Eriksson bullish after youngsters excel in Europeans

Britain's Emelia Gorecka was second in the women's 5,000m at the European Team  Championships in Gateshead. Picture: AP
Britain's Emelia Gorecka was second in the women's 5,000m at the European Team Championships in Gateshead. Picture: AP
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Departing head coach Peter Eriksson claimed the future of British athletics is in safe hands after his faith in youth was repaid handsomely at the European Team Championships in Gateshead over the weekend.

The Swede signed off from his brief stint in the role with a third-placed finish at a rain-soaked Gateshead 
International Stadium.

His target of a top-two place proved just out of reach as Russia won from Germany but a points total of 338 was the hosts’ best in the four stagings of the new format of the competition.

Most pleasing off all, though, was the emergence of possible future stars such as 19-year-old Emelia Gorecka, who finished second in the 5,000 metres, following 18-year-old Jessica Judd’s 800m victory on Saturday.

“Emelia today and Jessica Judd yesterday were great,” said Eriksson, who was appointed as successor to Charles van Commenee after London 2012 and is returning to be with his family in Canada.

“All of the youngsters stepped up and did outstanding performances. This event here is about the youngsters taking their chance and fulfilling their dreams.

“That’s the highlight, not the big stars taking the medal they expected.”

Mo Farah did just that on Saturday, delighting the home crowd with his scorching final lap of the 5,000m.

In the women’s event, a brand new face was making her senior track debut for Britain and Gorecka, a world junior bronze medallist over 3,000m, produced a gutsy run to finish second to Russia’s Olga Golovkina in a time of 15 minutes 40.52 seconds.

She said: “Sometimes you don’t realise you have an extra gear until you have to use it and the crowd really helped me. I just legged it.”

Her cross-country background would have helped in dealing with the conditions, which verged on the monsoon-like at times. Torrential rain disrupted the TV coverage and forced the men’s pole vault and women’s high jump competitions to be held indoors.

Among the other youngsters to shine were Sophie Hitchon, a 21-year-old former ballet dancer, who broke her British record in the hammer for the ninth time, while the opening day saw second-place finishes for 19-year-old Charlie Grice in the 1,500m and Laura Weightman, 21, in the 3,000m.

Hitchon threw 72.97m, adding 99 centimetres to her previous best, to achieve the A qualifying standard for the World Championships.

“I’ve been chasing that 72m barrier for such a long time so I’m pleased to have finally got it,” she said.

Eriksson’s departure ends his near five-year association with UK Athletics, having taken over head coach of the Paralympic team after the 2008 Games in Beijing and led them into London 2012.

“It’s hard, man it’s really hard,” he added. “It’s been a great team to work with and a great nation to work with and I’m going to miss it dearly.

“The spectators here understand the sport and it’s hard to leave. I think it’s in good health. The programme’s in good health and then the youngsters are coming and that’s promising.”

There were three British victories on the final day – Tiffany Porter in the 100m hurdles and the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay quartets – to take the total for the weekend to eight.

Porter claimed the hosts’ first victory on day two, winning, as expected, in a windy 12.62secs.

The women’s 4x400m team of Eilidh Child, Shana Cox, Meghan Beasley and Christine Ohuruogu and the men’s four of Michael Bingham, Conrad Williams, Rhys Williams and Richard Buck both won handsomely too, suggesting they are in rude health ahead of the tougher challenges to come in August.

Ohuruogu paid tribute to her young team-mates, saying: “The youth have really shone through. It’s really encouraging for all of us as a team that we have this under-crop of really good talent coming through.”

As with Dai Greene and Greg Rutherford on Saturday, there were disappointments for some of Britain’s more established names.

World Championship silver medallist Hannah England was only fifth in the 1500m in 4:11.02 and Olympic finalist Andrew Osagie third in the 800m and in 1:47.41. England said: “I’m not sure what happened, I got really nervous and hoped to do better than that.

“It’s really frustrating – I was in a bad position with 600m to go and then I wasted so much energy trying to get into a good position.”

Shara Proctor was third in the long jump with 6.43m, Nathan Douglas, selected ahead of Phillips Idowu, third in the triple jump with 16.45m and Anyika Onuora third in the 200m in 23.12.