It’s National Championships season and, not content with titles in heptathlon and pentathlon, the multi-eventers have been laying claim to individual titles as well. Hans-Christian Hausenberg, Sarah Lagger and Dominik Distelberger won double golds (LJ/PV, Shot/LJ, PV/60m hurdles) in the Estonian and Austrian Championships respectively; Simon Ehammer and Hanne Maudens are the Swiss and Belgian long jump champions; Bianca Salming won high jump gold in Sweden; and Caroline Klein and Annik Kälin are the German and Swiss 60m hurdles champions.
Over and above the gold medals, there was a suite of silver and bronze medals too. Just this weekend alone Nikolaj Graves won silver in pole vault in the Danish Championships, Ivona Dadic bronze in the shot in Austria, Fredrik Samuelsson bronze in the long jump in Sweden, and Leon Mak bronze, also in the pole vault, in the Dutch Championships, to name a few (there are many more). Two golds weren’t enough for the Distelberger either, as he also won silver in the long jump. And Hans-Christian was just showing off, frankly, winning bronze in the senior 60m, bronze in the U23 60m, gold in the U23 60m hurdles and gold in the U23 pole vault the weekend before.
The weekend of 22-23 February was also the British Indoor Championships, at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. One year earlier the venue had hosted the European Indoor Championships and just one week earlier had enjoyed Mondo Duplantis tickling the rafters as he set his second – and the current – pole vault world record of 6.18m. In Britain, we’re quite used to multi-eventers winning national titles in individual events – Katarina Johnson-Thompson has won multiple long jump and high jump titles, and Tim Duckworth is twice the outdoor long jump champion. But with neither of the big names in action this weekend, expectations were more modest. How would the British multi-eventers fare against the specialists?
Reigning Scottish heptathlon champion Scott Connal already had an individual title to his name, winning the Scottish 60m hurdles title in a PB of 8.06 in January. But the British championships were a different prospect, with the likes of 7.63 man David King (training buddy of US decathlete Mitch Modin at the Phoenix Track Club) in the field. Scott was joined in the field by his training partner, Andrew Murphy, who had won the heptathlon at the English championships in Sheffield. There are many famous rivalries in Scottish sport: Celtic v Rangers, Hearts v Hibs, St Mirren v Greenock Morton. But none are quite so loaded as the hurdles grudge match between training partners Connal and Murphy.
In their two matches of the year thus far, it had been one win apiece. Murphy had been ahead of Connal by a hundredth of a second in an 8.31 PB in Sheffield, while Scott had got his affairs in order in time for the Scottish champs, well ahead with his 8.06 to Andrew’s 8.24 (also a PB). And so to the British champs – the decider.
Murphy was in the first heat, and got off to a great start, with a marginal PB of 8.23 which qualified him for the final. “Those guys are so fast at the start!” he said, as he left the track, third behind King and Miguel Perera.
Connal was in the third heat, and – in his own words, in a slightly messy race – he ran 8.17 to also qualify. It looked like it was going to go to form and Connal would have the edge.
Onto the final a few hours later, and David King won with ease, in 7.78. But behind him Connal and Murphy were only hundredths of a second apart, Murphy taking another 0.4 seconds off his lifetime best to finish in 8.19 in 7th, marginally behind Connal in 6th in 8.12. The indoor season honours went to Connal…just!
“I really enjoyed that!” buzzed Andrew after the race. But Scott was breathing a sigh of relief. “I thought he had me,” he said, “I dipped so hard I planted.”
But between the scrapping Scots and the champion King, there was another decathlete, Ethan Akanni. His season had started in Sheffield on the first weekend of January, where he’d bossed the 60 hurdles in day 2 of his heptathlon with a run of 7.93. He then went onto Bratislava, where he finished third in the individual event in 7.92 and most recently he had won the BUCS hurdles title in 7.81.
Ethan qualified easily for the final in Glasgow, in first place in the same heat as Connal. In the final he had a terrible start, but he recovered superbly to take the bronze medal in 7.92, his first ever senior medal.
‘“I’m not so used to an electric gun!” Ethan explained afterwards, “So, it’s going to take some time and some experience to get used to it I’m really happy with the race regardless.”
“It’s been a blinding season, for sure. We didn’t really expect it. I started off with a heptathlon and a massive PB, and then managed to win the south of England champs [in hurdles] with a personal best at the time. And then BUCS 2 weeks after that, another PB and another gold medal.”
“I’ll be mainly focusing on BUCS outdoors, and the U23 England nationals, and then obviously the British Champs as well. Hopefully I can try and get close to the European standard. After I opened the season with a heptathlon, I’ve been concentrating on just the hurdles, but as it comes to May, June and July, I’ll start bringing in the other events again, and then I’ll maybe do one or two decathlons and see how it goes from there.”
In the women’s hurdles, Holly McArthur was also in the line-up. She’d had a relatively short season, competing at 200m, 600m and in the hurdles, culminating in an equal PB of 8.64 at BUCS the previous weekend. She lined up in the third heat. But Holly struck a hurdle, and then took a tumble, and that was the end of the action for her.
The shot final was late in the day on Saturday, and Andrew Murphy stepped out for his second event of the day. The big boys threw some big marks, the eventual winner Scott Lincoln going out to 19.49. But Murphy held his own against the specialists. His third round throw was a PB, 14.07 and first time over 14m indoors. The fourth and fifth round throws were fouls. And in the last, he finished with a bang – 14.18m, an outright best, exceeding his outdoor PB of 14.11 from Lutsk in 2019, finishing 6th overall.
Sunday, and pole vault. The current British No.1 Harry Coppell was competing – and clearing 5.80 – at the All Star Perche in Clermont-Ferrand with Renaud Lavillenie, Sam Kendricks and the new world record holder. However, the competition still had big vaulters in its midst, in the shape of Adam Hague (PB 5.65) and Jax Thoirs (PB 5.61). While Andrew Murphy had the lowest lifetime best of the 6 competitors, runner-up in the heptathlon at the Scottish Championships Jack Phipps was definitely a contender. His season’s best of 5.24 put him in with a really good shout of a medal.
Murphy entered the competition first, clear over 4.70 first time. Three others, including Phipps, entered at 4.85, and all four went clear on their second attempt. The same four went onto 5m. But only two of them made it over. Murphy was one of them, equalling his personal best. Jack was expected to be another. But things just didn’t come together for Phipps, and he ended up going out at 5m – one of the big shocks of the day.
Four men were left in the competition, including Murphy, and including Hague and Thoirs who had not yet entered. Hague passed again at the height, and so it was over to Murphy. His third attempt at 5.15 was the best, but he didn’t make it over and went out at the height. Ethan Walsh cleared 5.15 at his first attempt, and then Jax Thoirs entered. But Thoirs – whose season’s best before the competition had been 5.09 – could not get over 5.15, and failed to register a mark. With only Walsh and Hague (not yet in) with the potential to go higher, suddenly Murphy was guaranteed a medal. But the drama didn’t end there. Reminiscent of Janek Õiglane’s gory landing in the exact same spot a year earlier, Ethan Walsh came down on the bar at 5.30 and landed face first in the box. He was in one piece, but retired for treatment. Hague had no such problems, entering at 5.30, and clearing 5.45 and 5.55, succumbing only at a PB height of 5.67.
But a multi-eventer – and not the one that was expected – had won a medal! Andrew Murphy finished the weekend with 2 personal bests in the hurdles, 2 personal bests in the shot, an equal PB in the pole vault and a shiny bronze medal.
Afterwards, Andrew reflected on his medal-winning performance.
“I did not expect that! I was feeling great going in, and I honestly thought I could jump 5.15, based on my training. But the second attempt at 4.85 and third attempt at 5m took so much out of me.”
And on following – literally – in the footsteps of Mondo?
“We were the next men’s competition to take place after Mondo jumped. It definitely puts it into perspective. In pole vault you can get scared a lot. You think – this is a huge big height. But I was standing on that runway thinking: Mondo’s jumping 6.18. So 5 or 5.15 is easy money.”
“I’ve got a new set of 5m poles, so I’m just trying to get used to them, and to get back up to 5m again is a good sign. Once I get confident on them I’ll jump even higher. Overall, I’ve got confidence to know that I’m in with the individual eventers, and I don’t feel out of place. So I can take that back to the combined events. I love the crowd here and the excitement, and it brings me on a lot.”