Just four weeks after the Scots finished top of the podium at the English Combined Events Championships in Sheffield, would this be the weekend where the Englishmen (and the Welshman) wreaked revenge at the Scottish Combined Events Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow?
The first Scott in a weekend of many Scotts was Scott Ram, kicking off the first heat of the 60m in the senior heptathlon in style, improving his Sheffield PB of 7.62 to 7.59. Jack Phipps, the sub-7 man in the lineup in the second heat, was the fastest overall in 7.03 but just a few hundredths ahead of Scott Connal in 7.06, and Caius Joseph in 7.07; and both Scott and Caius were within a few hundredths of their personal best. Fresh from his 60m hurdles and long jump titles at the Welsh Championships the previous weekend, Curtis Mathews clocked 7.34; Ryan Bonifas – protecting an ankle injury – ran well in 7.35, and Cal McLennan finished in 7.52, improving on his season’s best from Sheffield.
In the U20 competition, Adam Hoole was the fastest of the 5 starters and sliced almost a tenth of a second from his PB set in Sheffield, and Scott Brindley was second in 7.24, four hundredths short of his 7.20 PB.
After the first event in the senior competition, only 14 points separated first and third: Phipps, Connal and Joseph.
The 1-2 in the 60m was reversed in the long jump in both senior and U20 competitions. Scott Brindley edged out Adam Hoole with an astonishingly consistent series of jumps (7.01, 6.96, 7.06) just short of his 7.09 PB, while Adam had one single valid jump at 6.97. In the senior competition, Scott Connal set an outright PB and added 8cm to his 7.14 outdoor mark with 7.22, while Jack Phipps also came close to his lifetime best with 7.02. Curtis Mathews and Caius Joseph both had modest efforts at 6.74 and 6.71 respectively, Mathews clearly nursing a tender hamstring. Cal McLennan came close to a season’s best with 6.46.
And so, after 2 events, the top 3 senior men were strung out a little further: Connal on 1727, Phipps on 1690 and Joseph on 1604.
After the early domination of Connal and Phipps in the speed events, the shift in dynamic in the competition started in the shot. Curtis Mathews had the longest throw of the competition, 13.66, with Matej Papp also over 13m (13.03). This was also Caius Joseph’s opportunity to put a dent in Connal’s lead, and his best effort was 12.55. But while Connal’s previous best in his first year coming into the competition as a senior was 10.77, all three of his throws were over 11m, and his best of 11.33 helped limit Mathews’ and Joseph’s advantage.
In the U20 competition, the order switched again as Callum Newby took the overall lead with a Championship best throw of 13.45, and Brindley dropped to 3rd place with his throw of 11.11.
The big jumps came from the youngsters. After his 2 metre-busting performance in Sheffield, Scott Brindley cleared 1.98 but was pushed by Callum Newby, who cleared a PB of 1.95, and so Callum held the competition lead overnight. In the senior competition, the biggest jumps came from the guys competing with injuries. Both capable of well over 2m, Curtis Mathews cleared 1.91 and Ryan Bonifas 1.88. Scott Connal had a solid event with 1.85 and Caius and Cal one height behind at 1.82. Jack Phipps, in the second of his weaker events, cleared 1.79 – but with the prospect of 2 extremely strong events the next day.
At the end of Day 1, Curtis Mathews had taken some sizeable chunks out of Connal’s lead, but Scott just held onto the lead overnight with 2963, Curtis in 2959, Caius dropping to third in 2888 and Jack in 2762. With Connal’s outstanding hurdles (but lower PV), and Phipps’ superior pole vault (but slower 1000), would it be the two men wedged between them in second and third who would bring the biggest title challenge in Day 2?
In the least surprising result of the weekend, the 60m hurdles champion won the 60m hurdles. Shock-er-ooni. Connal torched the field in 8.13, but behind him both Caius (8.58, in a matching time to Ryan) and Jack (8.59) were inspired to set PBs in their hot pursuit. In the U20 race, Brindley indulged in a bit of fire-starting of his own and torched his PB by almost a tenth of a second, improving his Sheffield time of 8.27 to 8.19 and moving ahead of Callum Newby overall. Suddenly it became clear that two Scots called Scott could win the two Scottish titles, and swap their Scottish U20 record back between them. Good luck to anyone outside Scotland trying to follow that.
After 5 events Connal had stretched away again and led the competition with 3915, Caius back in second with 3731, Curtis 3715 and Jack 3603. Eleven months earlier, the European Indoor Championships held in the same arena had seen utter carnage in the pole vault of the heptathlon. Would there be the same drama here?
Of course, there would. It’s the pole vault.
In the early stages of the U20 vault, there was some head scratching in the stands as Erik Escala tested the officials’ knowledge of the rule book. At 3.37m he cleared the height, but the pole swung back after he let it go and came to rest on the bar. He got off the mat…bar still up. He then executed a surgically precise manoeuvre to gently lift the pole…the bar stayed on and he was awarded the height. Damian Warner’s coach Gar Leyshon later commented “Exactly the same thing happened to Damian in his very first decathlon! He ended up snatching the pole vault away and getting a white flag.”
For the second time in the competition, Scott Brindley was the last man standing. While most folk on the previous evening were on their way to the pub for their Saturday night bevvy, Brindley had been clearing 1.98 and attempting 2.01 in the high jump. And on Sunday afternoon, he was on his own again after Callum Newby went out at 4.27. Scott went onto clear 4.57, a championship best performance.
If Connal was the outstanding performer in the hurdles, then Phipps was the star – as in Sheffield – of the pole vault. His best of 5.17 was a Championship record, breaking his own previous record of 5.07. But behind him, there was havoc, such that Connal’s modest height of 4.27 (albeit equalling his PB) ended up being the second best height of the competition. Curtis, navigating around his injury, took one jump at 2.37 and then decided to call it a day, and didn’t record a height. And if Erik Escala had the same experience as Damian Warner in his first decathlon, then Caius Joseph had the same experience as Damian at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, failing to clear his opening height of 3.97, a fate shared by teammate Ryan Bonifas.
Suddenly, the title was Connal’s to lose.
But as was the case in Glasgow a year earlier at the European Indoors, if you can still walk, then a disaster in the pole vault need not mean the end of the competition. And so, Curtis Mathews returned to the start line to compete the seven events, as did Caius and Ryan.
However, before the top seven athletes embraced the final event of their competition, there was first a Scottish record to be hunted down in the U20 heptathlon. The Scottish U20 record still belonged to Scott Connal, and Scott Brindley had come within 10 points of it a few weeks previously in Sheffield, having relinquished it first to Joel McFarlane and then Connal during the 2018-19 season. This time, he knew what he had to do, and the record was in sight.
But he was going to have to do it the hard way, running on his own out front in a 1000m, Niklas Kaul-style, without the benefit of a pack with similar times to pace him. But Brindley delivered a run of 2:53.63 to fly past the previous record of 5367, scoring 5409. That placed him 6th on the World Athletics U20 lists for 2019-20, currently led by European U20 decathlon bronze medallist Markus Rooth. And that wasn’t the end of his celebrations either, as he watched his younger brother Aidan also crowned as Scottish champion, in the U17 event, in a score of 4320.
Back to the senior heptathlon and from the gun, Cal McLennan took off like a bam, streaking around the 5 laps in 2:46.12. Despite their accumulated injuries and individual disappointments, Joseph, Mathews, and Bonifas all completed the competition, finishing 4th, 5th and 7th respectively. McLennan’s run secured his spot on the podium in third place with 4720 points, and Connal’s 2:53.89 (almost identical to his run in Sheffield) took him to 5330 points and the title. Jack Phipps split the two Scotsman, taking second place with a score of 5220.
On the afternoon that, elsewhere, a still-19-year old Simon Ehammer set an outright Swiss record of 5915, and 20-year old Andreas Bechmann set a German U23 record of 6097, 18-year old Scott Brindley joined the ranks of the national record holders. Both Ehammer and Bechmann are pretty cool competitors, and Scott likewise shows a competitive maturity beyond his years.
Is that something he works on, or a state of mind that comes naturally?
“I think I just do it naturally,” Scott said after the competition. “Coach says it’s always better not to think about the records, because it’s added pressure that you don’t need – you’ve already got enough pressure trying to perform your best.”
“I’m happy that I’ve done what I set out to do today. Some events I did a wee bit less than in Sheffield, and there were also events where I did slightly better. So, it evened itself out and I ended up with almost exactly the same points total before the 1k.”
And was it harder to deliver that performance when he ended up on his own in several of the events?
“With the pole vault and high jump, you just need to be mindful that you’re taking enough recovery. But with the 1k, it’s definitely a lot harder. A lot if it is mental, so when there’s not anyone there to push you, you don’t necessarily realise that you’re dropping seconds.”
“The next few years are going to be really good for multi events, and next year the European U20s come back round, so I’ll definitely be going for that in decathlon”
The Coach with the wise advice so expertly adhered to by Brindley is Colin Sinclair, who also boasts Aidan Brindley, Connal and Scottish senior record holder Andrew Murphy within his group. Between the English Combined Events Champs in Sheffield and the Scottish Combined Events champs this weekend, the group took 5 titles – Murphy and Connal the senior titles, Scott Brindley both U20 titles, and Aidan Brindley the Scottish U17 crown.
And so, the final words of the weekend go to the senior champion Scott Connal, happy with his weekend, but empathising with his competitors who had a frustrating competition.
“Overall, I’m happy, it was a solid weekend, I think. I’m a bit disappointed with my high jump, and I’ve got stuff to work on with my pole vault and shot put. But overall, a pretty good weekend. It’s pretty gutting for the other guys though – you want the people you compete with to do well. After the vault, I wouldn’t say I was comfortable, but I knew what I had to do. Not get beat, basically”
When was the point that Scott knew he had the title in the bag?
“Eh…about there…” he laughs, pointing 10m from the line.
This was Connal’s second Scottish championship in a week, after winning the national 60mh hurdles title, so I asked him the same question that I had asked that other great hurdling decathlete, the world record holder Kevin Mayer. How does the individual event against specialists compare to the multi event against other decathletes?
“Well…it’s less events,” the champion said sagely. Can’t argue with that, I suppose.
“But competing against other specialists makes me a bit more buzzing, like in the British Championships in a few weeks’ time, where I’ll be doing the hurdles.”
And Scott’s training partner Andrew Murphy is also planning to compete in the hurdles at the British Champs in the same stadium in Glasgow at the end of the month …who’s going to win that head to head?”
So, what will the Scottish Champion be taking into the outdoor season?
“I’ll be doing Bedford [the English combined events championships in May] and then hopefully I’ll get into Arona. And I’ll definitely be working on my throws.”
What a weekend. Three titles. Two Scotts. Two Brindleys. One Colin. And one very special group.
The full results can be found here.
Next stop: Tallinn
Photos: Bobby Gavin for Scottish Athletics