On the weekend of 26th and 27th February, just a few weeks before the world indoor championships in Belgrade, the British championships were held in Birmingham at the arena that hosted the last world championships in 2018.
The combined events have returned to the British national championships in recent years. Previously, the English CE championships were generally considered to be the de facto British championships. While the title would go to the highest place English athlete, the competition was sometimes won by, for example, a Scottish athlete.
The introduction of the rankings system for qualification for major outdoor championships includes very generous points for winning the national championships. So, to ensure clarity, and the opportunity for athletes from all 4 of the UK home nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – to gain points, the combined events are now part of the British Championships.
After the withdrawal of Katie Stainton and Natasha Smith, and with Holly Mills and Ellen Barber focusing on individual events, the British Championships pentathlon was compact and efficient. Only five athletes lined up for the five events, but it was a tight competition amongst a very young and promising contingent.
Following her individual medals at the recent British Universities Championships, twenty-year old Jodie Smith led through the first three events, posting 8.53 in the hurdles, a PB of 1.79m in the high jump and an 11.88m PB in the shot. In the first two of those events, twenty-one-year-old Lauren Evans and seventeen-year-old Ella Rush were second and third behind Smith both in the individual disciplines, and overall.
The most experienced athlete in the field, Jo Rowland, had the longest throw in the shot with 13.92m ahead of Rush (12.88m PB) and Smith (11.88m PB). Rush’s mark put her 100 points ahead of Evans, and less than 50 behind Smith.
And then Rush made her move in the long jump, leaping to a PB of 6.34m to move ahead of Smith, who jumped 6.17m. Going into the final event, Rush sat on 3536 points, just 5 ahead of Smith with 3531. It was also close between 3rd and 4th, as Evans and Rowland both jumped 5.68m (a PB for Evans), and Evans led Rowland by just 28 points going into the 800m, 3234 to 3206.
On paper, Rush and Smith had similar 800m PBs, around 2:25, but Rush was having none of that, and charged away as soon as the gun went. After 3 laps it looked like she might have gone too hard as Rowland led the rest towards her, but Rush held on for a 2:19.60 PB. Smith ran near her best in 2:25.87 but had to relinquish the competition to the seventeen-year-old.
Ella said afterwards: “I worked so hard, and I’ve been prepared well so I’m excited to see how the season goes. We’re doing a warm weather training camp this year and I’m going to try and get the qualifying standard for the U20 worlds. I’ve had good scores consistently in my events so hopefully we can get those 30 extra points. This is my first year of winter training and it’s showing in my performances.”
- Ella Rush 4365 CR
- Jodie Smith 4277 PB
- Lauren Evans 4020 PB
- Jo Rowland 4018
- Jordanna Morrish 3713
The heptathlon title was only decided in the last few laps of the 1000m, and five different men led the competition over the course of the two days in Birmingham.
Harry Kendall got the competition off to a great start on Saturday morning in the fastest of the two 60m heats. His time of 7.18 ahead of Caius Joseph (7.19), Theo Adesina (7.27) and Harry Maslen (7.31) positioned him as the leader after one event. In the first heat, Howard Bell edged a lifetime best of 7.32 behind Elliot Thompson in 7.31, but Curtis Mathews pulled up in the first 30m, walking to the end of the track. Lewis Church ran 7.45 and Liam Reveley 7.49
After the 60m:
- Harry Kendall 819
- Caius Joseph 816
- Theo Adesina 789
- Harry Maslen 775
- Elliot Thompson 775
The lead then switched to Elliot Thompson in the long jump, as he set two lifetime bests in a row in the first and second rounds – 6.87m and 7.07m for his first time ever over 7m. His was also the longest jump of the competition ahead of Howard Bell, the only other man over 7m, with 7.01m. Harry Maslen jumped 6.92m, Caius Joseph 6.89m, Lewis Church 6.79m, Theo Adesina 6.70 and Harry Kendall 6.69. Unfortunately, Liam Reveley did not land a valid jump, and Curtis Mathews did not start the second event.
After the long jump:
- Elliot Thompson 1605
- Caius Joseph 1604
- Howard Bell 1588
- Harry Maslen 1570
- Harry Kendall 1560
Onto the shot put and the combined eventers were banished to a room in the basement of the arena for the event, lest they get in the way of the many heats of the 60m. The longest throw came from Harry Kendell with a PB of 13.83m, followed by Lewis Church who threw 13.64m. However, Caius Joseph’s 13.24m was enough to move him into the competition lead, the third different leader after each of the three events so far. Harry Maslen threw 12.41m, Howard Bell 12.34m, Liam Reveley 12.28m, Elliot Thompson 11.76m and Theo Adesina 10.63m.
After three events:
- Caius Joseph 2286
- Harry Kendall 2278
- Howard Bell 2215
- Harry Maslen 2201
- Elliot Thompson 2197
For the final event of Day 1, more obstacles were thrown at the combined eventers, weaving through triple jump warm up and dodging hurdlers flying down the straight towards them. Still, that didn’t stop a number of athletes delivering lifetime bests. Elliot Thompson set a PB of 1.96m and Harry Kendall equalled his lifetime best of 1.93m. Lewis Church jumped highest with 1.99m, Howard Bell jumped 1.96m (despite spiking himself in the thigh), Liam Reveley below his usual high-flying best with 1.93m, Theo Adesina 1.87m, Harry Maslen 1.84m and Caius Joseph 1.78.
That rearranged the standings yet again, and Harry Kendall finished the day by regaining the lead he first held after the 60m. With no stand-out performances in any of the disciplines, yet an ever-changing leaderboard, this heptathlon was a brilliant example of the importance of every point in every event. Just over 50 points separated the top four at the end of Day 1.
After Day 1:
- Harry Kendall 3018
- Lewis Church 2987
- Howard Bell 2982
- Elliot Thompson 2964
- Caius Joseph 2896
Harry Maslen was easily the fastest in the field coming into the competition, but it wasn’t a vintage weekend for him. He ran 8.40, well short of his 8.26 best to finish third in his heat. However, Howard Bell and Lewis Church had much better runs. Bell ran a marginal PB of 8.32, while Church took almost one tenth off his best with 8.35. Harry Kendall also ran a lifetime best, of 8.47. Caius Joseph ran 8.48, Liam Reveley 8.58, Theo Adesina 8.61 and Elliot Thompson 8.78.
The picture at the top changed yet again, as Bell took his first turn as competition leader alongside Kendall. The battle became even closer, as Church made up ground to rest only 2 points behind the leaders. At this point Elliot Thompson was some 125 points behind the leaders; more on him later.
After 5 events:
- 1. Howard Bell 3885
- 1. Harry Kendall 3885
- 3. Lewis Church 3883
- 4. Caius Joseph 3761
- 5. Elliot Thompson 3759
The pole vault is where things should have been settled. Church’s pole vault is marginally better than Bell’s and several heights better than Kendall’s, and this is where we would have expected Church to put some daylight between himself and the others. But, not for the first time in a heptathlon, what was expected to happen in a pole vault wasn’t actually what happened.
Nineteen-year-old Theo Adesina was the first to exit the vault with a best of 3.75m, but not before he set three lifetime bests. Liam Reveley, hampered points-wise by his long jump NM the previous day, made it as far as 4.15m. It was 4.45m where all the action happened.
Elliot Thompson was clear, still early on in his series, having come in at 4.35m. Lewis Church had a straightforward path to 4.45m, clearing all his five heights at the first attempt. Caius Joseph cleared 4.45m, a small indoor PB. Harry Maslen cleared the height, well within his usual capabilities.
Howard Bell cleared it too, within 2cm of his indoor (and outright) best. That was good jumping. But Harry Kendall was – a little unexpectedly – still with the group. With an indoor best of 4.28m and an outdoor best of 4.34m, he might have been expected to be out at this point. But no. Kendall first cleared a PB of 4.35m, and then another of 4.45m, to stay with Bell and with Church. While Church went on to clear 4.55m, an outright PB for him, the advantage Church might have anticipated he would gain over Kendall in the sixth event had been cut drastically.
Elliot Thompson, the best vaulter in the field, cleared 4.65 and only failed at what would have been a lifetime best of 4.75m.
After 6 events, Church took the lead for the first time, but he hadn’t yet shaken Bell and Kendell, who remained locked together in joint second place just 27 points behind.
After 6 events:
- Lewis Church 4658
- Howard Bell 4631
- Harry Kendall 4631
- Elliot Thompson 4563
- Caius Joseph 4507
With so few points between the top three, and so little between their 1000m bests (Lewis 2:43, Harry 2:44 and Howard 2:46) it really was just going to be a shoot out between them. Or was it?
Elliot Thompson was 68 points behind Bell and Kendall, and while he was unlikely to catch Church, he might have a chance to sneak a medal if he could use his 2:43 speed to put a bit of distance between himself and the others.
And he gave it everything, overtaking Church and pushing the pace mid-race. Church wouldn’t let Thompson go, though, and stayed with him until the last few metres of the race. Thompson ran a PB of 2:42.38 and was initially announced as silver medallist, despite Kendall being less than two seconds behind Church. The frustrating error was corrected, and Thompson remained in fourth, but had closed the gap to the medals to only 24 points and was rewarded with an overall heptathlon PB.
Afterwards, Thompson said: “I can’t believe Lewis came back to me on the 3rd or 4th lap! But I knew I had to get 2 and a half, maybe 3 seconds on the guys. It was super close. It just shows it all adds up over the whole two days. And I thought, maybe if I had a slightly better shot put…but then everyone’s shot put was bad. But I did win 3 events. In the pole vault I thought that some of the other guys wouldn’t make it as far as they would. And I thought I was going to get 3, maybe 4 heights and then I would have been ok. But no – everyone pulled it out of the bag.”
Church’s time was 2:43.95, Kendall’s 2:45.83, Bell 2:46.50. Church took the title with 5488 points, Kendall silver in a PB of 5441, and Bell bronze in a PB of 5434.
After the 1000m, Kendall said: “That was an absolute burn up – it was exciting, wasn’t it? I had a terrible long jump yesterday, but apart from that everything was pretty good. I said before we even started, it’s going to come to the 1k and it’s going to be an absolute tussle. And it was. I’m happy, and it’s promising, definitely. There’s a lot to work on – but it’s stuff that’s in there and I just need to bring it out.”
Bronze medallist Howard Bell said: “That performance has been a long time coming, to have a combined event that comes together. It wasn’t perfect but there’s never going to be a perfect one. So, I’m very happy. The shot wasn’t great but no complaints with the other six – a 60m PB, hurdles PB. And the best I’ve done in a lot of other events for a long time, so very happy.”
And from the new British champion, Lewis Church: “I did think going into the competition I’d have to do something special in the 1000 to win it, but it worked out in my favour that I had to just stay composed.”
On his hurdles PB: “I’ve been hurdling really well. I equalled my PB at Sheffield earlier in the year and I didn’t even have a warm-up for it – I did something to my glute. I’d like to do a few more 60 hurdles – the start of my race is a weakness, the same for most of us who are quite big guys – but I’d like to work a bit more on that.”
On his outdoor season: “I’ve been invited to Italy (Multistars) and I’m excited to do that, because the standard is what I need; 7750 is the English standard for the Commonwealth Games and if I can’t get it there, at least I’ve worked out what I need to do to get it.”
- Lewis Church 5488
- Harry Kendall 5441 PB
- Howard Bell 5434 PB
- Elliot Thompson 5410 PB
- Harry Maslen 5193
- Theo Adesina 4828
- Liam Reveley 4268
- Caius Joseph DNF
You can read the full results of both competitions here.