Sophie Porter was the star of the Guernsey contingent of five young women at the England Athletics Indoor Age Group Championships as she romped to victory in the U17 women’s 300m on Sunday afternoon at the EIS in Sheffield. In the process she lowered her PB by just over a third of a second to become the first Guernsey woman to break the 40sec barrier for the distance with 39.99sec.
The new record figure for the U17 age group also stands as an outright senior island best for the non-standard distance.
The 15-year old, who turns 16 next month, navigated qualifying rounds very maturely as she conserved energy in the first round heats to take the second automatic qualifying spot in what turned out to be easily the fastest heat. In the semi-final she was handed a slightly trickier task with a lane 3 draw – meaning she had to race aggressively to get to the front at the break point down the back straight. In doing so she was able to hold on and take the victory and ensure a lane 5 or 6 draw for the final the following day.
The final itself allowed for almost a full day’s recovery following Saturday’s efforts and the women certainly seemed to have replenished their energy as Abigail Dennison and Porter in particular took out the first lap in the outside lanes at a seething pace, with the latter managing to defend the inside line coming into the final bend following the break. Unlike the semi-final, Porter was able to push on in the final 100m and in fact widened the gap to the rest to cross the line with some breathing space behind her.
It has been a remarkable 18 months for the 300m hurdles specialist who took a 5th place at the English Schools 300m last July and followed it up with an outstanding bronze over 300m hurdles at the England Athletics Age Group Championships in August. Her focus will now turn to the outdoor season where her gaze is fixed on victory at the English Schools Championships over her favoured 300m hurdles as well as the Commonwealth Youth Games in Bahamas over the U18 specification of 400m hurdles.
Likely to be joining her in the Bahamas will be fellow long-sprinter Indi Gallagher, who followed up her 58.53sec 400m PB in Birmingham last weekend with an extremely well executed performance in her heat of Saturday’s U20 400m. She missed out of the final by only one place, but was delighted to clock 58.18sec which is well inside the target time of 58.50 for the Commonwealth Youths. It is also within touching distance of Kimberley Goodall’s 15-year-old U20 record of 57.9sec – and given that Gallagher was running in the tight lane 2 on Saturday, she will be expecting to easily surpass those figures come the summer. While Porter clocked the second fastest U17 300m of 2017 nationally, Gallagher’s 15th in the U20 400m is not to be sniffed at when one considers that she will still be in that age group for the full duration of 2019.
Gallagher was back in action the following morning in the 200m and although she wasn’t able to challenge for a semi-final berth against what was a very high quality field, she was able to claim a sizeable PB and for the second time in two days go within a quarter of a second of a Kimberley Goodall record. She recorded 25.78sec to tie with Porter as the 5th fastest Guernsey women of all time and close to Goodall’s record of 25.54sec (Kylie Robilliard clocked 25.5sec hand-timed as an U17, it should be noted). Given the favourable differences in 200m and 400m performances from indoor to outdoor performance, both Gallagher and Porter will be fully expecting to lower the U20 and U17 records respectively and give 2016 top performer Hannah Lesbirel a run for her money as they all chase Jay Ap Sion’s senior record of 25.3sec. Also keen to be in that conversation will be 16 year old Abi Galpin who also clocked a fast 200m PB on Sunday morning – she recorded 26.14sec in the U17 heats and thus she too will be expecting to be posting 25sec times come the summer. She was one of the stars of Birmingham Games the previous weekend where she was the fastest U17 woman in the 60m with 7.99sec – she wasn’t able to quite repeat the performance in Sheffield as she clocked 8.03sec and missed out on the semi-final by 0.02sec as a result. Her main goals for the summer sit with the 100m.
Someone who did progress to a 60m semi-final was Rhiannon Dowinton who did so in the U15 60m hurdles event. In her second national championships, she looked comfortable in qualifying from the first round through to the semi-final and there were no signs of nerves from the multi-talented youngster. The semi-final was a tough line-up and arguably it was the scintillating starts of her opponents which looked to be the difference as she just missed out by coming 4th in a new PB of 9.44sec.
Her training partner, Sofia Mella, experienced her first taste of national level competition and although she was unable to progress to the semis, she did dip under 10sec for the very first time with 9.97sec – extremely pleasing for her given the magnitude of the competition when compared with her previous event experience.