Chichester’s magnificent seven go for English schools athletics glory

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For the second year in a row Chichester have seven athletes with the honour of representing Sussex at the English schools’ athletics championships.

Five of the seven on duty at Gateshead this weekend have been selected before while two are newcomers.

Bishop Luffa long jumper Katie Hardcastle is the most experienced competitor at this level.

It will be her fourth appearance, having first competed as a junior in 2008, followed by two years in the intermediate ranks.

This year will be her first as a senior and while she has not quite matched her personal best of 5.57m, the consistency of her performances this season has earned her a call-up.

Two Chichester High School pupils are making their third appearances, with high-jumper Izzie Brown keen to make a similar impression outdoors having won the national indoor title already this year.

She has improved her personal best to 1.72. this season but suspects 1.75m will be needed to make it on to the medal rostrum.

Having gained confidence from helping Sussex to make it through to the English schools combined events final last weekend, Brown will hope her increasing experience of competing under pressure will stand her in good stead.

Hurdler George Grainger will be making his third appearance in the competition in his final year at Chichester High School for Boys.

Grainger is hoping to improve on his best this season of 55.7sec for the 400m hurdles and would like to smash his all-time best of 55.5, set last season.

Having also gained experience at a higher level by competing for Crawley in the British Athletics League, Grainger is hoping this will prove great preparation for the event and will be following in the footsteps of former High School student Harvey Byrne, who exceeded all expectations by becoming the senior 100m champion three years ago.

Ollie Smith makes it a double for CHSB by being selected for the 400m in his first year in the senior ranks having competed as an intermediate last year. As well as dipping under the 50-second barrier for the 400m, Smith has shown great speed by notching a 200m mark of sub-23 seconds and should have great confidence having made it through to the semi-finals of the national under-20 championships last weekend.

Another athlete who has dropped down a distance is Katy Bird from The Regis School, who will contest the 800m as a senior having competed in the 1,500m as an intermediate last year. She is hoping her turn of speed over 400m will give her the ability to either go with the pace in a fast race or give her the turn of speed necessary if it turns out to be more tactical.

The two first-time members of the squad will mark the first time St Philip Howard has had two athletes competing at such a high level.

Nathalie Godden has made her mark as an all-rounder this season and was one of the Sussex team to win the regional combined events title last weekend.

Also an accomplished hurdler and long jumper, it’s in the high jump that Godden has been selected for this weekend.

The experience she will gain will be invaluable: not only is it her first English Schools but she will have another year in 2012 in the intermediate age group.

Thomas Ackerman must be ranked as one of Chichester’s top improvers of the past year and has set a number of club records in recent months, including taking his own 400m mark to an impressive 53.9.

Still in the junior age group, Ackerman will be hoping that, like Godden, this first experience of competing against the top athletes in the country will bring out the best in him on the day.

PHIL BAKER