While the eyes of the world may be on Birmingham in March for the World Indoor Champs, the real focus should be on Sheffield at the end of this month where the best young athletes in the country will go head to head in the indoor Under 20, Under 17 and Under 15 Championships on 24th and 25th February.
It’s a great event that not only provides two days of incredible head to head action but more importantly, it also provides the perfect opportunity to look to the future and see just how strong athletics will be for many years to come.
National records and world-leading age-group performances will all be part of the weekend - and for the lucky crowd, plenty will be able to say they’ve seen the next Jessica Ennis Hill or Mo Farah in action.
“Right now, we’ve got some amazing talent to call on,” says Head of Coaching and Athlete Development Martin Rush. “Thanks to some superb coaching and a great system, we really are reaping the benefits currently and this championship promises to be something really special.”
Looking at the start list, the crowd will certainly have plenty to look forward to. Here are 5 names to look out for:
Pippa Earley 60mH
The Kingston and Poly athlete will line up a huge favourite in the sprint hurdles thanks to a 2017 season that saw her fly to a long list of British and World Schools' records in the 80m hurdles, heptathlon and relays. All that was amazing, but she’s not sitting back and resting on her laurels. Far from it, she’s ready for more. “I like the winter indoor competitions as the weather doesn't play a part in the results. I seem to do well during the indoor season and this positively sets me up for the outdoor season.”
Her heptathlon coach John Shepherd agrees: “Overall we are focusing on the heptathlon and hopefully the world junior champs this July for that event. There's generally been an improved balance to training over the winter, although for various reasons it has sometimes been difficult to throw and high jump as much as we would have liked. We've also begun to introduce more targeted strength and conditioning with more specific lifting and plyometric work.”
Pippa adds: “Winter training has been good and I have trained hard. I have a new set up where my good friends Amber Anning and Olive Coles stay over with me on Fridays and we train Fridays and Saturdays together, this has been so much fun and we relax together after training Friday evenings.”
She’ll line up as the defending champion, having flown to 8.41 last year. This year she’s looking for something even sharper. "My goals for winter is to run 8.3 in the hurdles and my high jump and throws to improve.”
Then, her outdoor goal is to go to World Juniors for Heptathlon and/or the sprint hurdles.
Sam Bennett 60mH
Basildon’s Sam Bennett has such an impressive range of events it’s hard to single out any one great performance - they’re all that good from a sub 11sec 100m to a very interesting 39.8 for 300 hurdles; an impressive range indeed! And to cap it all, he’s the Commonwealth Youth Games champ and reigning outdoor champ in the 100mH.
On the face of it, however, he’s not quite in top shape this season, having had to settle for bronze in an early season outing, but sometimes early season form doesn’t always tell the full story. “This indoor season has been very different to the two I have experienced before. Despite starting the 2018 well in South of England champs, I suffered a minor injury, leaving me out of training for a few weeks. However, I am looking forward to a speedy recovery."
Like most athletes, is training for indoor competitions but is also focused on the summer ahead; “The indoor season isn’t the same as outdoors for me, of course I much prefer the sun and warm weather but also the smaller arenas don’t pack as much atmosphere. Despite this, it has become increasingly important to get competition in given that I train alone, it is vital for me to get times in and judge my progression against some of my competitors. It is always important for me to get used to the new specification of hurdles and put me in a positive place for the outdoor season to come.
Luke Duffy 1500m
Mixing traditional cross country with a touch of speed has made this Mansfield athlete a real contender in the middle distances. As reigning champion from last year, all eyes will be on him and he feels ready for the task.
“Winter training is going reasonably well at the moment, although the bad weather has hindered some sessions but that's to be expected when living in England I guess. I don't focus on cross country too heavily, but I do like to get a couple of races in over the mud as I think it builds strength for the summer. This winter my XC results have been a progression from last season, and I know that if I'm ahead of where I was this time last year, then I'm heading in the right direction. My 800 metres result indoors was very positive as it was on the back of no speed training.
“Last year, I wanted to be sharp and ready to run fast very early in the season as I was chasing a selection time for the Commonwealth Youth Games (where he was third). My coach, Richard Massey and I agreed it would be a good idea to get the rust well and truly shaken off early in the year to give me the best possible chance. I feel that indoors is extremely beneficial for athletes who know they need to get qualifying times posted early for major championship selection and it definitely contributed to my success last summer.”
Georgina Adam 200m
All eyes will definitely be on this Lincoln Wellington sprinter, already in sparkling form this winter, clocking 24.27 for the long sprint and a not too shabby 7.61 in the 60m. She’ll be keen to move on from a great outdoor season last summer which saw her pick up a silver over 200m in the national champs in what was one of the best races of the weekend. It’s fair to say, this event is one of Britain’s best and it’ll take something close to a world-leading mark to take gold in Sheffield.
What makes her really stand out from the crowd is the individual way she’s gone about preparing for the sprints. Multi-talented, she plays football to a very high level and has signed with Notts County FC, taking care not to get too involved with the more physical side of that sport.
But it’s on the track that she’s really making her mark - she’s already run for England in Austria this indoor season and the week before the age group championships, she’ll compete at the senior champs, looking for another personal best.
Molly Kingsbury T38 Long jump
A fourth in the World Champs highlighted a superb 2017 for this Bracknell long jumper and she’s now ready for a new challenge - her first ever tilt at the indoor season as she prepares for the Commonwealth Games where she will represent England at senior level.
“With indoor competing it is something different as this is actually my first season being indoors. I would say it is just as important to adapt to the indoor environment and different conditions such as dealing with no wind, for example.
Obviously, this indoor season is hugely important as preparation for Commonwealth Games, getting into the routine of competing and getting some measured jumps in.” she says.
It’ll come as no surprise that the winter is as much about overcoming obstacles as getting training done.
“It’s been going really well but I am just finding it difficult with the weather with my disability,” she explains.
However, she says she’s more than ready for what lies ahead later this winter.
“It is obviously a huge goal to represent England for the Commonwealths - I am very excited for the experience and I would like to PB in Australia. My other goal this summer is to be selected for the 2018 Europeans which is at the end of August.