Keven Fahey Reports, Photos David Lowes
Meeting director Steve Green promised a rousing finale to the Grand Prix season and Saturday’s meeting at Trafford completely lived up to the hype – and more.
It delivered one of the best women’s 1500m races of the summer with Sarah McDonald continuing her stirring comeback after long-term injury with victory after a tremendous battle with Mexico’s No 1 Laura Galvan.
McDonald inched it with a time of 4mins 03.03secs which earned her a £1,000 time bonus, it was also a new BMC women’s only race record, eclipsing Nancy Chepkwemoi’s time of 4:03.09 set at Watford in 2015.
Galvan finished just 0.03secs behind to improve her own Mexican record with 4:03.06 which is a good boost for her ahead of tackling the 5000m at the forthcoming World Championships in Budapest.
The men’s 800m boasted one of the strongest fields ever seen at a Grand Prix with four countries represented reflecting the status of the meeting as part of the World Athletics Challenger Tour and the reigning World Indoor 800m champion and runner-up.
But it was another Brit who raced to victory to underline the strength in depth the country boasts in the middle distances at present with Matt Stonier becoming the 14th man this season to run under 1min 46secs with a personal best of 1min 45.79secs.
As international coach and commentator Geoff Wightman said in his comments on the live stream from Vinco, that is a stat of which Frank Horwill, the legendary founder of the BMC, would be very proud as a further confirmation of why the club was set up.
Furthermore, in the women’s 800m the fast-improving Khahisa Mhlanga came within a whisker of becoming the 10th British woman to dip inside two minutes this season but had to be satisfied with a PB of 2:00.15 to go 10th on the UK Rankings.
No wonder Green couldn’t stop smiling.
“I think it was one of those rare evenings when almost every A race delivered something and there were some very good B races as well,” said Green.
“I was delighted with the meeting and there was some very positive feedback from the athletes. I think that is the best finale we have ever had in the Grand Prix series.”
BMC CEO Tim Brennan also added his praise to a super night of racing.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t our best ever Trafford meeting,” said Brennan. “There were some terrific races and also real strength in depth as well.
“There was also a nice mix of foreign athletes and Brits which is the formular we are trying to apply. It is all looking very positive.”
Women’s 800m B-E
The women’s B race was another fiercely contested event with Bury teenager Anna Gisbourne having the temerity to take on Indian national record holder Harmilan Bains-Kaur.
Gisbourne, who is coached by Trevor Painter, drew level with Bains off the final bend and pushed her hard down the home straight with both women rewarded with personal bests, 2:04.37 to 2:04.70.
Remarkably for Gisbourne, who won bronze at the English Schols Championships, it was her seventh PB over two laps this year. Carrying over a PB of 2:13.33 in 2022 she bettered that three times indoors and then clocked another four PBs outdoors, including a 2:07.26 to win the B race at the Birmingham University Grand Prix.
“I have been stuck on 2:07 for a while and I’m so happy,” said Gisbourne. “Now I have the Nationals at the end of August and then I’m done.”
Ireland’s Lucy Holmes ran a PB of 2:06.56 to win the C race with Elena Bartalotta and Alex Mundell claiming the D and E races.
Men’s 800 A
Matt Stonier’s focus this season has been on the 1500m in which he has risen to fourth in the UK Rankings after running a PB of 3:31.30 at the London Diamond League meeting last month having the previous week finished fourth in the European U23 Championships.
His only previous outing over 800m was fourth in the Watford Grand Prix (1:48.10) but Trafford is a good track for Stonier – he set his previous PB of 1:46.91 when winning the B race last year – and he duly reinforced that with a superb victory.
In a very strong field – described by Geoff Wightman as possibly the greatest men’s 800m field ever assembled for a Grand Prix meeting – Stonier bided his time and delivered his decisive blow in the home straight, weaving his way between Noah Kibet and Preston’s Tiarnan Crorken to cross the line in a PB of 1:45.79.
“I said to my coaches (Chris & Sonia McGeorge) that I wish I could run all my 800m races at Trafford!” said Stonier.
“Being a six-lane track is quite good for me as the fields are not so crowded and because as a 1500m runner I don’t get out so hard over the first 200m as the specialist guys I don’t have as many runners to get through.
“But honestly I didn’t think I’d be winning this race as the field was so stacked; I thought it would be won in 1:45 low so it was a bit of a surprise that with 100m to go they were going backwards.
“And when everyone is so tired gaps tend to open and it was just when I was thinking of going around the outside a gap in the middle opened up for me. I just got fortunate.”
Kenyan junior Kibet, who has been training at St Mary’s University and may be racing at Trafford again on Tuesday night, finished runner-up with Ole Miss University student Crorken, on his first race back in the UK from his base in America, clocking a PB of 1:46.4 in third.
Thomas Keen also broke 1:47 with Tyler Bilyard running a PB of 1:47.36 in fifth. This time last year Bilyard was winning the Loughborough GP B race in 1:49.42 so he is making good progress.
Men’s 800m B-H
Seumas Mackay made sure his long trip from Shetland didn’t go to waste as he won the C race from Chilean athlete Cristofer Jarpa with Adetomiwa Oladiti, who is coached by BMC President Norman Poole at Sale Harriers Manchester, winning the D race.
Exeter junior Oliver Capps and Thames Valley U23 runner Basil Rock both ran PBs to win the E and F races respectively while Swindon’s Matt Woodward followed up his win in the H race at Birmingham University with victory in the G race, again clocking a PB of 1:53.10.
Furthermore behind Woodward, who was pushed hard by Muwafaq Al-Gadi of Qatar, the next three all recorded lifetime bests while there was a season’s best of 1:54.46 for H race winner Samuel Jones.
Women’s 1500m A
What a race! Mind you, with a pacemaker of the quality of Olympic 800m runner Alexandra Bell then Sarah McDonald and the other women in the A race really had no excuse not to run fast, even if the blustery conditions at the time weren’t ideal.
McDonald certainly made the most of it sticking closely to Bell, who took her to 1,000m before stepping aside. But the Birchfield Harrier, who has endured a wretched time with injuries since representing Britian at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, didn’t have it easy.
With no help from Galvin who was tracking her McDonald got her head down and continued to force the pace on the last lap and then literally willed herself across the line in first place under the most intense pressure from the Mexican.
“I tried to support Alex through her rough time recently and when I asked if she could help with the pacemaking she said she wanted to help me so I cannot thank her enough really,” said McDonald.
“It was a shame the Mexican couldn’t have helped out with the pace a bit more as I think we could have gone quicker because I was left out on my own into the wind for that last 500 metres.
“But sometimes that’s when you learn things about yourself. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been confident enough to have gone solo for that long but I just got my head down and there was no way I was going to let her (Galvin) beat me after leading it out for so long!”
Breaking the BMC record and earning a £1,000 bonus was certainly a massive consolation for McDonald after falling just short of running the qualifying standard of 4:02.5 for the Paris Olympics next year; her season’s best remains the 4:02.53 in Madrid last month.
But crucially McDonald, who is still hoping to find another 1500m, approaches the end of the season fit and healthy with her worst times – she had only raced once in three years prior to this summer – behind her.
“While I work full-time my boss is very supportive and I’m more or less training like a full-time athlete but with other things to occupy me as well,” added McDonald.
“I have a really good set-up with my coach and physio Andrew Walling and I’m really happy with the way things are going, I’m in a good place.”
McDonald wasn’t the only runner to benefit from Bell’s positive pacemaking as five of the top eight ran PB and two others season’s bests. After Galvan there were further PBs for Finland’s Nathalie Blomquist, Edinburgh AC’s Eloise Walker, Marta Garcia of Spain and Megan Davies of Sale.
- Ask a friend to help
- Run Hard
- Fight to the end
- Thank the fan club
- Mexican Record
Women’s 1500m B-C
Following the same pattern the winners of the B and C races also recorded lifetime bests. Maddie Deadman hadn’t broken 4mins 20secs before the weekend but she took full advantage of a highly competitive race with Wolverhampton & Bilston teenager Isobelle Jones and Bedford’s U23 Tia Wilson to win in 4:19.58.
Jones also dipped inside 4mins 20secs – she won the C race earlier in the season at Sportcity – with 4:19.73 and Wilson claimed a PB with 4:20.14.
In the C race Shrewsbury teenager Bethany Trow went with the pacemaker and really attacked the race once she was left alone in front.
Her boldness was rewarded with a time of 4:30.05 to carve over four seconds from her best while junior Isabelle Burke lopped five seconds off her PB as she chased her to finish second.
Men’s 1500m A
Three-times Irish champion Cathal Doyle showed his experience and know-how with a perfect tactical race to claim his first Grand Prix victory.
The Clonliffe runner was happy to let Topi Raitanen of Finland – a finalist in the steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympics – Australian James Hansen and St Albans AC’s James McMurray make the running over the opening couple of laps but by the bell was well placed.
With 200m to go Doyle unleashed his kick to take the lead which he never looked like losing as he crossed the line in 3:37.43, just outside his PB of 3:36.85, almost a second clear of Hansen with another Irishman, Charlie O’Donovan, catching McMurray for third.
“I’m still happy to come away with a win just a little bit off my PB,” said Doyle.
“My season started later due to injuries so now just hoping to get into a few more faster races and another PB will come.”
Outside the top six there were four PBs led by Raitanen in seventh while GB steeplechaser Phil Norman ran a season’s best in ninth place.
Men’s 1500m B-F
Jack Gumm and Ted Chamberlian both ran PBs to win the B and C races respectively.
“It was really good to get the time and the win in such a strong field,” said Gumm, who clocked 3:41.02 to just edge out Sam Charig, who was also rewarded with a PB.
Chamberlain admits he is still a rookie at racing 1500m so the Holmfirth Harrier was delighted with his 3:45.68.
“I think this is only the sixth 1500m I have raced in my life and fourth this season and I was grateful today that I had a couple of guys in front of me who took it out,” said Chamberlain.
“Once we hit the bell I felt I could out-kick the other guys as my speed is feeling good at the moment. I’ll be back here for another 800m on Tuesday and hoping to gout out with a bang but it has been a great season already for me.”
Brhane Gebrebran and Craig Shennan won the D and E races with PBs and there was a season’s best for Daniel Owen to win the F race.
After a series of impressive results over 1500m – a PB of 3:37.54 at Tooting and victory in the Grand Prix A race at Birmingham University – Joe Wigfield opted to make his debut over 5000m and nearly pulled off a stirring victory.
His 1500m speed meant he would always be a big threat if he was still in the race at the bell but he just couldn’t shake off the dogged and much more experienced Mikael Johnsen, the Denmark national champion, who edged ahead in the closing stages.
“I think the 5k is where my strengths are and I think that is the direction I want to go,” said Wigfield, whose injury problems earlier in the year forced him to postpone his debut at the longer distance.
With the 5000m runners enjoying the best conditions of the evening 12 of the 20 finishers recorded PBs.
Women’s 5000m A
In the final race of the final Grand Prix of the season it was fitting that we saw a really bold run by Hannah Irwin as she attacked her PB of 15:45.87 set last season.
Irwin followed the pacemaker before striking out on her own to clip five seconds off her PB with a winning time of 15:40.57 to follow up her 3000m PB of 9:11.98 at the Watford GP.
“I definitely feel there is more there,” said Irwin.
“I was hoping to hold on and run 15:30 but I slipped off the pace on my own but it has given me a good confidence boost for next year and I’ll be back to get an even bigger PB! That’s me done for the track now.”
Six of the nine finishers ran PBs including Sophie Wallis in third, who dipped inside 16 minutes for the first time after clocking 16:13.2 on her debut in April and in last place the Norman Poole-coached Alice Wright of Sale.
Wright carved 30 seconds off her PB and what could be more appropriate for the final runner to cross the finish line of the 2023 Grand Prix series.