Shrewsbury School

Sidney-Darwin Dash and Quarter-Mile Challenge 2014

Monday 19 May 2014

In years to come, Salopians will look back on the bright, sunny Sunday morning in May 2014 when a new Shrewsbury tradition was begun - the whole School lining the avenue between Sidney and Darwin to cheer on the finalists in the inter-house Quarter-Mile Challenge and Sidney-Darwin Dash.

Most schools at this time of year will, of course, be gearing up towards their annual Sports Day, as indeed Shrewsbury will come Tuesday 24th June.  However, few schools have as unique an athletics event as this one, with runners hurtling down Central between the two iconic statues of Sidney and Darwin or speeding past the Pentagon with the Masters’ Garden but a blur of bougainvillea and scented lavender.  With echoes of the Trinity College Great Court Run, our own event is in fact a deceptively recent ‘tradition’, not hundreds of years old as one might expect but in fact first run in 2011.   

The genesis of the event came when a local resident of the town contacted the school asking whether we would be interested in a silver butter dish top that she had found in her attic, presented on 17th June 1869 to a certain H. Hughes for winning the Shrewsbury School Quarter-Mile.  Having gratefully received this donation, we added a rather fine plinth and silver plates and considered the idea of recreating the old ‘Quarter-Mile’ event.  A suitable location was scouted for, with various areas around the school campus and beyond considered, but the area around Central was settled on to include a loop down past the Main School Buildings and around the Alington Hall.  We decided, moreover, to extend the event to include a sprint, with the tree-lined avenue running from the Sidney to Darwin statues providing a natural ‘track’ to put our speedsters to the test.  It was certainly quirky and not your average athletics event, but the first year’s event was a tremendous success, with competitors and spectators relishing the uniqueness of the event and the exciting action that it generated. 

The 1869 trophy was won by Port Hill’s Howard Stringer in a time that remains the event record, a title that he retained in his Upper Sixth year in 2012.  The Junior Quarter-Mile was won in that first year by Stuart Brown from The Grove, with Chike Kandi from Moser’s Hall taking the winner’s tankard in the newly-christened junior ‘Sidney-Darwin Dash’.  Howard Stringer completed an impressive ‘double’ in winning the senior Sidney-Darwin Dash.

Now in its fourth year, the 2014 races brought about a new chapter for the event, with the finals being run on a separate day to the heats and the finalists taking their marks in front of the whole school lined up either side of Central, cheering on the kaleidoscope of house colours as they come sprinting past.

Junior Quarter-Mile Challenge
In the first race of the day, hotly tipped Severn Hill made their mark with strong performances in the Junior Quarter-Mile, where Scott Hatton took bronze and Charlie Tait-Harris came home comfortably ahead of second-placed Port Hill athlete Dan Orchard.  Tait-Harris’s time of 52.41 was a new record (previously held by Anton Nelson, also of Severn Hill), an impressive time particularly since he had sprained his ankle three days previously!  All three medalists in this event had also reached the final of the Sidney-Darwin Dash, a fine achievement in itself.   

Girls’ Quarter-Mile Challenge
The Girls’ Quarter-Mile challenge provided an interesting duel between Mary Sidney Hall’s top two runners Alice Sykes-Waller and Jasmine Douglas, both Upper Sixth runners and therefore competing for one of the last times for their House.  In the absence of Emma Darwin Hall Lower Sixth Formers Tory Mobley and Tatty Hunt, the cheering crowd were treated to a titanic struggle between Sykes-Waller and Douglas down the home straight, with a late surge from Sykes-Waller enabling her to pull past her compatriot, though only just!  Sykes-Waller defended the title won last year, and improved her time, lowering the event record to 63.87.     

The Senior Boys’ Quarter-Mile
The Senior Boys’ Quarter-Mile did not produce an event record, though with the winner and the runner-up not yet in the Sixth Form, perhaps Howard Stringer’s 2011 record may be under threat in future years.  Certainly, Anton Nelson’s winning time of 51.95 was not far off Stringer’s 51.35, and having twice won the Junior Quarter-Mile event and having this year taken the Senior title, Nelson is an athlete of considerable promise to watch out for in the future.  On the day, he was simply unstoppable, despite a valiant attempt from Huntsman and Head of School Rory Fraser, whose tight cornering as they appeared from the back of the Alington Hall did not pay off and led to him stumbling and eventually fading to 4th place overall.  The Grove’s Ollie Brown took advantage to take the bronze medal, ensuring that in the last year of boys in The Grove they would have a lasting legacy in the event.  Ahead of Brown was Oscar Dickins from Rigg’s Hall, who sets himself up for two more years of rivalry with Nelson, particularly intriguing when you throw into the mix fellow Hunt athlete Ben Remnant, who was absent from this event due to injury. 

Junior Sidney-Darwin Dash
Following the exciting longer distance races, the event moved into the ‘headline’ races of the Sidney-Darwin Dash run between the two famous Old Salopians.  The Junior Boys’ starting line-up included QM medalists Tait-Harris, Hatton and Orchard, who had only a matter of minutes to recover following their previous race.  The race was as electric as anticipated, with Tait-Harris determined to achieve ‘the double’ previously only ever completed before by Howard Stringer in the senior races.  Despite running bravely and powerfully, on the day Tait-Harris could not quite take the double victory, with School House’s Nifemi Okusanya crossing the tape in a time of 13.81.  Who knows what might have been had Tait-Harris not injured his ankle earlier in the week, though that is not to take anything away from what was a quite blistering performance from Okusanya.  His smile as he crossed the line and realised he had won stretched from ear to ear!

Girls’ Sidney-Darwin Dash
In the girls’ sprints, as in the Quarter-Mile, last year’s champion took to the start line determined to retain her title, and indeed, as in the Quarter-Mile, a new record was set, this time by Lizzie Mason-Jones from Mary Sidney Hall.  Her time of 16.38 was nearly a full second clear of second-placed Poppy Beckett (EDH) demonstrating her dominance at this level, crossing the line looking really rather relaxed!  A splendid run from Laura Nightingale ensured an individual bronze for Mary Sidney Hall as well, with Head Coach ARP obviously having worked her athletes hard in the build up to the races…

Senior Boys' Darwin-Dash
The final race of the day was billed as being potentially the tightest and most exciting of them all, with some astonishingly talented athletes taking to the start-line, and even then, that didn’t include last year’s winner Joe Carrasco from Ridgemount or Severn Hill’s Max Parsonage.  It was going to be a close one to call.  A strong start out of the blocks from Ladi Okusanya raised hopes amongst the School House supporters that he could emulate his younger brother, with housemate Nick Entwistle also featuring strongly in the opening 50m.  Yet as they sped towards the tape in a polychromatic blur, it was neck and neck between Port Hill’s Ed Barnard and Severn Hill’s James Plaut, with Upper Sixth Former Barnard determined to pip his younger competitor. 

It took a reviewing of the race video to confirm that it was Lower Sixth Former James Plaut who crossed the line first in a race record time of 12.70, with Barnard also dipping under 13 seconds with a time of 12.93.  Completing the podium was new entrant Tom Knight from Radbrook in a time of 13.17, suggesting that he will be eager to take on Plaut at next year’s event.  Plaut now holds the record at senior level and at junior level, following in his father Mike’s footsteps as being a Salopian record-holder!     

Congratulations to all who competed, and in closing let me pause to thank the considerable number of staff members who gave up their time at the weekend to help out at the event.

For full results, please see Quarter-Mile Challenge and Sidney-Darwin Dash Results 2014

Shrewsbury School TV were out in force on the day. We look forward to posting a film of the event on the website shortly.

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