the national champs.
After congratulating him Joel responded “wasn’t too bad was it” with a wink. An understatement if ever I heard one.
Later in the afternoon Catherine Reynolds lined up for her 400m final. She too was incredibly nervous and the text to her was the same as Joel’s but the race plan was the same as the heat only “go a bit quicker” ?….and that she did.
Blasting out of the blocks into her glorious smooth stride down the back straight and into attacking the bend she came off it in second. She then held her form down the last 100m and through the line to finish with a silver medal and a new sub 57 second PB of 56.76s. A spine tingling moment for both her family and us in the crowd.
As always, the relays bought the championships to a close and Freddie Clemons ran the third leg in the senior boy’s event and helped the team finish in the bronze medal position.
A hat trick of medals for Stratford athletes but more importantly everyone met or exceeded expectations on the biggest domestic stage and virtually everyone came home with new PBs. A marvellous end to a memorable championship.
An interesting fact is that George, Zach, Millie, Alex, Caitlin and Freddie all came through the ranks from the U11s…..Catherine as an U15 and Joel is and brand new onto the conveyor belt as John Turner calls the juniors.