LAURA WEIGHTMAN announced her arrival at the top table of world athletics in style this evening as she claimed a superb Commonwealth Games silver medal in the final of the 1,500m.
On a landmark night for the North-East that also saw Shildon’s Kate Avery finish fourth in the 10,000m, Weightman claimed the biggest success of her career as she finished second behind Kenya’s Faith Kibiegon.
Having patiently picked her way through the field on the penultimate lap, the Morpeth Harrier moved to the head of affairs with 600m remaining and continued to hold a slender advantage at the bell.
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She was unable to prevent Kibiegon moving past her at the final turn, but successfully repelled a fast-finishing Kate van Buskirk to ensure that her first major medal would be a silver.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Weightman, who is trained by former world-record holder Steve Cram. “I don’t think words can describe what that feels like. It’s great to get a first senior medal, and it’s absolutely amazing to have done it here with so many friends and family watching.
“I can’t be any happier. I knew the pace wasn’t very quick, so I knew I wanted to wind it up from 600m out and not leave it to a final sprint.
“I feel I’m quite strong at the moment, and I knew if I wound it up slowly, I’d be able to take the sting out of some of the others’ legs. I’m really pleased I did that bold move and really pushed on.”
Weightman underlined her potential when she made the 1,500m final at the London Olympics, and last month’s new personal best, which was set at the Diamond League meeting in Paris, suggested she was capable of challenging for a medal in Glasgow.
She still had to execute under pressure though, and tonight’s positive front-running display oozed maturity and class, which bodes well for the build-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“It’s been a huge summer for me, running four minutes flat and now getting my first medal,” she said. “To me, the medal is the most important thing, and I’m just really pleased I could come here and perform.
“I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve when I set out this season, and it means so much because the 1,500m is one of the strongest events at the Commonwealth Games.”
Avery was still grinning from ear to ear more than an hour after outsprinting Scotland’s Beth Potter for fourth place on her major championship debut.
Always regarded as a talented junior, as evidenced by the Junior Sporting Excellence award she picked up at The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes awards as long ago as 2005, the 22-year-old is still finding her feet in the British senior ranks.
She wasn’t originally selected for England’s Commonwealth Games squad, but received a late call-up last week when Jo Pavey opted out of the 10,000m.
And she certainly made the most of it as she shattered her previous personal best by a mammoth nine seconds and produced a magnificent sprint finish to overhaul Potter in a dramatic scramble for the line.
“I’m on cloud nine at the minute,” said Avery, who is halfway through an athletics scholarship at Iona College in New York. “That lap we’ve just done round there, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was unbelievable with everyone just shouting and screaming.
“It’s experiences like this that make the hard work and the training so much easier. I’m not saying it’s hard to get up on a morning at the minute, but this just makes you realise why you put in all the hard work you do. Now I’ve had one experience like this, I want them all the time.”
Given that she finished more than 24 seconds clear of her English team-mate Sonia Samuels, it would be a major surprise if Avery was not to become a regular in future British squads, and the former Shildon Running Club member can also be dreaming of the 2016 Games after what could turn out to be a career-changing performance.
“I thought it was going to burst my ears coming around that final bend,” she said. “I never expected the crowd to be as loud as it was for 10k because 10k is a long way, but there were people shouting the whole way round.
“There was a battle going on with the girls at the front, but then there was another one with me and Beth and I’m so pleased I came out on top. I didn’t really expect to run a PB at somewhere like this, but it’s another big bonus.”
York’s Jessica Taylor is another athlete making her introduction on the major stage, and like Avery, the 26-year-old has seized her chance impressively in the heptathlon.
A new personal best in the 100m hurdles was followed by a huge lifetime best in the high jump which saw Taylor, whose previous biggest event was the British Universities Championships, clear three successive heights with her final attempt, much to her obvious delight.
A solid display in the shot put kept her in medal contention, and she finished the day in the bronze medal position after another strong performance in the 200m.
“I really want that bronze,” said Taylor. “The long jump is normally one of my best events, javelin is probably one of my worst, and then the 800m is mental, but I’ll do whatever I have to do to get a medal.”