By Owen Morgan
British, European and world goals were gained by Welsh athletes at the UK Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
Paralympic legend Aled Davies shattered his own F42 world indoor shot put record while finishing fifth in the able bodied competition at the Utilita Arena.
On the track, Melissa Courtney-Bryant, claimed gold in the women’s 3,000m and in doing so booked her place on the Great Britain team for next month’s European Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
Joining Courtney-Bryant on the plane to Turkey will be Jeremiah Azu by virtue of claiming a silver medal in the men’s 60m sprint.
And there was a hugely promising silver for Anglesey athlete Osian Perrin in the 3,000m as the 20-year-old showed his continued progress.
Cardiff flyer Azu drew first medal-winning blood for the Welsh contingent on Saturday afternoon.
Azu cruised through the rounds by winning his opening heat in 6.73 and then triumphing in his semi-final in a time of 6.63.
The reigning British 100m champion was looking to upgrade the bronze medal he won at last year’s indoor championships to gold this time around.
Azu was on track to achieve that ambition before Reece Prescod, of Enfield and Haringey, just managed to come through to claim the title in 6.54.
A season’s best time of 6.57 was enough to secure him the silver medal and an automatic place at the European Indoor Championships.
Azu, who has relocated to Italy where he trains with Prescod under coach Marco Airale, said: “Obviously I wanted to win it, but honestly I’m just as happy with the outcome.
“I’m training with Reece now so we’re going to war every training session. It’s good to actually put it out on the track and for people to see.
“We’ve got European Indoors in two weeks, and I’ll actually be back here for the Grand Prix next week.
“Then we’ve got outdoors and I want to make all the teams possible and Worlds in August.
“I need to run 10.00 or 9.99 so I can make the team and then go to the trials. Same again, 100m and 200m, no questions about it.”
Azu missed out on an individual spot at last summer’s World Championships in Oregon and is determined to do all he can to make sure he books his spot at this year’s championships in Budapest.
“Most people can see that I have a really good start and obviously I’m a shorter guy so working on my maximum speed is more important for me,” said Azu.
“I’ve started from scratch and I’m loving it because I’m learning every day. I’ve moved to a different country and every day I’m learning something new.”
There was more Welsh medal success and a new para world record to come on the second day of the championships.
And it was multiple Paralympic and World Champion Davies, along with fellow thrower Patrick Swan, of Cornwall AC, who led the way.
Davies, who had been suffering from a painful condition since winning discus gold for Wales in the same city at last summer’s Commonwealth Games, certainly proved his return to fitness in Birmingham.
The 31-year-old twice bettered his previous world record of 16.14m, which he set in Sheffield back in 2016.
Prior to the competition Davies had said he was targeting the record having overcome the condition called Osteitis Pubis which created lower abdominal and pelvic pain.
“I’m pain-free now and I’m in great shape,” said Davies.
“Everything is there to throw far. I feel like it could go a long way, so we are going to target the world indoor record. Shot put is what I’m built to do. I still feel like I haven’t thrown as far as I can so it feels good to be back.
“Getting the chance to compete alongside able-bodied guys and take a few scalps is always fun. The indoors is always a fast and furious kind of season, and with the shot put being the only throwing event, we get a lot of attention.”
Davies lived up to his word in the third round when he registered a massive 16.39m, which also earned him fifth place in the overall competition.
Not to be outdone by his countryman, Swan also posted his longest effort of the competition in the third round – 17.39m, which earned him a bronze medal.
While Davies and Swan were enjoying centre stage in the shot put circle, Pembrokeshire Harrier Gracie Griffiths was metronomically ticking off the laps in the women’s 3,000m race walk.
The youngster produced a personal best display of 14:34.12 to take bronze behind champion Abigail Jennings.
In the men’s race, Tonbridge AC’s Guy Griffiths looked to have finished amongst the medals but was unfortunately disqualified.
Courtney-Bryant, of Poole AC, was competing over the same distance but at a considerably faster pace in the women’s 3,000m final.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medal winner ran a perfectly measured race shadowing Amy-Eloise Markovc, who made most of the running.
But with three laps to go Courtney-Bryant made her move to hit the front and that’s where she stayed despite a fierce battle with Hannah Nuttall which continued right up until the line.
Courtney-Bryant’s win in a time of 8:50.76 not only earned her gold but also a place on the Great Britain team at the European Indoor Athletics Championships.
“I’m really pleased, it’s been a while since I’ve won a British title, the last time I won it was 2020 indoors,” said Courtney-Bryant afterwards.
“The crowd on the last 50m was really loud, that was amazing, actually I’ve never heard it so loud In here, so that was really fun.
“It was hard to know when to go and also I wanted to go ahead a bit earlier but I didn’t want to do anything silly, I just wanted to book my place to the Europeans.
“I would really love to medal again at the Europeans, but first I need to focus on getting into the final.
“I had an injury in 2021, so 2022 I was trying to come back from that. So I was just trying to pick myself back up. But I’m really happy with how the winter season has gone and that’s all thanks to my training partner and coach.”
There was more medal success in the men’s 3,000m where Perrin, of Menai Track and Field, also produced a well-measured race.
Sitting at the rear of the leading group, Perrin made his move as the pace increased and chased home champion James West to claim silver in a new PB of 7:50.86.
Perrin, who is also an outstanding triathlon prospect, said afterwards: “I’m so happy, because last year I did an awful race and to come and achieve this today, I’m really happy with that.
“James West ran 7:49 and I was 7:50, and third was 7:51. It was a good race.
“With 200m to go, there were four of us right there. It was 5:22 through 2K and then 2:28 for the last K, so it was a good burn-up.
“I have been really happy with my progression each year. I am progressively getting better, and hopefully I can be better again in the summer.
“Then, this time next year, there’s no reason why I can’t try and win these British Champs.”
Perrin, who turned 20 last month, is now a full time athlete and has plenty of other goals for the future.
“I will probably race next now in the spring,” he added. “Maybe I will get a race in the European trials (European U23 Champs). I’ll see if I can get a qualifying time but I haven’t looked at that yet.
“I want to go to those trials, get in that team and then try and medal in July.
“I will go for the 5,000m and maybe the 10,000 as well. It depends on how my training is going.
“I ran in Boston a couple of weeks ago for the first time. It was a fantastic experience. I was hoping to run a little better than I did, but I was only a second off my PB.”
Despite his athletics successes on the indoor circuit in recent weeks, Perrin has no plans to focus exclusively on running.
“I am still doing both athletics and triathlon and hopefully I can continue to do that,” he said. “It’s worked for me so far and I’m still improving as a runner.
“Neither sport has put any pressure on me to choose between them. As long as I’m still improving and developing in both, they’re happy.”
There were two Welsh athletes in the women’s 200m final in the shape of Swansea Harrier Hannah Brier and Hannah Longden, of Cardiff Athletics.
Reigning champion Brier booked her place thanks to wins in both her heat and semi-final where she ran a PB of 23.56. Longden also won her semi in a new personal best of 23.66.
Brier looked to be on her way to gold in the final as she came down the final straight in pole position, but was pipped on the line by fast-finishing Success Eduan. The Swansea athlete took silver in 23.60, while Londgen finished fifth in 24.00.
Full results of all the Welsh athletes competing can be found on the British Athletics website