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UK Womens League

Report by: Martin Cunnane

1st August 1999 - Wavertree Stadium, Liverpool

Shirley Griffiths Wakefield Harriers Senior Women's squad have clinched promotion to the country's premier women's athletic competition - the UK first division - the first ever Yorkshire club to do so.

It completes the Wakefield side's spectacular six year rise from the depths of the third division of the North of England league, where relegation to the fourth division was avoided with a win in the final relay race of the season, to the top flight of British women's athletics.

The achievement has stunned the athletics world and is made even more creditable by the fact that Wakefield's achievements have been attained using all local talent.

All Wakefield's athletes at this present time either live or work in the area and when you add to this the fact that the Harriers have completed their meteoric rise without any kind of sponsorship help, then they fully deserve their elevation to the top flight in the new Millennium.

Wakefield even managed to secure promotion without the help of two of their top performers. International heptathlete Kerry Jury was in Spain competing in a multievent competition, while teenage sprint sensation Emily Freeman was away in Riga, Latvia, with the British U20 squad, where she will be carrying Britain's hopes in the 100m and the 4x100m relay at the World Junior Championships.

Also missing from the squad was former international 400m runner Elaine Sutcliffe who announced recently that her athletic career will be on hold for a short while as she and her husband Paul, Wakefield men's A string discus and hammer thrower, are expecting their first child early next year.

With relegation issues also to be settled, points were always going to be hard to come by at the Wavertree Stadium in Liverpool last Sunday, but once the first half of the competition was completed, Wakefield were never in any danger of finishing outside the top two places.

The Harriers eventually finished second on 176 points, 40 behind match and division winners City of Glasgow, with Peterborough AC third on 156.5 points. Host club Liverpool were fourth with 144 points, then Ashford (141.5), Coventry Godiva (141), Medway (139) and finally Wigan Harriers who scored just 123.

Performance of the day was provided by international 1500m runner Shirley Griffiths, who completed a tremendous A string middle distance double by capturing maximum points in both the 3000m and 1500m, no mean feat in the 80 degrees plus heat.

In the combined A and B 3000m, Griffiths was content to settle in behind team mate Penny Thackray and City of Glasgow's UK top 40 ranked 3000m runner Ann McPhail.

After the leading pair had shared the pace making duties throughout, Griffiths hit the front 400m out and soon opened up a winning advantage, crossing the line four seconds in front of McPhail, in 9 mins 45 secs, a good time considering the temperature and winds gusting at over 6m a second against the back straight.

Thackray was content to collect maximum points in the B section, finishing third overall in 9 mins 51.2 secs, over 30 seconds clear of runner-up Eileen Cochrane also representing Glasgow. Earlier in the day, Thackray had worked hard in the B 800m to stay in touch with the leaders and determined running saw her fight her way up into second place at the line, having struggled on the first circuit. Thackray clocked 2 mins 16.8 secs, finishing second behind race winner Alison Potts of Glasgow.

Griffiths volunteered to run the A 1500m with the intention of picking up a few points. Although she had already run the exhausting 3000m, her class found her up among the leaders and after matching strides with them until the last bend, the Wakefield woman accelerated away and running on strongly found the reserves to hold on to the line, eventually beating Liverpool's Jeanette Shortall by just over a second in 4 mins 36.5 secs.

In the B race, 1500m junior performer Laura Sheard worked hard to stay in touch with her older opponents, eventually claiming fifth place in 5 mins 04.7 secs behind Glasgow's Julie McDevitt, who won in 4 mins 40 secs.

Yorkshire heptathlon champ Becky Foster celebrated her call up to the Home Counties squad in the heptathlon at next week's Home Counties International by providing runner up points in the B long jump. Foster went on to snatch a valuable victory in the B 100m hurdles, finishing strongest of all to get up in a season's best 15.2 secs, beating Peterborough's Jenny Kelly and former Wakefield favourite Maggie Still, who now lives and works in Wigan, by a tenth of a second.

Unfortunately, Foster pulled a calf muscle in the race but still decided to compete in her favourite event the javelin, where her standing throw of 30.65m was good enough for second place in the B competition. Foster is hoping the physio can put her back on track for this weekend's Home Counties multi-event.

Junior hurdler Ruth Dales put in a terrific performance in the A 100m hurdles where she hurdled fluently and finished strongly behind Peterborough's Anne Hollman in a personal best 14.8 secs, knocking a full 4/10ths off her previous best. Dales also took part in the A 200m and ran a leg of the sprint relay to further increase her points tally.

Another junior to put in a best performance of the season was specialist long jumper Fiona Westwood who sailed out to a season's best 5.67m to finish just 9cms down on the winner, Jackie White of Peterborough, in the A long jump. Westwood increased her tally with a 12.8 second run in the B 100m claiming a creditable third behind Coventry's Sonia Rice, who won in 12.5 secs. Westwood finished her valuable contribution with second in the B triple jump and by running a leg of the sprint relay.

Jenny Cunnane travelled down from Gateshead where she is participating in the World veteran's Championships and provided her usual clutch of points, finishing second in the B hammer, fifth in the A pole vault and fourth in the B discus, before heading back to the North east, where she contests the pole vault and will be taking part in the pentathlon.

Judith Payne was another junior in good form, finishing second in the A high jump with her best clearance of 1.70m behind Glasgow's Hazel Melvin, who won with 1.79m. Payne went on to register a personal best leap of 10.73m in finishing fifth in the A triple jump behind Ashford's Karen Skeggs, who won with 11.64m.

Amanda Sheppard turned out despite still suffering problems with her achilles and added valuable points to Wakefield's growing total with second in the A discus and B shot, and Vicky Mills played her part finishing fourth in the B 400m.

Victoria Shepherd again putted consistently and was rewarded with second in the A shot, while junior thrower Michelle Lonsdale threw a personal best 42.48m with the new specification women's javelin, finishing fourth in a hotly contested competition behind Medway's Kirsty Morrison (53.44m).

Lindsey Jones made her seasonal debut in the A hammer and threw a respectable 41.84m to claim third behind Glasgow's Mhairi Walters who won with 46.63m. Now that Jones has shaken off her back problem she will be looking to re-establish herself in the event in which she had a best mark last year of just short of 50m.

Wakefield's solid team performance was wrapped up by Sarah Beevers, fifth in the A 800m, in 2 mins 17.3 secs; Emma Phillips, seventh in the A 200m in 12.8 secs; Tara Wilson, seventh in the A 400m hurdles; Alice Butler, fourth in the B 200m and eighth in the A 400m and Julia Sykes, who was fifth in the B high jump.

Final second division table: City of Glasgow 23 pts; Wakefield Harriers 21pts; Peterborough 15pts; Liverpool 13pts; Ashford 12pts; Coventry Godiva 10pts; Medway 9pts and Wigan 8pts.

Glasgow and Wakefield are promoted, Medway and Wigan relegated.