Chichester ace Smith has weekend to remember at Bedford

Ollie Smith (right) comes third in the 400m final at Bedford  Picture by Mark Shearman / Athletics Images
Ollie Smith (right) comes third in the 400m final at Bedford Picture by Mark Shearman / Athletics Images

CHICHESTER 400m runner Ollie Smith had the weekend of his life at the British Universities Championships at Bedford with two personal-best performances, a new club record and a coveted individual bronze medal.

Going into the championships with a previous best time of just under 49 seconds, the 20-year-old member of Chichester Runners - running for Brunel University - found himself in the fastest of the nine heats and was runner-up in his heat in 48.53 seconds. That secured an automatic semi-final spot.

Smith realised he had a chance of making the final with a sensible effort in the semi-final and once again found himself in the fastest of the three heats and was delighted to again be runner-up to book his place in the final.

When his time of 47.98sec was announced, a delighted Smith had become the first member of the Chichester club in its 30-year history to dip under 48 seconds and rose up at a stroke into the UK top 30 men’s times for 2014.

Having already achieved his ambition before the event of reaching the eight-man final, Smith adopted his tried and tested tactics to run the first 200m fast, ease off round the final bend and give it his best in the home straight.

He was in sixth place with just 100m to run but soon realised he was making up ground on those in front. Halfway down the home straight Smith was up to fourth and closing fast on all but the eventual winner.

A last push put Smith third - the thickness of a vest behind the silver-medal winner. His time of 48.26, though not as fast as the semi-final, was his second fastest ever and showed a great level of consistency over the three rounds.

Linda Spencer battled to a great result at Highgate in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m trial.

The former junior Sussex cross-country champion, an athlete who dominated the Chichester-area schools scene in her teens, made the long journey back to England from her home in Perth, Western Australia, to take part in the European and Commonwealth trials, at Parliament Hill in north London.

The organisers had attracted top runners from the home nations plus a good representation of internationals from across Europe. What they had not banked on were the storms and gale-force winds which battered much of England over the weekend.

Spencer, whose personal best of 33min 8sec is just three seconds outside the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, hoped to use the strength of the competition in her race, where half the field was of international standard, to drag her under the 33-minute barrier and book her place at the Games.

The race started at a steady pace and the Chichester Runners athlete soon found herself in elite company alongside Olympic runner Jo Pavey, Beth Potter, another GB international, French star Sophie Duarte and Irish international Fionnula Britton, previous winner of the European cross country championships.

The group split up with an injection of pace by Pavey at the 3k mark and Spencer was left to battle over the remaining 17 laps into a strength-sapping headwind every time the runners turned into the home straight.

A finishing time of 33.47 was a fine achievement as third English athlete home but Spencer will have to find another race to show her form to the selectors.

Yet another race win was notched up by James Baker on the track at Portsmouth with a convincing 3,000m win in a time of 9min 9sec, just over 20 seconds outside his lifetime best and more than 25 seconds in front of his closest rival.

The Chichester athlete, more at home these days over longer distances, showed he has retained his speed remarkably well over the years and crept ever closer to his next milestone of race wins over all surfaces - road, track, fell running and multi-terrain. Way past the 500 mark which he passed a couple of years ago, the 600 mark is in sight and if achieved would undoubtedly set a record of race wins which may be well-nigh impossible to break.

Baker’s sheer consistency over the past 20 years of competitive racing has been truly remarkable and shows no sign of diminishing as he will be in action twice this weekend with a 3,000m and steeplechase at the club’s track match on Saturday before lining up with the several hundred other runners at the Bognor 10k on Sunday, where he hopes to extend his run of top-three placings going back a number of years.

In the Portsmouth 3,000m, Chris Jack’s time of just outside ten minutes was good enough to make him first veteran runner home in 10.03.9.

A squad of 20 travelled to Portslade for the latest race in the increasingly-popular West Sussex Fun Run League and brought Chichester 77 out of a maximum 85 points on offer for a close fourth place out of 17 clubs.

Consistent running from John Leonard and Dan Stones gave them ninth and tenth respectively and both the maximum ten-point bonus for the club.

Next to finish out of the field of more than 300 runners were Nick Palmer in 31st and Keith Akerman in 39th, both within the nine-point bonus range.

These four with Amanda Godfrey and Tracy Lockyear, who scored ten and nine respectively in the women’s rankings, meant Chichester amassed 57 out of 60 bonus points for their top six scorers.

Other finishers: Colin Harley 67th, Ashley Hiom 70th, Tom Blaylock 90th, Kevin Lockyear 91st, Jan Hill 92nd, Kevin Batt 107th, Amanda Godfrey 118th, Tony Cooley 119th, Steve Searle 130th, Mark Hazlewood 131st, Tracy Lockyear 143rd, Stephen McNally 162nd, Jill Renson 188th, Sue baker 189th, Emma Searle 242nd, Lynn Harley 301st.

Lavant Green is the starting point next Wednesday for the popular Trundle Hill Race - the next race in the series. Runners will run along the Lavant Valley and tackle a circuit of the top of the Trundle before retracing their steps to Lavant. Entries are still being accepted with the race starting at 7.30pm.