Many pairs of eyes were nervously scanning the weather reports last week as our second annual Inter-House Athletics event approached. Heavy rain had initially been predicted, evoking memories of last year, but over the course of the week optimism swept through the BBC's Met Office. By Friday morning, the signs were very good that this year would be significantly brighter than last (though prayers for a mini-heatwave went unanswered, perhaps to the relief of the San staff!).
As coaches made their way through school-run traffic to drop off the athletes at London Road's track, tension built over who would be able to break last year's records and which house would emerge victorious. Old scores were revived and needed settling. Bragging rights were at stake, not to mention several trophies and medals. Could Severn Hill hold on to their near clean-sweep? Could the Grove mount a challenge for the Senior trophy, given that many members of its Inters-winning side of last year were now in the Lower Sixth?
The sprint hurdles kicked off the event, and a range of interesting techniques were exhibited by the competitors, many of whom were entirely new to the discipline. In the Juniors, Hugh Davies (Rt) put in a great effort, using all his flexibility to surmount hurdles which were almost equal to him in height. In a dramatic final he was just pipped by 1/100th of a second by Angus Drummond (O), who ran a very strong race indeed to secure the first gold medal of the afternoon. In the girls' race, Libby Naylor (EDH) unsurprisingly retained her gold medal in her favourite event, leading by more than two seconds from Alice Sykes-Waller (MSH). An entertaining race in the Inters category was won by Nick Entwisle (SH), demonstrating that he's retained his sprinting ability since last year's success. In the Seniors, Matt Davies (M) just about pipped Joe Carrasco (Rt) in a very close finish.
In the 800m, the Junior race was won by Will Hayward (R) in 2:26, while in the Inters, Fifth-former Charlie Godman (M) proved a point to his Fourth-form rivals by taking the gold. Charlie may well be one of the most improved athletes since last year's event, having had two very successful terms with the Hunt. In the Senior race, Seb Blake (S) set an electric pace that no other competitor could match, and led from start to finish, crossing the line in 2:11. Angus Hayward (Ch) put in a very good effort to finish second, only three seconds behind Seb. In the girls' race, Amy Stockdale (EDH) ran a very sensible race to finish in 2:55, well ahead of her nearest rival, Lizzie Collins (MSH) in 3:10.
The 400m was next; notorious for being one of the hardest athletics disciplines, both mentally and physically. And so it proved: some blistering starts resulted in some very tired finishes indeed! Charlie Tait-Harris (Rb) showed his x-country stamina in winning the Juniors race in 62 seconds, while in the Inters, Anton Nelson (S) just pipped Sam Mitchell (Rb) to the line in 58.6 seconds. In the Seniors, Rob Cross (S) ran a commanding race to take the gold ahead of Ed Barnard (PH) in a time of 56.1 seconds. The girls' race was won by Izzie Croft (EDH) in 74 seconds.
The mass participation of the 1500m made for an entertaining race, which in the Juniors category was won by Charlie Tait-Harris, showing great versatility having just completed the 400m only half an hour before. In the girls' event, Amy Stockdale showed that her legs were still fresh after the 800m and won in a time of 6:08. The Inters event was a cracking race, with the revival of the Dickins/Remnant rivalry which reminded some of the older spectators of a Coe/Ovett battle. Ben Remnant (Ch) once again managed to get one over Oscar Dickins (R) to take the gold in 4:45, despite Oscar being the (imaginary) bookies' favourite going in to the race. The Seniors race was won by Seb Blake, beating Rory Fraser (Ch) by three seconds to cross the line in 4:27, taking the glory in this event for the second year in a row.
In the 200m, some fantastic battles were fought, especially among the Seniors, where there was a real breadth of talent competing at a similar level. Jonty Binns (G) and Ian Yeung (R) both showed some fantastic pace in the heat, but neither could quite maintain the speed into the final, and the race was won by Seb Pope (PH) who finished in 25 seconds flat. In the Inters, James Plaut (S) showed superb form to come through the field to take gold in 22.4, ahead of Nick Entwisle in 24.3. It is interesting that both these times would have won the Senior race! In the girls' event, Libby Naylor secured her second gold with a time of 27.9 seconds.
And finally on to the 4x100m relays. In a nail-biting finish in the Juniors race, Radbrook only just beat Rigg's by eight hundredths of a second to cross the line in 55.37. Honours in the Inters event went to Severn Hill, who managed an astonishing time of 48.5 seconds, over two seconds closer than their nearest rivals, Ingram's. The girls' race was won in 62 seconds by EDH, while the Senior's race - the last event of the day and the climax of the track programme - was won by Rigg's, who managed to complete the lap in 48.8 seconds ahead of Severn Hill. The latter house can take some comfort in considering that their Inters team achieved the fastest time of the day.
In the field, some terrific performances in the Long Jump pit resulted in wins for Cameron Bates (S) in the Junior event in 4.11m, Ben Smith (Rt) in the Inters with 5.25m, Elen Murphy in the Girls' event with 3.73m and Alex Styles (S) in the Seniors with 5.20m.
The Triple Jump is a very difficult, technical discipline and given that, the distances managed by many of the competitors was truly impressive. The winner of the Juniors event was Reuben Arkwight (O) with a jump of 9.32m. The Inters was much closer, with another Oldhamite, Gene Ratanadaros, just managing to pip Samson Yick (S) by two centimetres with a terrific jump of 11.21m. Both these boys should be congratulated on truly huge jumps here in this age category. The Seniors event saw sixth-form entrant Joe Carrasco triumph with a massive jump of 11.60m, though three other competitors managed to jump well over 11m. The girls' event saw something of a domination by EDH, who managed to claim all three spots on the podium, with Daisy McConnell taking gold.
In the High Jump, Angus Drummond took his second gold (and third medal) with a jump of 1.45m in an impressive afternoon for the Oldhamite. The Inters event was won by Jonathan Hurcomb with a jump of 1.55m, while in the Seniors, the honours went to Rob Cross (in his favourite event) with a jump of 1.60m. The girls' event saw Cressida Adams take victory with a jump of 1.40m, ten centimetres higher than her nearest challenger.
Bridget Lapage (MSH) won the Girls' Shot Put with a fantastic effort of 6.35m, while in the Juniors category, Jacob Rand (R) blew the opposition away with his attempt landing at 10.62m. Neither the Inters nor the Seniors could top this distance (though to be fair they were using heavier shot) - Giles Holroyd (S) managing to see off his rivals in the Inters with his best effort measuring 9.69m. The gold medal in the Seniors went to Ivan Sanin (G) whose effort measured 9.82m.
The Javelin is another very technical discipline, and for novice competitors is extremely difficult to get right. However, some real ability was on display here, with a great throw by James Long (Rt) of 25.6m to take the Junior gold, while Alice Sykes-Waller achieved her second gold medal with her throw of 21.3m in the girls' event. Among the Inters, the best throw of the day went to Nick Pearce (I), who managed a fantastic 34.40m. The Senior event was won by George Day (R), whose effort of 39.90m showed just how much he has improved at this discipline (last year his best was 31.80m).
In the Discus, the honours went to Ridgemount in the Juniors, with Tristan Lywood's effort of 18.41m proving unassailable. The Inters' event was won by Anton Nelson who picked up his second gold after the 400m, with a throw of 23.40m. Immy Richardson of MSH threw a terrific 20.85m in the Girls' event to take gold, while Ivan Sanin (G) grabbed his second gold medal by throwing a distance of 26.86m.
While all of these track and field events have been contested, on the other side of the paddock a fierce battle was going on for the victor in the Tug-of-War competition, won last year by Ingram's. Once again they managed to overcome the opposition and took the title with a series of victories. Congratulations to them!
Everyone who participated in an event contributed to their house points total, and it was a very close-run thing indeed this year. Rigg's Hall claimed the Senior Boys' Trophy this year and Emma Darwin won the Girls'. The Headmaster will be presenting these trophies at the next School Assembly, together with those for the Victor and Victrix Ludorum in their categories - going to the individual who scored the most points for their house. I won't give things away by annoucing the winners before the Assembly - suffice to say that it really couldn't have been closer!
Several of last year's records were broken, and it is to be hoped that I will be able to say the same after next year's event. A really competitive approach was adopted by the vast majority of pupils, and it was fantastic to see so much effort put into the events by so many participants. With the exception of some rather biting temperatures at times, I think that this proved a memorable day for most Salopians for all the right reasons. Well done to everyone who competed and thanks to everyone else for coming along to support this very enjoyable event.
Thanks to Mark Twells, Mike Wade and Andrew Spicer (M LVI) for their photographs and to Dr Charlie Oakley for his analysis of the results (below).