So, have you heard the one about the Scotsman, the Englishman and the Spaniard who walk into a bar? Or, to be more precise, jump over a bar? And run 60m, and long jump, and throw the shot…
First weekend of the year and time for the English Combined Events championships at the fantastic English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. The competition was shaped by the return of the 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist, the Scot versus the Spaniard, the delightful vertical jumps from the guy with the horizontal stripes, and the podium places being decided at the wire.
It always takes a little while for the indoor season form to settle down, and that was pretty much the case for the senior heptathlon competition too.
One of the fastest in the field on paper was also the most illustrious decathlete in the field, Ashley Bryant, feeling his way back into competition after a prolonged period of injury. His heat featured several of the potential medal contenders, and he clocked 7.28 in the race won in a blistering 6.99 from Ethan Akanni (in his first time under 7 seconds). Caius Joseph and Jack Phipps both ran 7.02, while there was trio of personal bests behind them across the heats – Scott Connal in 7.08, Pablo Trescoli in 7.11 and Andrew Murphy in 7.16. Murphy and Connal were but two of the battalion of Scots who had headed south to compete in the competition that essentially serves as the British championships for the multievents.
Onto the long jump, where there were three 7m jumpers, Bryant 7.23, Harry Maslen 7.07 and Murphy in 7.11. Caius Joseph’s 6.97 moved him into the overall lead in 1682, with Murphy (1666) and Bryant (1654) behind him. Scott Connal’s indoor PB of 6.90 maintained his position in 4th with Maslen and Trescoli (6.84) in 5th and 6th.
The shot, taking place against the back wall of the stadium on the warm up track, had the feel of a piece of street theatre, with athletes, coaches, friends and family huddled around the circle, waiting to be impressed. Pablo was pretty pleased after his first throw and came away from the event with a substantial outright PB of 13.84, over 40cm further than his indoor best and 20cm further than his outdoor best. Caius, Harry and Lewis Church also improved their indoor lifetime bests while Ashley Bryant again had the best mark of the discipline, with 14.14.
Caius still led after 3 events in 2397 points, but Ashley had closed the gap to just 6 points, ahead of Murphy, Trescoli, Maslen and Church. With the speed events out of the way, the competition was starting to shake out.
Every competition has a bogeyman, and in Sheffield it arrived at 1.87 during the high jump. In quick succession the height claimed Harry Maslen, Ethan Akanni, 2.13 jumper Ryan Bonifas and Andrew Murphy. Trescoli and Connal survived the cull at 1.87 and Bryant made it to 1.93 but the star of the discipline was Liam Reveley – just as he was at the combined events meeting in Tallinn in February 2019– who led the field over 2m. Reveley was delighted with his 2.02 clearance but there was so much more to come. Lewis Church and Nicolas Gerome kept him company as far as 1.99 and 1.96 respectively, but after that it was simply the Reveley show.
In his Blaydon stripes he cleared 2.05 for a new PB but went one height further to clear 2.08, and had 3 decent attempts at 2.11. That clearance catapulted Reveley from 8th place to 3rd, and that’s where he stayed overnight. Ashley Bryant led the Day 1 standings with 3131 points, ahead of Caius Joseph (who had cleared 1.81) in 3033 just 2 points ahead of Reveley. Trescoli, Murphy and Church – for now – waited just a handful of points behind in the wings in 4th, 5th and 6th.
Day 2 in the EIS began with the sobering news that the cappuccino machine wasn’t working, providing something of a challenge to those with the strenuous task of watching the combined events from the sidelines. Luckily, the drama in the 60m hurdles jolted everyone awake. In the final heat the recall gun – less a klaxon and more like the fire alarm going off in your hotel at 3am – sounded very late, as the athletes approached the second flight of hurdles. Ethan Akanni received a warning, although some onlookers pondered whether his lightning start might just have taken everyone by surprise. But neither Pablo Trescoli nor Harry Maslen had heard the recall and both completed their race, somewhat surprised to find themselves alone as they slammed into the vertical pads at the end.
There was a short hiatus as the athletes recovered, and the two athletes who ended up running the race twice had mixed fortunes in the second iteration of the race. Maslen’s effort in the first race took more out of him than he anticipated, registering only 8.41, but Trescoli seemed to rally for the rerun and clocked a PB of 8.14. Both Lewis Church (8.43) and Andrew Murphy (8.31) also improved their lifetime bests and suddenly Ashley Bryant’s 100 point overnight lead had been slashed, with Pablo only 40 or so points behind and Murphy the same margin again.
The two athletes who had run 120mH described their races, and their mixed fortunes.
First, Harry Maslen. “It was a fast hurdles the first time, and then I think it was a fast first half to the second race. But the first race took more out of me than I expected, because my strong point is the end of the race. By the last 2 hurdles I was feeling just a little bit of fatigue from the first attempt – but I know that the speed is there, it just didn’t happen on the day.”
And Pablo “I actually asked if they had the time for the first race, because my start was worse. But everyone was saying that my last few hurdles were better! But it’s good, the second PB, because I’m more of a decathlete, more of a 110m hurdler.”
You keep saying that Pablo, yet here you are indoors!
“I do keep saying it – but I don’t like indoors, I’m too slow! This is the first time in my 60mh that I’ve been semi-decent!”
The drama of the hurdles was followed by the intriguing news that there would be three pools and two pits in the pole vault. The proportion of athletes to pits was also such that the U20 boys had their vertical events switched between days to avoid a bottleneck.
So often, everything changes in the pole vault. It would have been a fair bet to predict a late surge from Murphy, given his superior pole vault skills, but it’s rare that one can predict who is going to experience the shockwave of a snapped pole. This time, it was Ashley Bryant. He failed to clear his opening height of 3.63, not helped by the delinquent pole on his second attempt. His challenge was over, but a first step to return to competition successfully delivered. Liam Reveley and Nicolas Gerome led the pool, with Liam setting his second vertical jump PB of the weekend with an indoor best of 4.33, and Gerome also clearing the height.
Meanwhile, with the lowest heights completed on the other side of the track, the first pool made way for the big jumpers. Pablo and Harry slugged it out height for height, with Pablo reaching 4.53 and Harry a new indoor lifetime best of 4.63 after a display of nerve, competitive instinct and a suite of third time clearances.
“I got there eventually!” Harry said of his pole vault. “Once I get over the first one and get the nerves out the way, I can start thinking about the technique and actually getting into the rhythm of it. This weekend was the perfect weekend for me to PB. As soon as I got rid of the skeletons in the closet, it was just about doing what we train for.”
Several hours – which felt like days – after the competition started, Andrew Murphy and Jack Phipps finally made their appearance. The Scot made it over 4.93, and Phipps 5.13.
As the senior pole vault was awaiting the big jumps of the final two men, the men’s junior competition came alive. After moving into the lead ahead of the hurdles, Scotland’s Scott Brindley cleared 2.00m in the high jump for the first time in his career. The scenes that followed were reminiscent of Sam Kendricks clearing 6.06 in Des Moines, as Brindley was smothered in a pile of his delighted competitors.
“2m is a big barrier, everyone wants to get 2m. I was just glad that I could actually do it,” he said afterwards.
Going into the final 1000m, Scott had the Scottish U20 record within his sights. At the start of 2019 he had set a record of 5192, but it was then passed back to Joel McFarlane (5326) and then surpassed by Scott Connal (5367), now competing for the first time in the U23 category as part of the senior field. Brindley finished just 10 points short of the record after a gutsy 1000m run, but it can only be a matter of time before he reclaims it. The record might not have been quite there, but he won the competition in 5357 points, ahead of fellow Scot Callum Newby in second and Philip Kastner in third.
“It’s obviously not what I was looking for,” Scott reflected on his performance, “I was obviously going for the record. It was a hard weekend on my legs so I didn’t quite manage it. But I’ve still got another year at U20, so I’ve got more opportunities to do it.”
Returning to the senior heptathlon, Andrew Murphy’s 4.93 pole vault clearance had taken him into the lead, and he was now 60 points ahead of Pablo Trescoli, a comfortable buffer but certainly not a safe one. Maslen was 140 points behind Trescoli in third, with Joseph a further 30 points back and Church just a few points behind him. Lewis took the pace out from the start of the 1000m and his 2:44 time allowed him to overtake both Caius and Harry in the standings to finish third overall. Murphy tracked Trescoli all the way around and finished within a second of the Spaniard, enough to hold onto his lead and finish on top of the podium with 5606, just 22 points short of his own Scottish senior record. Pablo scored 5540, and Lewis 5391, with Harry 4th in 5377, Caius in 5th with a PB of 5363, and Liam in 6th with 5337.
After the event, Andrew talked us through his competition. “I started off really well. My 60 was good, I PB-ed, and long jump was good, 7.11, I’m happy with that. In the shot put I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t upset with it either. Then the high jump…and the wheels came off a little bit! I only jumped 1.84. I’ve changed legs in the last year or two because I’ve had problems in my left leg. I thought I was starting to get it, but yesterday proved that I wasn’t really getting it.”
“Then in the hurdles today I PB-ed again so I’m happy with that. In the pole vault, at 4.93 I was at the third attempt so I was sweating a wee bit there! But it was still standing so I’m pretty happy with that. And then when I ran the 1k, I usually just try to hit target times to get round, but there were three guys ahead of me. I thought that if I try to move round them, I’m going to waste too much energy. I knew I had to stay within about 7 seconds of Pablo, and so I just stuck on the back of him and saw it off!”
With Scots winning both the senior and junior heptathlons, Andrew is at the head of a charge of promising Scots combined eventers, and he speaks proudly about his younger team mates.
“Wee Scott [Connal], first year senior, and wee-er Scott [Brindley] winning the juniors, there’s a few of them coming through and they’re all really, really talented – much better than I was as a junior. They’re definitely ones to look out for and they keep me training hard! Everyone’s together as well, with the exception of Cal [McLennan] in Loughborough and Tom [Chandler] down south, but otherwise everybody is training regularly together and I think that’s pretty good for keeping us focused.”
On his own plans for 2020 “I’m not going to do any more multis indoors, but the British Championships are coming to Glasgow so I’ll hurdle and pole vault there and work on my individual events. I’ll then open up early with the decathlons outdoors to try and have a good a stab as possible at going to the Europeans.”
And so now we know what happens when a Scotsman, an Englishman and a Spaniard jump over a bar. They land on the podium in Sheffield.
The full results can be found here.
Next stop: X-Athletics in Clermont Ferrand, France, 11-12 January