Welsh Athletics Championships: Young Welsh athletes on ‘cusp of something special’

Hannah Brier
Hannah Brier represented Great Britain at the 2015 IAAF World Youth Championships.

Wales has a number of young athletes who are "on the cusp of doing something special" - according its head of athletics coaching and performance Scott Simpson.

This weekend the 100th Welsh Athletics Championships will be held in Cardiff and Simpson told BBC Wales Sport that they come at an exciting time for the sport.

"It's a fantastic time for the 100th Championships to come along because it's the lead up to the London World Championships and 2018 Commonwealth Games," he said.

"I think we're going to see some new names and new faces, which is really exciting.

"There's a changing of the guard at the moment with some young athletes just on the verge of the breakthrough and on the cusp of doing something special."

Running on grass

The Welsh Athletics Championships were first held at Newport Athletic Ground, now Rodney Parade, in 1907. Due to breaks for the two World Wars, the 100th edition will be held at Cardiff's Leckwith stadium on Friday 9 and Saturday 10 June.

Colin Jackson
Colin Jackson won the 110m hurdles at two World Championships

But things have understandably changed since that first competition more than a century ago.

"In 1907 there were just 10 events - and none for women," said Clive Williams, who competed in the Championships himself in 1962 before going on to cover the event for the BBC.

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The 1963 Welsh Games shows what athletics championships were like half a century ago.

"Events like the pole vault, triple jump and javelin were held much later when the Championships came to Maindy Stadium in Cardiff in 1951.

"Up until then all of the Championship events were held on grass tracks, laid especially for the day. Most were on rugby pitches like the Arms Park.

Women were finally allowed to compete in 1952.

'15,000 fans'

Half a century ago, Williams says there'd be six or seven thousand fans who'd turn up for the Welsh Athletics Championships, with the Welsh Games (a multi-sport event first held in 1959) attracting as many as 15,000.

It was a prestigious date on the Welsh sporting calendar and an important pathway for any aspiring Olympian.

Lynn Davies
Long jumper Lynn Davies won Olympic gold at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo

"To compete at the Championships was the thing to do," said Williams.

"Lynn Davies won countless Welsh titles at long jump and triple jump and remains the only Welsh (track and field) athlete to win an Olympic gold medal (in 1964)."

Former 110m hurdles world record holder Colin Jackson, the late discus thrower Philippa Roles and 1968 British Olympic captain Ron Jones have all competed in the past.

But the most successful athlete in Championship history is Merthyr Tydfil's Venissa Head. She won 25 Welsh titles - including 15 consecutive shot put golds from 1974 to 1988.

Many past champions will parade around the Leckwith stadium on Saturday to mark the 100th Championships.

The next generation

Scott Simpson admits there isn't a "superstar" of Welsh athletics competing this year - but believes several young stars will soon have made a name for themselves.

Hurdler David Omoregie, 21, middle distance runner Jake Heyward, 18, and sprinter Hannah Brier, 19, are all expected to add to some already promising performances over the coming months.

They all started out at the Welsh Athletics Championships, which may not attract as many as seven thousand fans these days, but hopes to put on a worthy show at its centenary this weekend.

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