07 MAY 2012 General News

Pozzi plots his Olympic journey with big win at London test event

London's Olympic Stadium during the athletics test event (Getty Images)London's Olympic Stadium during the athletics test event (Getty Images) © Copyright
London, UKFittingly, it was a Loughorough student Justine Kinney who made a minor bit of athletics history on Friday evening by becoming the first ever winner in the London Olympic Stadium, but it was sprint hurdler Andy Pozzi who was first to light up the track with a world class performance.

First race winner on London track: 'The track feels amazing’

Kinney, a 24-year-old psychology student, won the opening heat of the women’s 400m Hurdles at the British Universities and Colleges Sports Outdoor Athletics Championships wearing the distinctive African violet colours once worn by LOCOG chairman and IAAF Vice President Sebastian Coe, a Loughborough student when he was in his middle distance pomp 30 years ago.

By default, of course, Kinney also set the venue’s first ever stadium record, although her time of 59.79 was more than two-and-a-half seconds slower than her personal best and lasted barely six minutes before it was broken in the next race.

Not that Kinney minded much about that as the Irishwoman from Birmingham sent out an excited message that will please London-bound athletes around the world.

"The track feels amazing," she said. "It feels like you could fly down it, it feels wonderful.

"It feels amazing to know all those world-class athletes will be running down this track in just a few months. I’m so privileged to run here."

Pozzi improves to 13.35

It was a view repeated numerous times by Britain’s top student athletes over the four days of the BUCS championships, not least by Pozzi, the event’s stand out performer, who set two championships records en route to the 110m Hurdles title, clocking 13.52 in the heats and a blistering 13.35 in the final.

That moves the European junior silver medallist up to sixth on the UK senior all-time list, and eclipses Colin Jackson’s UK age 19 best. It’s also the quickest ever by a European teenager, and puts him among the top 15 in the world so far this year.

Not bad considering it was run into a -1.3m/s headwind.

Satisfyingly for Pozzi, who turns 20 next week, both times were also inside the Olympic qualifying time set by UK Athletics, which means he’s already halfway to completing the journey from his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon in the west of England to the Games in Stratford, east London, in three months’ time. Now he just needs to win the UK trials at the end of June.

"That was more a promise of things to come than a great run in itself," said Pozzi, who was fourth at the World Indoors this year, and considered not starting the final here due to a twinge of hamstring cramp after the heats.

"I knew a better time was there," he said. "It was tempting after the heats to think I’ve got the A standard, job done, but I was confident I could go on and run significantly quicker.

"This is the nicest stadium I’ve ever been in. The track is very fast and very hard, so the more you put in the more you get out.

"I think the whole atmosphere is amazing. There are only a couple of thousand here and there’s already a great feeling."

Opening festivities signal 2012 hours to go

Pozzi’s verdict will certainly please Coe and IAAF President Lamine Diack who watched the official opening of the stadium along with 40,000 spectators on Saturday evening when a nine-year-old local schoolgirl, Niamh Clarke-Wills, was picked from the crowd to press a giant button that sent a flurry of balloons up into the rather chilly east London air exactly 2012 hours before the Games begin for real on 27 July.

Pozzi’s performance came on the final day (7) of the championships, a normally low-key affair on the British athletics calendar taking its place on this rather grand stage this year as the athletics test event for the Olympic Games. It capped a good few days for his coach, Malcolm Arnold, who also saw Lawrence Clarke notch up an Olympic qualifier in one of the special 'stand alone’ events for British Olympic hopefuls.

Clarke, a training partner of Pozzi’s, won the UKA sprint hurdles event with 13.50, while two other Arnold athletes, Jack Green and Eilidh Child enjoyed impressive 400m flat and hurdles doubles.

Green, the European under-23 champion, won his hurdles event in 50.00 before adding the 400m in a personal best of 46.05, while Child, the Commonwealth silver medalist, took the women’s hurdles in 57.31 before landing the flat victory too.

Green added his name to those praising the track’s sprint-friendly qualities.

"The track is really nice so now that I’ve run on it, come the Olympics I will know how to handle it," he said after beating Conrad Williams in the 400m.

"It was nice to stake my claims for the relay and hopefully I will be able to run in the Olympic Stadium in the relay and hurdles."

Okoye praises throwing circle

For a number of other invited athletes, the competition provided a worthwhile chance to whet the appetite ahead of the main meeting here at the beginning of August.

"It was great to experience the circle that I will hopefully throw-in in a few months’ time," said world number five discus thrower Lawrence Okoye who threw 63.57m. "I’ve gained a huge advantage by coming here today and I threw pretty well."

Fellow UK record-holder Holly Bleasdale was not quite so successful in the Pole Vault. Both she and Kate Dennison cleared 4.35m, but the latter won on countback.

"It was a really good thing to come here," said Bleasdale. "It’s made me more excited to aim harder and to make sure I am back here in August. It was a good experience and I know where everything is now."

Notable performances across the board

Elsewhere, former World youth and junior champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey won the BUCS 100m in 10.42 from rising sprint star Danny Talbot, who had clocked a season’s best of 10.37 in the heats.

That stadium record lasted barely 24 hours though, as World Championships representative James Ellington, a man from the local club of Newham and Essex Beagles, cruised to a swift 10.30 victory in the guest 100m on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the first of five championship records fell in the women’s 5000m heats, where Charlotte Purdue erased training partner Steph Twell’s mark with a time of 15:55.12.

Izzy Jeffs broke Goldie Sayers’ championships record in the qualifying round of the women’s javelin, throwing 53.93m, and followed the following day with victory in the final with 53.26m. Nick Cruchley set a CR in the men’s pole vault with 5.22.

Other notable performances came from Mervyn Luckwell who sent his javelin out beyond 80 metres for the first time this year, the spear landing at 80.60m, while 17-year-old Jessica Judd smashed her 800m PB claiming an impressive victory in 2:02.50.

Judd, the world youth bronze medallist, is certainly a name for the future, as is her male 800m counterpart Guy Learmouth. Learmouth, another Loughborough student, who has been tipped to follow in Coe’s footsteps, won the men’s event confidently in 1:50.36.

All in all it was a satisfying four days for the LOCOG chairman whose stadium came through its first major test in pretty good shape despite the rain: "I'm very proud of this venue and excited that it is set to stage the biggest sporting event in the world."

No doubt Andy Pozzi’s feeling pretty proud and excited too.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF