British Championships Round Up
There were British titles on the track and in the field, World Championship qualifying performances and Welsh records to celebrate across the three days at the Manchester Regional Arena.
From sprinter Jeremiah Azu running the fastest time ever by a Welshman and Hannah Brier setting a new national 100m record to Adele Nicoll claiming the shot put title and Bethan Davies retaining her race walking crown, the championships were littered with Welsh success stories.
Brier got the ball rolling for the travelling Welsh contingent on Friday night with a brilliant run in the women's 100m heats.
The Swansea Harrier became the fastest Welsh woman in history as she broke her existing national record of 11.39, which she held jointly with Sallyane Short and Elaine O'Neill.
Having watched Olympic finalist Daryll Neita and World 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith winning the previous heats, Brier produced her own crowd pleasing performance by winning her first round race in a sizzling 11.33.
"I've been wanting that time for ages," she said. "And I'm just so happy it's all come together. I thought it was a good race, I can guarantee I'll go back to Matt (coach Matt Elias) and he'll say that I did something wrong! "
Elias had described her record equalling performance at the Welsh Championships earlier in the month as a little "ugly". But Brier was hoping for a more positive feedback this time!
"I hope it's not as ugly as Welsh champs! I think it went well, I got out and I focused on just relaxing like Matt told me before. He said 'the only thing I want you to do is just drop your shoulders, relax, and trust that you're in a good place'. And that's what I did. So maybe I should listen to my coach more often!"
"The main thing is gaining confidence going into the Commonwealth Games. This weekend, I plan on doubling up to try and imitate what it's going to be like in a games environment."
"I put myself up against really good girls as well. I was standing on the start line thinking 'I need to go'!"
"I'm in the shape of my life and I'm just taking every opportunity I can to better myself every time."
Hannah's young brother Joe Brier was also in excellent form on the first day of the championships as he qualified for the following day's 400m final by cruising to victory in his heat.
The Tokyo Olympian won by more than half a second ahead of City of Sheffield's Ben Higgins in 46.49.
Joe was delighted to safely reach the final:
"I just needed to win the race and ensure I qualify. I had a good run."
"I need to get through the rounds – previously I have DQ’d in the heats or messed up so I am in shape and really want to progress this year."
Commenting on Hannah's achievement, Joe added:
"I am chuffed for my sister getting the Welsh record and it is a great motivation for me to do well and stay number one in the family!"
(Photo of Hannah Brier's reaction taken by Owen Morgan)
It was an excellent night all round for Welsh sprinting. Cardiff clubmates Jeremiah Azu and Sam Gordon reached the following day's 100m semi-finals at the championships, which also doubled up as the Great Britain trials for next month's World Athletics Championships in Oregon.
Places were also be up for grabs as part of the Great Britain team which will travel to Munich for the European Athletics Championships after the Commonwealth Games.
Azu, who won his heat in a season's best equalling time of 10.18, said afterwards:
"I got to 50m and could feel myself in the lead so took it easy for 20m then shut it down. It feels good to get out there."
"I learnt the hard way at the indoors that I need to pace myself in these championships with the rounds and so on."
"I am going to be sure to race smart this weekend," added Azu, who was looking to book a place at the World Championships to go with his spot on Team Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
Gordon, who also has ambitions GB vests this summer, qualified for the semis by finishing third in his heat in a time of 10.38 despite a sudden rain shower coinciding with his heat.
Friday night also saw two of Wales' Commonwealth Games-bound middle distance stars qualify for Saturday's 1500m finals.
Gold Coast 1500m bronze medallist Melissa Courtney-Bryant won her heat in 4:19.43 ahead of Leeds City's Bethan Morley.
The Poole AC athlete was also chasing a place at the World Championships:
"My last few races have gone really well and now it’s all about getting that top two tomorrow and get on that World Champs team, which is the aim."
Heyward, like Courtney-Bryant, was looking to make it to Oregon as well as Birmingham, and looked impressive as he eased into the final finishing second behind fellow Tokyo Olympian Josh Kerr in 3:43.60.
Some of Wales' younger stars were also in action during the evening with Cardiff's Moli Lyons finishing 10th in the Under-20 3,000m final in 10.01.51 and Colwyn Bay's Bryn Wooddall clocking a personal best of 8:24.59 in the men's equivalent.
If Friday had been a stand-out night for Welsh sprinting, then Saturday went up another couple of gears
Gordon was unlucky not to reach the 100m final as he finished just outside the qualifying places with a 10.21 run to finish third in his semi.
Meanwhile Azu became the first Welsh athlete to dip under the magical 10 second mark when he clocked 9.94 to win his semi-final - albeit with a strong 5.6m/s wind at his back.
But even better was to come in the final when the reigning European Under-23 Champion became the first Welshman to win the UK 100m title since the great Ron Jones won the AAAs crown back in 1969.
The 21-year-old, coached by Helen James, went even faster than his semi-final to claim gold in a supercharged time of 9.90.
Azu's success sparked joyful scenes as the youngster was engulfed by family, friends and fellow athletes with fellow finalist Harry Aikines-Aryeety even sweeping the sprinter off his feet and spinning the delighted champion around in celebration.
An emotional Azu said afterwards:
"The last few weeks haven’t been great in terms of preparation for the Champs, however, I got through it and my family and coaches are here and I couldn’t do it without them."
"In the semi-final I lost some forward momentum and I knew I had to get that second step right today in the final and I got out the blocks extremely well."
"By the time I hit the 80m mark, I felt really relaxed and knew I was in the lead and I dipped for my life."
His explosive start had taken Azu away from a quality field featuring pre-race favourite Reece Prescod (9.94) and reigning European Champion Zharnel Hughes (9.97).
The 2.5m/s tail wind in the final means former Wales and Great Britain international Christian Malcolm's official 21-year-old Welsh record of 10.11 is safe for now.
But speaking after the race, the UK Athletics Olympic head coach predicted his mark would be surpassed this summer.
"Records are there to be broken and I think he's the guy to do it right now. So I wish him I wish him the best. I have no doubt he'll be breaking it over the next month or so.
"And it could happen to a nicer kid. I just hope he can make his mark on the global stage too."
Already selected to represent Team Wales at this summer's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Azu must now wait to see if he will be selected for Great Britain at next month's World Athletics Championships in Oregon.
Despite winning what was effectively the World Championship trial on Saturday, the 2.5m/s following wind means Azu's winning time is not eligible as a qualifying standard, which is set at 10.05.
(Photo of Jeremiah Azu taking home the win, taken by Owen Morgan)
In one of the most remarkable days in the history of Welsh sprinting, Hannah Brier had earlier qualified for the women's final by finishing second in her semi-final to Dina Asher Smith in an incredible time of 11.29 - albeit assisted by an illegal 3.8m/s wind.
In the final, the 2012 Commonwealth Games competitor rounded off an excellent series of races to clock 11.40 to finish 8th as Daryll Neita pipped Dina Asher-Smith to the title.
Afterwards, Welsh Athletics head of sprints Rhys Williams summed up a memorable couple of days for Welsh sprinting.
The former 400m hurdles star and Welsh Athletics National Development Coordinator for Sprints and Hurdles said after Azu's title win:
"I'm absolutely buzzing and so is everyone. Anyone who knows Jeremiah knows what an infectious guy he is, lovely guy, lovely family."
"I'm chuffed to bits for him. It's exactly what he would have wanted to go into the Commonwealth Games. A big confidence boost. The hard work's paid off for him."
"Fair play to Hannah as well. Two Welsh athletes in the finals. It shows they are preparing well for the Commonwealth Games."
"A Welsh record yesterday for Hannah and Jeremiah winning today, so it's looking really good and they both couldn't be nicer people either. Good for them."
"With their coaches, and their preparation, they've got it right at the right time."
Welsh middle distance running is also in rude health as Melissa Courtney-Bryant backed up her performance on Friday night by claiming a silver medal in the final and clinching a place on the GB team for the World Athletics Championships in Oregon next month.
The Poole AC star, who already had the qualifying standard of 4.04.20, finished second in the 1500m final to Laura Muir.
With the Scot having built up an unassailable lead, Courtney-Bryant stayed ahead of the chasing pack to claim the silver medal in 4.17.72.
Courtney-Bryant, whose season was restricted to just three races in 2021, was delighted to be going to the Worlds as well as the Commonwealths:
"It is such a relief to have made the team."
"It is the third time I have tried to make a worlds team, I have been trying since 2017 and last year I was watching the Olympic trials at home on crutches and in a boot. It was so hard to be sat at home during Tokyo but it is also a big motivator."
"Coming to the Champs is scary because of the pressure but it is good to have my coach telling me that is normal - everyone wants to make the team. The last few races have gone well so I felt ready."
"It is incredible in middle distance at the moment - it is like the 1980s and very exciting. We all have such a lot of respect for each other and see how hard we all train."
"Having missed out last year I am trying to do all three champs this summer so I have secured Worlds and am selected for Wales for Commonwealths so it is an exciting summer."
(Photo of Melissa Courtney-Bryant taking home silver in the 1500m, taken by Owen Morgan)
Unfortunately, Heyward missed out on a bronze medal in a stacked 1500m by just three hundreds of a second despite a desperate last gasp dive for the line.
Swansea Harrier Joe Brier suffered a similar fate as he finished fourth in the 400m final in a time of 46.34.
However, there was further Welsh medal success in the field events on day two of the championships.
Commonwealth Games-bound Osian Jones followed up his Welsh Athletics Championships success earlier this month by claimed silver in the hammer.
The Liverpool Harriers athlete propelled himself onto the podium with a fifth round effort of 69.68m, finishing behind seven-time UK Champion Nick Miller's 73.84.
Meanwhile, in the men's shot put Patrick Swan claimed a bronze medal behind eight-time champ Scott Lincoln and Youcef Zatat with a third round distance of 17.24.
In the men's pole vault final Wrexham's Thomas Walley finished fifth with a best height of 5.05m
Other Team Wales athletes in action included Jonathan Hopkins, who finished sixth in the steeplechase clocking a time of 8.45.38.
In the 100m ambulant, T37 sprinter Rhys Jones, of Rhondda AAC, who will also be representing Wales in Birmingham, finished seventh in 11.68.
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medallist Hollie Arnold was in action in the javelin where she finished 10th with a best throw of 39.58.
Unfortunately, Arnold's F46 category does not feature at this year's Commonwealth Games, but she was delighted to be back in action and has her eyes on the Paris Paralympics.
"It was so windy but the fact that we had the crowd, my family here so that was so nice. After Tokyo it is great to be back – to get the bronze was disappointing for me and with Covid and everything it is so good to be back and it has given me fire in my belly to do better."
"In two year’s time I hope I can get that title back. I have trained hard in a great group. The wind was crazy today so I do think some good performances are coming. It was amazing to have a crowd back to cheer us on."
While Nicoll was competing in the shot put along with Deeside AC's Sabrina Fortune, Davies and Pembrokeshire Harriers clubmates Heather Lewis and Gracie Griffiths were circling the track in the 5,000m racewalk.
The shot put competition exploded into life for Nicoll in the fourth round when she launched the shot out to a huge 17.59m - obliterating her previous best of 17.17m.
The Birchfield Harrier instantly knew it was a big distance and let out a roar of delight before celebrating the effort with Sophie McKinna, who had been leading thanks to her first round opener of 17.49.
It was a lead the Welshpool athlete would keep until the end of the competition to bring a first senior British title.
Commenting on her victory, Nicoll said:
"This has been such a long time coming for me, I have worked so hard for this over the years."
"I have never taken gold at British senior championships, so this moment marks the start of my senior career."
"I started the first three rounds not where I wanted to be but I was slowly building in each throw which was pleasing to see."
Nicoll said winning the title was the perfect preparation for representing Wales in Birmingham.
"I couldn’t be happier and it means I’m in such a great position going into the Commonwealth Games."
"Being at a home games, the atmosphere is going to be incredible especially as I’m a Birchfield Harrier and it’s in Birmingham so I’m representing my club as well."
"I will be spending the next month or so in Cardiff with my coach until we go into holding camp."
(Photo of Adele Nicoll celebrating with Sophie McKinna, taken by Owen Morgan)
As Nicoll was claiming the shot title there was an equally dramatic final playing out on the track involving the three Welsh walkers.
As the Pembrokeshire Harrier upped her effort in a bid to catch her Welsh Commonwealth team mate, she again fell foul of the officials and was disqualified in a repeat of the 2020 British Championships.
In what would have been a Welsh clean-sweep but for Lewis' disqualification, Griffiths claimed the silver medal in a new personal best time of 25:18.40.
Davies said of her winning performance:
"I was really happy with how it went today."
"It was good to do a 5k speed test and get into the track mindset for the Commonwealth Games as that is on the track this time. It was about going out quick and then trying to hold my form."
"I am focussing on 10k for that and then 35k for the Europeans. Today was about finding my speed on the shorter distance and getting used to the track again."
"I like to get into my rhythm on the track - there are judges more often but it is a good test and I like not having the bumps of the road!"
(Photo of Bethan Davies taking home the win in the 5000m Race Walk, taken by Owen Morgan)
Two more of Wales' Commonwealth Games competitors were in action in the men's discus competition.
Kate Seary finished just outside of the medals in the 3,000m steeplechase run in blustery conditions. The Cardiff Athletics runner finished fourth in 10:06.31.
Back in the field, Amber Simpson finished eighth in the hammer final with a best of 60.97m, while the women's high jump saw Cardiff's Hannah Tapley finish sixth after achieving a height of 1.71m.
Congratulations to all Welsh athletes, final results here.