By Owen Morgan
Melissa Courtney will put aside the disappointment of missing out on selection for the upcoming World Athletics Championships by taking part in two high profile races in the UK and Belarus over the next few days.
The Welsh Commonwealth Games bronze medallist competes in the women’s mile at the Great North City Games on Saturday morning before flying to Belarus on Sunday ahead of representing Europe in an historic match against the USA dubbed “The Ryder Cup of Athletics”.
On Tuesday evening Courtney will run in the 1500m at The Match – a two-day athletics contest which will be the first outdoor meeting between the two powerhouses of global athletics, taking place at the Dinamo National Olympic Stadium in Minsk.
The Poole AC athlete was forced to drop out during the 5,000m at the British Athletics Championships and world trials in Birmingham last month due to severe blood blisters on her feet.
Failure to finish in the top two at the trial meant she missed out on selection for the GB team even though she had achieved the qualifying time during an outstanding early part of the season.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on Doha, Courtney is determined to finish her season on a high by running the mile on the streets of Stockton near Newcastle before jetting off to take on the Americans in Minsk.
On her way to the North East, Courtney told Dai Sport: “It’s going to be really hectic, but I’m really excited.
“I love doing road miles so I wanted to end my season on a happier, more fun note. I thought doing Newcastle and The Match would be great opportunities.”
Courtney’s season started with a bang, twice breaking her own Welsh indoor 3,000m record – the second time at the European Indoor Championships final in March where she won bronze behind gold medallist Laura Muir.
She gained revenge on Muir by beating the Scot at the Vitality Westminster Mile on the streets of London in May before smashing her own Welsh 5,000m record at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting just a few days later.
But an ankle injury picked up the day after the Stockholm race led to a series of injuries and health niggles which saw Courtney’s season lose momentum, including failing to finish in the 5000m at the Anniversary Games in London and then again in soaring temperatures at the Alexander Stadium trials.
Courtney said of the Birmingham race: “It was really hard to swallow having to DNF again, but I’ve gone through so many ups and downs this summer I just couldn’t put the consistency of training together. I had so many little setbacks that were out of my control.
“I had an ankle injury the day after Stockholm. I was actually still in Stockholm on a run and I just twisted it and fell awkwardly and that resulted in a bad tear in my ankle.
“I came back from that really quickly, but then I had some health issues, which were quite hard to know what was going wrong until I had blood tests that showed what it was. So it’s been a tricky and really hard for my coach and I.”
However, Courtney travelled to Birmingham believing she could achieve the podium place which would have secured her place on the plane to Doha.
“We still remained confident that I was going to be able to get to go to the world championships,” said Courtney. “But unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.
“It just came out of nowhere in the race. I was just in absolute agony running round. When I stopped, we took off my spikes and my feet were black with blood blisters.
“I was lucky that I got to see a doctor straight after the race and they were able to get rid of all the fluid in them. They were so painful. I’ve had similar stuff before, but they were really, really bad.
“It was really hot that day and I thought I had ticked off everything. I was wearing ice vests, having ice in the call room, keeping hydration levels up. I just didn’t think about my feet.
“But with the sweat, and if you put water on yourself as well, the mixture of sweat and water and the friction it causes on your feet, it was just unfortunate.
“They were really bad and I couldn’t run on them for over a week. But this week I’ve got back running. I was cross training all of last week.”
Despite the summer’s setbacks, Courtney is confident she can round off the season on a positive note and is looking forward to fighting for a place at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, having already run the qualifying time.
“It was really hard to get over that (Birmingham), but I’m feeling much more positive and happy now,” she said. “I’m really excited for these next two races.
“Every problem I’ve had this season I’ve actually managed to resolve. It’s just always happened with awful timing.
“I’m really focussed and confident I will be fine for next year and be stronger than ever. Hopefully, 2020 will be a much better year.
“But I’m glad that I still managed to get my Olympic qualifying time this year. I’ve ticked that box, so it was good to get that early doors.
“The early part of the year was much better than I could have hoped really. I just hoped that I was going to keep going and I was going to progress even further.”
Courtney is delighted to have been selected for the inaugural staging of The Match.
“You never really get a chance to represent Europe so it’s something quite different and exciting, so I’m really looking forward to that,” she says. “It’s nice to have a different type of competition with Europe versus the USA.”
Team Europe have named a stellar line-up featuring 2017 world champions Pawel Fajdek, Ramil Guliyev, Johannes Vetter, Mariya Lasitskene, Sandra Perkovic and Ekaterini Stefanidi.
The standout names on the American squad include reigning Olympic champions Michelle Carter and Brianna McNeal as well as multiple global title winners Allyson Felix and Brittney Reese.
The Match is a four-a-side contest in each of the individual events and features two teams apiece in the relays. It will be the first ever outdoor meeting between Europe and the USA and takes place across September 9 and 10.
Courtney will be joined by fellow Brit Eilish McCoglan, Daryia Barysevich, of Belarus and Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui in the European 1500 quartet. They will be up against Americans Elise Cranny, Kate Grace, Katie Mackey and Shannon Osika.
European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen said of the event: “I am thrilled that so many of our continent’s top stars have accepted the invitation to defend Europe’s honour and that our rivals Team USA has selected a strong squad to make this a truly memorable encounter.
“I am confident that The Match will become a regular fixture on the international athletics calendar but I want people to always remember the spectacle that was the first edition.”
But before then Courtney will compete on the streets of Stockton, taking on the likes of Europe team-mate McCoglan, the woman who won the 5,000m trial in Birmingham.
Another Welsh athlete due to take part is the 2011 World 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene, who takes part in a 400m road race against the likes of 2008 Olympic 400m champion LeShawn Merritt and British middle-distance stars Jamie Webb, Guy Learmonth and Andrew Osagie.