WE were promised an evening to remember to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the inaugural Saucony BMC Grand Prix and meeting organiser Luke Gunn didn’t disappoint.

Two British Best times in the women’s 2000m steeplechase caught the eye as Aimee Pratt smashed her personal best with a time of 6mins 08.16secs, which is the 10th best on the World All-Time Lists to eclipse Elizabeth Bird’s time of 6:11.79 and runner-up Maisie Grice, 21, broke the Under 23 age group mark with 6:21.17 to go third on the UK All-Time List.

Furthermore, there were two European Championships qualifiers from Ben Pattison (PB of 1:45.43 to win the 800m) and Phil Norman (3000m steeplechase) plus four Commonwealth Games standards with three for England in Norman and fellow 3000m steeplechaser Zac Seddon plus Pattison, whose time lifted him to fourth on the BMC All-Time list.

The fourth Commonwealth Games qualifying success came from 5000m runner Annabelle Simpson for Scotland as she ran a PB of 15:41.99, which is the second time this season she has run inside the standard.

Four athletes achieved qualifying times for the World Junior Championships led by a superb PB of 2:02.01 by 18-year-old Abigail Ives as she chased home Isabelle Boffey and 16-year-old Iris Downes in third (2:04.44), which was also a PB.

The other two qualifiers came in the highly competitive 3000m steeplechase with Tom Bridger clocking a lifetime best of 8:51.93 and Axel Vang Cristensen of Denmark (8:38.34), which was just 0.27secs outside Seddon’s BMC Under 20 record.

Last but certainly not least there were five European Under 18s qualifying times led by Downes and 17-year-old Ella Greenway (2:07.48 to win the B race) in the 800m, Rachel Clutterbuck and Gabby Phelan (2000m steeplechase) and Sam Mills in the 1500 (3:51.14).

Within the BMC organisation Norman’s time lifts him to seventh all-time, just behind Gunn, Pattison’s time is the fourth fastest BMC time ever and Ives third fastest at U20.

To further underline the quality of the meeting, which was the first Grand Prix ever staged at the marvellous Birmingham University facility and received numerous plaudits from the runners as being a very fast track, there were 142 PBs from 246 finishers, which is a mightily impressive 58 per cent success rate – arguably one of the best ever in the 25-year history of the GP format.

No wonder that Gunn was delighted with how the evening went; and the sun came out and the wind dropped too!

“We were blessed with good weather and had two British bests and plenty of other qualifying times as well,” said Gunn.

“I am also delighted to see the quality of the winning times particularly in the 800m and good to see a sub 8mins 30secs in the steeplechase, which is as it should be.

“After seeing tonight there is a lot to be excited about for the rest of the season. I am really pleased with how it went – and very tired!”

Full Report

A BRITISH best is not a bad way to mark your first steeplechase of the season but Aimee Pratt has much bigger ambitions that that for the summer.

The Tokyo Olympian put down a big marker with her time of 6mins 08.16secs – which surely suggest the British record of 9:19.68 set by Elizabeth Bird last summer in Japan is under serious threat – and afterwards coach Vicente Modahl explained that the pursuit of medals is her big target this year.

“This was good preparation for the main season so it is looking really positive,” said Modahl.

“I think at the Europeans Aimee has medal potential, it has to be a possibility although obviously it will be highly competitive.

“Likewise with the Commonwealths it will be a one-off final so anything can be happen.

“But for now to get that British Best is amazing and now we are aiming to run 9mins 15secs for the 3000m ’chase.”

That’s an ambitious aim but on Saturday’s evidence not unrealistic for the Sale Harriers Manchester athlete, who has improved every year since first racing the event in 2014.

Indeed, over the past five years Pratt has improved her PB from 9:59.86 to 9:50.17, 9:38.91, 9:30.73 to her current best from 2021 of 9:25.89 so the 24-year-old is on an upward curve.

“I feel I am ready to step up into the European elite level now so the European Championships will be a good stepping stone to where I am in my career,” said Pratt.

“Obviously the Worlds and the Olympics remain the long term aims so I just need to keep progressing and now translate that 2000m time into the real distance next!”

For good measure Pratt collected a cheque for £1,500 as part of the enhanced, record prize structure on offer by the BMC this summer.

Behind Pratt there were terrific efforts by Maisie Grice and 16-year-old Rachel Clutterbuck, whose PB of 6:43.94 was well inside the European Under 18 Championships standard of 6:55.00.

Meeting organiser Luke Gunn, a former GB international ‘chaser himself, had clearly worked hard to attract a top field to both the women’s and men’s races to celebrate the staging of not only a Saucony Grand Prix at the University for the first time but also a fitting way to mark the 25th anniversary of the first Grand Prix in Manchester.

Certainly the men’s race didn’t disappoint either as Zac Seddon and Phil Norman enjoyed a terrific tussle. Seddon survived a heavy early fall at the water jump to force the pace and in the closing stages had a constant 10 metres advantage over Norman.

But Tokyo Olympian Norman found an extra gear on the last lap to surge home in 8mins 29.20 to collect a £750.00 cheque.

“As a season opener I’m pleased with that as it is quicker than I ran at the start of last summer so it is pleasing to see where I am,” said Norman.

“As for this season my No 1 target will be the Commonwealth Games. I have the qualifying time but it is going to be tough to make the team with the selection criteria.

“But it is a great opportunity to compete at a home games and for my wife, my six-months-old son and family to come and watch and cheer me on in action. That would be a wonderful moment.”

Behind the front pair Denmark’s European U20 Cross Country champion Axel Vang Cristensen ran a PB and World Juniors qualifying time of 8:38.34 while 19-year-old Thomas Bridger also dipped inside the World Juniors standard of 8:55.00 with his PB of 8:51.93, smashing his 2021 best of 9:38.45.

When Isabelle Boffey was being chased hard down the home straight by 18-year-old Abigail Ives meeting organiser and their coach Gunn didn’t know who to cheer.

“I have been coaching Abi remotely down in Basildon and, of course, Isabelle here at Birmingham University so that was tough one!” said Gunn.

The trio will spend even more time together from the autumn when Ives takes up a place at the University to study Sports Science and on this evidence she’ll be snapping at Boffey’s heels on the training track.

Boffey fought tenaciously to hold her form after a fast opening lap just over 57 seconds giving Ives a target to chase as she inevitably slowed down but the former European U23 champion dug deep to win in 2:01.47, just a fraction off her PB of 2:02.24, with Ives being rewarded for a big PB of 2:02.01.

That sliced over two seconds off her 2021 best and lifted her to eighth on the UK All-Time Lists for U20 women alongside some great names in women’s two-lap running.

“I was chuffed with that time,” said Ives.

“I was hoping to run a  decent time but to come away with something really quick like that was not expected. I have A Level exams now but luckily for me the World Juniors and the trials are later in the season so that will work well for me.”

Before then Ives has a place in the 800m B race at the Diamond League in Birmingham next weekend where she will be joined by Boffey. That was one reason the 22-year-old wanted that fast first lap on Saturday to give her a feel of what it felt like.

“It was a good start to the season and I’m pleased with that,” said Boffey.

“The Europeans will be my No 1 target this summer but the competition for places is really tough.”

The same goes for the men and Ben Pattison showed he’ll be in contention for international honours with an emphatic victory in the men’s 800m A race.

Pattison kicked hard at 600m to pull clear for victory in a PB of 1:45.43, clipping 0.27secs off his 2021 best and putting him fourth on the BMC All-Time list behind Max Burgin (1:44.75), Richard Hill (1:45.10) and Patrick Ndrurui (1:45.2) – and ahead of the likes of Michael Rimmer, Jake Weightman and Andrew Osagie.

“I felt strong as we went through the bell in around 52 seconds then made my move down the back straight,” said Pattison.

“I was then just waiting for someone like Oliver to come up alongside me and to have a real battle down the home straight but it never happened.

“Everyone is at different stages of their season and I’m sure Olly will be up there next time. He’s too good not to be.

“But for me I’ll take 1:45 for an opener!”

Pre-race favourite Dustin surged from the back of the pack to near the front with a very fast third 200m but couldn’t push that on and drifted back to finish last in 1:51.15.

In the 1500m there were solid wins for Joshua Lay (3:40.22) and Khahisa Mhlanga (4:17.95), with the former particularly pleased to open his outdoor season with a win.

“Last year was a disaster when I suffered a stress fracture in the shin so I’m pleased to come out and win in what was a brilliant event here in Birmingham even if I ended up being out front on my own, which is not normally how I like to race,” said Lay.

“Things are going in the right direction and I’d like to make a team for one of the championships.”

Of the longer distances the best performance came in the women’s 5000m as Scotland international Annabel Simpson from Fife dictated from the front to win in a PB of 15:41.99, which is the second time this season she has run inside the Scotland qualifying standard of 15:45 for the Commonwealth Games.

“I have run for Scotland on the road and cross country but not on the track yet so hopefully this summer,” said Simpson.

“I am happy to win tonight. It was my first Grand Prix win and there was a great atmosphere around the track while conditions were perfect. It was a great meeting.”

Those ideal conditions saw the first nine women clock PBs with 11 of the 14 finishers also running lifetime  bests while in the men’s race, won by Israeli athlete Derba Ayale, the top three recorded PBs while 13 of the 19 finishers did likewise.

In the B race 13 off the 16 finishers ran lifetime bests as the meeting totalled 142 PBs from 246 finishers, a 58 per cent success rate which BMC CEO Tim Brennan reckons is the best in the history of the Grand Prix Series.

It was that sort of night, a fitting finale to the 25th anniversary celebrations

Photos by David Lowes


Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan

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