A NEW year and a new sheet of paper for the North’s athletes as they came to Sheffield for the Northern Athletics Championships for Seniors, U20 and U17s.

On a weekend where the chilly winter air had a vice-like grip on the entire country, some showed no signs of relinquishing their grip on a Northern title.

Never is this truer than of the men’s senior events, as Lee Thompson of City of Sheffield & Dearne AC topped the doubles charts. Thompson who took the 200m and the 400m in 2023 was at it again this year as he powered to victory on the boards of the English Institute of Sport . Thompson, a man who has a promising future ahead of him; the 200m and 400m double is synonymous with the great Michael Johnson in the 1990s.

Thompson though was not the first to complete a sprint double over the weekend. He had already been beaten to it. The two winners from the U20 60m and U20 400m came face to face in the 200m, whoever won out of the two of them would complete a double. Mabel Akande (Lincoln Wellington) had set a fantastic championship best of 7.36 in the 60m, while Emma Holmes (West Cheshire) dominated the 400m. It was pace v stamina and it was the pace of Akande that would triumph as she came off the final bend to beat off the challenge of Holmes.

But while the outcome of the previous two events looked clear cut as they approached the finish line the  dramatic finish was reserved for the senior 200m as Derby’s sister act clashed. Lauren v Ella Blakey fought it out for the title and Lauren (wearing sunglasses) just held off Ella as they came over the line together to take the title by one tenth of a second. Lauren clocking 24.48 and Ella 24.58.

Sprinting in the UK as a whole is in great shape as the senior 60m clash showed. European U20 100m champion Joy Eze (Gateshead) took on Trinity Powell (Manchester Harriers) and Leonie Ashmeade (Wakefield). It seemed inevitable that these three would take home the medals – but which one would they get. Two one hundredths of a second would separate the three of them but as Eze, Ashmeade and Powell approached finishing line it was Powell who was the stronger as she edged home in a time of 7.42 with Ashmeade and Eze posting 7.44.

Records also tumbled in Sheffield and the first to go was in the senior shot putt as Shaunna Thompson of Sale, Manchester smashed the championship best performance with a throw of 15.42. Not only did she set new figures in the shot putt but Shaunna is a star of the future after winning gold for Great Britain in the 100m in the Commonwealth Youth Games. Another record to go was in the 400m as Hannah Kelly from Bolton had won her heat in 54.11. Come the final and she obliterated that time with one of 53.14 to secure the gold medal.

As ever the multi eventers made their presence felt as they took on the specialists in individual events. This weekend the multi eventers held the whip hand as if they did not beat pushed the specialists all the way. Ruben Stovell from Hallamshire, a decathlete with ferocious stamina and speed stormed home in the 400m and then came face to face with his fellow decathlete Luke Pichler in the shot putt and while Pichler went over the 11m mark it was Stovell who bettered that with a 14m 13. Come the combined events competitions later on this year and it will be interesting to see what happens when these two lock horns. Corey Beechall has moved up to the U20 age group and these two look likely to dominate the U17 age group. There is very little to choose between the two at present.

Speaking of Luke Pichler, the Blyth athlete had already had two visits to the podium in Sheffield. Firstly in the sprint hurdles where the strength of Lewis Shaw told in the final few metres. Having lost out on the gold, Pichler was straight to the long jump. Field events are when the lead can change hands in a nanosecond and over the years we have seen someone who has held the lead having it wrenched from their grasp and not able to respond such as the hammer blow that is dealt to the person who had been in front. Just look at the way Fatima Whitbread lost out on gold medals in the final round of the javelin for evidence. This time it happened in the long jump as Herbie Kay led with 6.36, Pichler having nailed his fourth round jump responding with 6.30. So to the final round and it was a 6.55 from Pichler that saw him snatch the gold while Kay had no answer with the final jump of the competition.

Perhaps one of the best stories came from Pichler’s Blyth club mate Sadie Parker. Parker, competing in the U17 long jump and sprint hurdles had never won a gold medal in any age group event in the Northern Athletics Championships. A stat that dates back to her days as an Under 13. Well it took her all of one morning to erase that statistic. Sadie, starting the sprint hurdles, cruised through her heat into the final and then switched to long jump where she leapt 5m.55 in her opening round. It effectively ended the competition at this point as Parker posted 5m plus in all of her jumps. Amy Hewitt was to be her closest challenge on the day with a 5.48 – Hewitt also a triple jumper would take the title in the latter. But in the penultimate round of the long jump it was Parker who, unruffled by the jump of Hewitt who then extended her lead to 5m 60 to be in the position of leading into the final round. As each challenger came and went, Hewitt included it and left Sadie with the knowledge that she had won the title. After collecting her medal Parker moved back to the sprint hurdles where a time of 9.12 saw her complete the double of hurdles, long jump gold.

There were plenty of close finishes on the track if the field events proved to be decisive and the 800m saw the crowd well and truly spoiled for drama . With the middle distance events there are two ways to win a gold medal – firstly to set a pace so hot that no one else can live with it and run the sprint finish out of your rivals or you can play it tactically and feel confident that your strength will see you through in the end . There were contrasting races in the 800m finals as Scott Temple of Hartlepool set a hot pace and looked as if he was running away with it . Josh Redmond though had not given up the gold medal and closed as they approached the final 100m and came off the final bend to move past Temple to take the title. The fans though were treated to an even closer finish in the senior event as only one one hundredth of a second separated Jonathan Kay of Bolton and Robert Shipley of City of York as they fought for the goal medal. In the end it was all on the dip as Kay just nosed in front on the line in a time of 1.54.29.

So two tactical examples for you there – well here is total domination as Eden Creasey of Middlesbrough Mandale destroyed her rivals in the final of the 800 and never looked in any danger of losing. Such was her domination that Creasey who is an outdoor champion at the distance won by close on two seconds in a time of 2.14.46.

But while the outcome of Eden Creasey’s race was never in doubt as soon as hit the front the result of the U17 women’s pole vault was in question right until the end. Six entrants including the outdoor champion Martha Hewitt- Chapple of Gateshead. Hewitt -Chapple was the first to blink when she dislodged the bar with her pole on 5.60. She cleared on her second attempt but it knocked her back on the countback rule – as she had one failure while others cleared. But then three of the six competitor disappeared as Rose Jackson, Daisy Roberts and Grace James all went out on 5.70 leaving Hewitt-Chapple, Tamzin Osbourne and Claudia Berry all progressing to 5.80. It looked for all the world that Claudia Berry would be the next to go as she had two fouls on 2.80 but she cleared on her final attempt and then went over 2.90 at her first attempt leaving Martha and Tamzin to try and respond. They couldn’t and it was Claudia Berry who took the title and just for good measure rounded off the competition with a height of 3 metres.

So two huge days of athletics drew to a conclusion in the Steel City. 691 athletes competed and the seeds have been sown for the new season, we will see how they develop over the next few months .

Next in Sheffield it is the U15 and U13 Northern Athletics Championships which takes place on Sunday 4th of February.

Susan Jardine is the Presenter of Sportszone on Nova Radio North East which airs 2pm-6pm  every Saturday

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