English Schools Championships 2021

12 July 2021

In Manchester the biggest schools athletics event of the year took place this weekend with hundreds of athletics competing and even making the team being incredibly difficult with tough entry standards to contend it was undoubtedly going to be a highlight of the year for the Harriers. The English Schools Championships is the starting ground for many future GB athletes and an incredible learning experience.

Day one, on Friday, was for athletes in schools years 12 and 13, referred to as seniors. Kaitlyn Sheppard won the England U20 3000m Championships a few weeks ago and as a result entered the English Schools Championships as a favourite despite not having the fastest PB in the field. Sheppard ran arguably her best race ever, leading from the gun to taking an emphatic victory. Pushing the pace hard from the front Sheppard remained calm and incontrol showing maturity beyond her age. A few challenges came in the last few laps but Sheppard was able to accelerate away winning by 2 seconds in a new PB and club record of 9:38.51. Sheppard is now within 2 seconds of the senior club record set by Rio 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist Vicky Holland. An amazing race and a deserving victory.

(Photo: Kaitlyn Sheppard ready to go, leading from step one)

(Photo: Kaitlyn Sheppard celebrating an incredible gold)
Also competing on day 1 was Alfie Wood in the long jump. For Wood it was his first experience of the Championship; a deserved call up having progressed a long way this season. Wood competed brilliantly, jumping a PB of 6.86 to finish 4th. Sam Howell was also making his English Schools debut, he competed in the 400m. Howell ran well finishing 4th in his heat in 49.66 and earning himself a spot in the A final later that day. In the final Howell stepped things up a level to finish 4th in 49.46. Navigating heats and finals in one day is tough and Howell handled the experience with ease demonstrating his clear potential for the future. 

Day two was the turn of the Inter athletes; school years 10 and 11. Jessica Duncton has been on form all year across a range of events, but at English Schools she chose to focus on her strongest discipline, the 80m hurdles. Duncton had set a club record of 11.4 on Wednesday and so was going into the competition with medal potential, but was going to have to be at her best to make the podium as 3 athletes had run faster than her this season. Duncton ran well in the heats finishing 3rd in 11.62 and ensured her way into the final being held just 2 hours later. Despite nerves between rounds once the starter's gun went, Duncton was as in control as ever, flying over the hurdles with ease and crossed the finish line in an incredible 2nd place. Duncton showed what a true championship performer looks like, beaten only by a British record and pulling it out the bag when it mattered most. Duncton’s finishing time of 11.20 was another club record and moves her into 2nd in the UK rankings. 

(Photo: Jess Duncton celebrating her silver in the 80m hurdles)

Impressively two Harriers qualified for the Inter girls 3000m, Kiya Dee and Ciara Thornley. Thornley has made big improvements this year and paced her race brilliantly, moving through the field to finish 9th in a new PB of 10:05.59, moving her into the top 20 in the UK. Kiya Dee has been very consistent this year, gradually lowering her season’s best with each race. Dee performed well to finish just behind her teammate in 11th in another SB of 10:09.61.

Mimi Davis competed in the Javelin, having shown big improvement this year it was good to see Davis representing Gloucestershire. Davis finished in 11th with a great series of throws and a best of 33.28.

Sadly, despite running a possible PB, Ruby Brook was disqualified in the 300m due to accidentally running out of her lane around the bend. A tough experience but one that will no doubt make her stronger and a brilliant opportunity to learn. Brooks is sure to come back even faster very soon.

Day 3 was for athletes in school years 8 and 9, known as Juniors. Only one Harrier competed on the final day, Charlie Mason in the javelin. A daunting experience to compete at his first even English Schools Championships but Mason held his nerve to finish 9th with a throw of 39.25.

All athletes performed incredibly well and represented the county and club admirably. They should all be extremely proud of their achievements. It is also worth thanking the two Gloucestershire Team Managers who are also Cheltenham Harriers, Andy Beadle and Christina See, who organised and supported the team throughout the weekend.