Shining Generation of Northern Irish Juniors Star in Sweden
23 July 2019
Athletics NI Youth Academy and Commonwealth Potential athletes performed with distinction at the European U20 Athletics Championships in Borås, Sweden with a stunning silver medal and no less than six athletes achieving top 8 positions. Never before has Northern Ireland had so many Juniors ranked inside the top ten.
Heroic Silver Medal for Heptathlete O’Connor
Kate O’Connor (coached by Michael O’Connor, Laura Kerr & Tom Reynolds) put the crowning glory onto an already superb junior career when rewriting the rankings and the record books to snatch the silver medal in the U20 Women’s Heptathlon in a new NI and Irish Senior Record of 6093 points. She is now the second Northern Irish major Combined Events medallist after Lady Mary Peters’ 1972 Olympic Gold.
The Newry born, Dundalk based athlete came into the competition ranked 3rd, with her 5881 score set in Lana in April, behind World U20 Leader Annik Kalin from Switzerland and World U18 record holder Maria Vincente from Spain.
Kate produced her second best 100m Hurdles in a Heptathlon of 14.61 (-1.3), which in this high class event left her in 13th position. It was at this stage that O’Connor, who started in Athletics NI’s Rising Stars programme some five years ago, truly came alive in her second strongest event, the High Jump. Having had an inconsistent season with the vertical jump she shocked even herself, equalling her outdoor PB of 1.78m first time before going on to produce one of the highlights of the day when clearing a new personal best of 1.81m to win the High Jump and move all the way up into 4th place.
The leader board was rewritten in the first round of the Shot Put when Kate went out to just 7cm shy of her PB with 13.41m, this was over a metre ahead of the leaders and put her in an unexpected lead going into the 200m. This was backed up by another PB of 24.82 in the 200m, with minimal points lost to the fastest athletes, leaving Kate in 3rd place overnight.
The long jump was the only event in which not a single athlete had a PB, Holly Mills (GBR), Kalin and Vincente all easily exceeded 6 metres, as expected, and it was a case of damage limitation for Kate who managed a respectable 5.73m into to the worst of the headwinds of the morning. This left the St. Vincent’s Dundalk AC athlete with almost a 200 point gap to the leader and 100 points to the medals. Then it came to O’Connor’s favourite and strongest event, the Javelin, with Kalin and Vincente already having thrown substantial personal bests and extending their leads. With her throws coach and former NI Javelin record holder Laura Kerr looking on, Kate absolutely demolished the field in her opening round with a 3.5 metre personal best of 52.92m, a distance that would have been 6th in the individual Javelin. The video of Kate’s superb throw and excited celebrations after was one of the most watched videos posted by European Athletics during the championships with in excess of 14,000 views.
With the final event to go, Kate had moved up to 3rd place, 3 points behind Vincente and 14 behind Kalin, which meant that less than 1.5s separated the medals. In an exciting climax to an already dramatic two days, Kate drew on her strength gained from many sessions at the St. Colmans track in Newry, with her pacer Lee Magennis, and took the race on at the 500m mark which was too much for the leader Kalin to take. This left two in the hunt for the Gold, Kate and Maria Vincente who had the run of her life (7 second PB) and who just managed to reach the line first completing a hattrick of major titles (U18 World, U18 European and U20 European).
Satisfied she had given her all, O’Connor celebrated her silver medal all the way around the victory lap with her fellow Heptathletes and couldn’t quite seem to believe she had broken the 6000-point barrier. Since 2017 the Rising Stars – Youth Academy – and now Commonwealth Potential athlete has added an astounding 1000 points to the Northern Ireland Senior Record and moves up to World Senior no. 32 going 29th on the all-time European U20 rankings alongside superstar names like Karolina Kluft, Katerina Johnson-Thompson, Morgan Lake and Nafi Thiam.
Medal contenders Lecky, Sexton and Patterson right amongst the action
Finn Valley World Junior High Jump silver medallist, Sommer Lecky (Niall Wilkinson), was right amongst the action with an excellent series of jumps and 1.84m clearance in the final. Sommer had three excellent efforts at 1.87m, which would have been enough to take a medal but on this occasion couldn’t quite repeat her heroics from Tampere last year. Ultimately Sommer finished joint 5th behind winner Yaroslava Mahuchikh of the Ukraine who cleared 1.92 metres. The Commonwealth Youth Games Champion will continue her season at the Irish Championships, Belfast International and Cork City Sports.
Fourth is the most difficult place to be
Coached by his dad, North Down's Aaron Sexton has had an outstanding schoolboy athletics career. Aaron looked dominant through the heats and semi-finals of the 200m and, in the closest finish of the championships, missed a medal by a matter of thousandths. Both Aaron and Italy’s Mattia Donola ran the same time of 21.18 (-1.2) in a race won by Onyema Adigida of the Netherlands in 21.08.
“I left everything out there. I’m a bit gutted. I built a lead early on but faded in the straight. This result wasn’t what I wanted “. Aaron retains Europe's fastest U20 200m time but lost out on the line in the fight for medals. We wish him well as he follows his dream with Ulster Rugby and Irish Rugby 7s.
In the 400m, Beechmount’s Davicia Patterson (Ian Neely) adopted her usual aggressive tactics in the heat and semi-final to secure her final spot. Davicia produced her second fastest time ever to run 52.72 in the final. Unfortunately, she was just edged out of the medals but having had three sub 53 second runs this year the future looks incredibly bright for Davicia. Polina Millar,an Authorised Neutral athlete, took gold in a European U23 record of 51.72 followed by GB ‘S Amber Anning In 52.18 .
Debuts and Finals for the NI athletes in the Relays
Youth Academy Athletes Rachel McCann (Michael Roberts), Adam Hughes (Ian Neely) and Katie Monteith (Lyn Fisher) as well as Davicia all made an impact in the relays in Borås. Katie ran a strong third leg in a very young Irish 4x100m team in which most athletes will still be U20 at the next European U20s. The team was not expected to qualify for the final but will have gained huge experience for future years.
Rachel and Adam both produced the fastest Irish splits in the heats of 4x400m relays to help both teams qualify for the final with impressive 53.48 and 47.5 respectively. In the finals, the men’s team went faster again thanks to a 47.2 second leg split from Hughes to finish 7th with 3:11.51. The women’s team finished a dramatic 0.29 seconds outside of the medals in a new National Record of 3:37.42 thanks to amazing 3rd and 4th leg splits from Patterson (52.3) and McCann (53.8) respectively.
In the field on Day 1, Finn Valley athlete James Kelly (John Kelly Snr) who has a PB in excess of 18m unfortunately failed to register a legal throw in a highly competitive Men’s shot.
As the curtain goes down on a compelling European Junior Championships there have been heartache, heroics and nail-biting performances. The tiniest of margins separated the finalists and medallists in Sweden and Northern Ireland’s upcoming junior athletes will look ahead, inspired to perform at next year’s World U20 Championships in Nairobi and the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago.