10.39 for Azu. Records broken at first BAL fixture of the season.

Echoing what Tyri Donovan tweeted yesterday, “Who brought the Caribbean to Swansea?”, not only did yesterday’s Premiership and Division 1 in South Wales stage record performances, it also treated athletes to the most glorious weather this year. More like a mid-July ambience, the sun was shining and performances certainly weren’t rusty.

After the disappointing news that lower division matches would be cancelled due to county championship clashes and subsequently a lack of officials, the top league fixture was adamant on taking place. Swansea Harriers welcomed athletes from the most competitive clubs in the country and the joint fixture certainly wasn’t a disappointment.

The day quite literally got off to a flying start, as Birchfield Harriers’ Craig Murch propelled the hammer 68.26m in the Premiership match on the first event of the day, worthy of a stadium record. He currently lies in third place on the UK rankings after his huge throw of 71.16 back in February. After yesterday’s performance, he still looks to have plenty left in the tank!

Elsewhere in the Premiership action, Welshman and British indoor bronze medallist, Jeremiah Azu, set a huge new lifetime best of 10.39 in the 100m, securing Cardiff maximum points. The college student managed to shave an incredible 0.17 off his previous best in his opening race of the season. His speedy streak continued into the 200m, which saw him go one step further and clock 21.09, 0.16 quicker than his indoor PB set at the age group nationals in February. It was a family affair on the day too, as Jeremiah teamed up with his older brother Sam in the 4x100m relay for Cardiff.

It was Blackheath and Bromley however who secured the 4x100m relay win in the Premiership match and also took the 4x400m top spot, led home by Ethan Brown. In the flat 400m races, Blackheath and Bromley came out on top yet again in both the A and B Premiership races, with anchor man Brown clocking 47.20 and Dan Putman just shy of that in 47.31.

There was something about taking the double this weekend, as over in the Division 1 match, Thames Valley Harriers also won both their 4x100m and 4x400m relays, clocking 3:14.6 in the 4x400m (1 second quicker than the Premiership winners!)

The Division 1 match also saw some stunning performances in the field events, with British indoor bronze medallist, Ray Banigo, leaping out to a wind assisted jump of 7.68m in the long jump. His legal jump of 7.58m was still enough to take maximum points though, as he was well clear of James Lelliott of Bournemouth in second (7.33m).

Other big performances came in the distance races for both matches, as Lewis Mills of Blackheath and Bromley managed to shave 7 seconds off his lifetime best in the 3000m, clocking 9:28.70 and earning maximum points for his club in the Premiership match. In Division 1, British Universities silver medallist, Piers Copeland of Bournemouth, was running right on PB form, dipping under 1:50 in the 800m for the pole position. His time of 1:49.77 is just his second sub 1:50 clocking, so 2019 looks to be a big breakthrough year for the Cardiff Met University student.

The pole-vault was a spectacle in both matches, as Birchfield athlete and British indoor silver medallist, Harry Coppell, flew over 5.26m in the Premiership pool. Abraham Melbourne of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow blew everyone away in the Division 1 match. His previous best going into the competition was 3.70m and he cleared the opening height of 3.80, which must have given him heaps of confidence. He finished the competition in 4th, with a huge new lifetime best of 4.20!

Also of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, decathlete Peter Moreno competed in seven events throughout the day, the epitome of helping your team secure as many points as possible.

Division 1 winners at the end of a fantastic day were Thames Valley Harriers and Birchfield Harriers topped the leaderboard in the Premiership match.

Statement: National 2, 3 and 4 fixture – Bedford 12 May 2019

Earlier this week, the BAL officers took the decision to cancel this Sunday’s National 2, 3 and 4 fixture at Bedford due to lack of officials. This decision was not taken lightly and it was disappointing, to say the least, that cancellation was required.

The background to the cancellation was the approval at last year’s AGM for the first round of fixtures to take place on the same weekend as the county championships. This was something that the BAL officers, myself included, had actively pursued, following the views expressed at the previous year’s AGM that a clash with the BUCS championships should be avoided.

The issue of officials’ availability was considered and, while we anticipated a challenge, we felt that by using the Sunday (when many counties hold single day championships) and only holding two matches, we could secure enough officials to ensure the matches took place. We were clear that we recognised the importance of county championships to many officials and were not seeking to influence them to choose BAL over their county. However, this optimism has since proven misplaced and it was the wrong decision.

The fixture dates were agreed in good faith and with athletes in mind, particularly higher level athletes who do not typically compete at county championships and who would lose a competitive opportunity were BAL to take place on the same weekend as BUCS. With the benefit of hindsight, there is clearly a difference between the clubs and athletes in the higher divisions and those lower down the league structure when it comes to interest in county championships, although results of county championships were analysed, which showed that BAL-standard performances are rare in most parts of the country. In any case, this was an attempt to try something different after the unpopular clash between BAL and BUCS.

I have seen some accusations on social media and elsewhere of incompetence and an implication that the BAL’s officers are stupid. In my case I have been a team manager for my club for almost 20 years, have served as BAL chair for 5 and have been on the committee for 15. Other officers’ experience in the sport dwarfs my own. It is worth remembering that the BAL is its clubs and is not some abstract entity and those on the committee are there because of their love for the sport, experience of the league and a desire for the BAL to succeed. We are all volunteers, usually combining involvement in the running of the league with day jobs and other demanding volunteer roles within the sport. I would ask that people remember this when commenting on social media or emailing individual volunteers.

I have also seen questions as to why the Swansea Premiership/Nat 1 fixture will take place and suggestions that the league has prioritised that fixture over the Bedford match. Officials for fixtures are sourced via a combination of the host club, competing clubs and the league’s officials secretary. It is simply the case that enough officials have been found who are prepared to officiate in Swansea but insufficient numbers to make Bedford possible.

I can confirm that the BAL will obviously not be seeking to hold fixtures on county championships weekend in future years in light of this week’s events. I am happy to accept that the decision to hold fixtures on county championship weekend was a mistake, although it was made for the right reasons. I would also like to apologise for any athletes who have missed the chance to compete this weekend. We will try our utmost to rearrange the fixture and will update as soon as possible.

Dean Hardman
BAL Chair