National bronze is highlight for Chichester’s super seven athletes

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Competing against the best athletes in the country, the seven-strong squad from Chichester returned from the English Schools Championships at Gateshead with one national medal, one massive club record and several encouraging performances.

Chichester’s best hope of a medal before the event was Izzie Brown in the intermediate girls’ high jump and the Chichester High School pupil did not disappoint.

In a competition which had its fair share of drama, Brown nearly went out at a relatively modest 1.68m, clearing only at the third attempt.

There were similar problems at the next height on 1.71, just a centimetre below her all-time best, but the Chichester athlete dug into all her reserves and once again cleared at her third attempt.

This new height had accounted for all but three of the field, meaning Brown was sure of at least a bronze, but only the eventual winner went clear at 1.73, leaving Brown to settle for bronze, losing to the silver medallist on countback, having had more failures at earlier heights.

That brought mixed emotions as only the first two will get an international call-up for England but those who failed at 1.68 went home without a medal.

In the same competition, Nathalie Godden from St Philip Howard was just three centimetres below her best at 1.59m but benefited from the experience of her first national individual competition and had the extra bonus of being in the winning Sussex team in the intermediate girls, ahead of more than 40 teams nationwide.

Brown and Godden will have another chance of schools glory as part of the Sussex combined events team for the national championships in September.

St Philip Howard School had the honour of two athletes at these championships with Thomas Ackerman running in the junior boys’ 400m and proving to be one of the surprises of the championships for Sussex.

From a best of just over 63 seconds at the start of 2010, Ackerman brought his time down to under the 60-second barrier at the end of last season.

After a winter of consistent conditioning training he emerged with a 56-second run at the beginning of May only to then gain the English schools qualifying time of 54.4, also a new club record for Chichester, which he further improved to 53.9 in June.

With only the first two certain to make the final at Gateshead from the three heats, Ackerman, one of the outsiders on paper, ran a superbly-controlled race to smash his personal best with a 53.16 clocking and finish second in his heat and secure a place in the final.

Yet another best of 53.08 followed for a magnificent sixth in the final and an overall improvement of no less than ten seconds in 14 months.

The four seniors on duty at Gateshead had mixed fortunes.

Bishop Luffa pupil Katie Hardcastle once again made the top eight with a best of 5.25m in the long jump. Just short of her lifetime best of 5.57, Hardcastle justified the faith of the selectors to record all six legal jumps, including twice at her best distance.

Ollie Smith was just squeezed out of a place in the 400m final but managed yet another sub 50-second performance and, while hoping for a personal best of nearer 59 seconds, is another athlete who has risen to a consistent new level this season.

With another year in the age group, the Chichester High School pupil is looking forward to a full winter’s training to set his sights higher for next year.

School-mate George Grainger couldn’t go out on a high in his final year at the championships. After a solid heat of sub 57 seconds to make the final, the 400m hurdler had a problem at the eighth set of barriers in the final which disrupted his stride pattern and was forced to retire.

The same fate befell The Regis School’s Katy Bird, who has had to contend with a season disrupted by injury and had to drop out of the 800m at the halfway stage. She also has another year in the senior age group and will have a chance to show her best form in 2012.

Overall, the Chichester area can be proud of the impact its junior athletes have had on county and national stages in recent years and can look forward to the next crop of athletes to come through.

PHIL BAKER