155th New Year Sprint - Meeting Report

The winter's interminable storms magically gave way to clear, cold and still conditions to mark James Cunningham's inaugural promotion of the 154 year old New Year Sprint Gala, writes David Rothwell.

It wasn't just cold, it was freezing. Fortunately, James' planning paid off and his de-icing measures on the home straight saw the track in a fit condition just in time for the 10:30 kick off.

With the meeting condensed into a single day of action, there was a full schedule for both youths and adults, culminating in a thrilling New Year Sprint final with Ryan McMichan from Hawick breasting the tape and claim the winner's sash, gold medal and £4000 first prize. 18 year old Ryan was coached by Alan Tierney, runner up of the 111th New Year Sprint in 1980.

New Year Sprint winner Ryan McMichan with promoter James Cunningham.

New Year Sprint winner Ryan McMichan with promoter James Cunningham

The final promised to be an exciting, close run affair, with the three fastest runners qualifying from the cross-ties (semi-finals) with similar times. Lewis Miller of Central AC was the fastest up in 11.41 secs, followed by Ryan with 11.44 secs and Simon Okiti from Greenock Glenpark Harriers in 11.48 secs. Okiti struggled to make ground on McMichan, who he was giving a two metre start, as the Hawick athlete steadily gained on the field. Miller, with a two metre advantage on McMichan, hung on gamely but McMichan's finishing power saw him surge into the lead with ten metres to go, winning in 11.35 secs. This strong finish saw McMichan run almost a metre faster than in the previous round; indeed he was the only runner to improve in the final.

In the battle for fourth spot, Gordon Armstrong of TLJT just got the better of Brodie Nixon of Livingston, both starting on the same mark. Front marker Graeme Armstrong of Edinburgh was just beaten into sixth place whilst Marcus Archer of Aberdeen AAC was a metre and a half behind in seventh. An injured Sol Stewart of V P Glasgow AC trailed in last.

Lining up at the finish for the New Year Sprint final.

Lining up at the finish for the New Year Sprint final

Odds for the New Year Sprint final.

Odds for the New Year Sprint final

Earlier on in the New Year Sprint cross-ties, Gordon Armstrong ran out the clear winner in the first tie in 11.62 secs, from Gregor Knight of Lasswade AC and James McClafferty of Law & District AAC with Charlie Carstairs of Lasswade AC given the same time. Armstrong, started the race as clear favourite having run the fastest heat time of 11.44 secs, though his cross-tie time was almost two metres slower.

The second cross-tie saw another clear winner in Simon Okiti who ran 11.49 secs, with Marcus Archer almost three metres behind and veteran Keith Kong of Lasswade AC in third. Okiti had qualified from his heat as a fastest loser, having come second to McMichan.

Lewis Miller was another clear winner in the third cross-tie in 11.41 secs, over two metres in front of evergreen veteran athlete and former professional footballer, Graeme Armstrong, who just shaded out Brodie Nixon of Livingston with Dean Hill of Larkhall YMCA Harriers a couple of metres back in fourth.

The fourth cross-tie followed suit as eventual winner Ryan McMichan stamped his authority on the race, winning in 11.44 secs by a full three metres from Sol Stewart of VP Glasgow AC, just ahead of David Wilson of Victoria Park AC with Daniel Martin of Giffnock North AC in fourth.

Probably the spectacle of the day was first heat of the Youths 200 metres, with getting on for thirty runners spread out right across the track in the home straight in almost stampede fashion. Fortunately no one got trampled on!

The big entry lists, and high turn out, in all the youths events was probably the most prominent feature of the day and bodes well for the future of the sport.

The first final of the day wasn't in fact a final race, but three heats of the Youths 800 metres, with the winning order determined by times set in the heats. Classy runner Mirabelle Meade of Pitreavie AAC was victorious in 1:54.50, almost four seconds ahead of Laci McNulty of Larkhall YMCA Harriers with Maisey Meade of Pitreavie AAC just taking third place from Harry Lauder of Edinburgh.

Then it was the adults' turn in the Open 800 metres and middle marker Colin Brodie of Harmeny AC, who ran a confident race, burst into the lead just before the home straight, to win by two and a half seconds in the fast time of 1:49.51, from Dima Graham of TLJT. Jason Catterall of Durham Harriers held on to third place from Paul Dumma Kelso who couldn't quite make up the 25 metre start. Andrew McKechnie of Falkirk Victoria Harriers was fifth and then came the two scratch men Caleb McLeod of Pitreavie AAC and Calum MacKenzie of Cumbernauld.

The Youths 90 metres started the day.

The Youths 90 metres started the day

A staggering eleven heats of the Youths 90 metres opened the meeting, with a high turn out and a high standard of competition being the order of the day. Heat winners and quite a few fastest losers saw battle resume in the cross-ties, then ultimately in the final, where backmarker Daniel Bruce of Kilbarchan AAC won with over half a metre to spare in 9.92 secs. Less than a metre separated the next four places with Rory Smith of Innerleithen beating Callan Campbell of Falkirk Victoria H into second and Eilidh Haggerty of Clydesdale H just holding off Stefan Cowan of Law & District AAC for fourth and Caitlin Creaby of Blyth in sixth.

The remaining finals were scheduled to be held after the second break; however the chance to take respite from the cold was denied the hardy crowd as the promoter decided to press on before the track started to freeze over - again.

Spectators were treated to the Backmarkers 100 metres and the sight of six of the fastest sprinters battling it out. Middlemarker Sol Stewart (2.5 metres) ran out a clear winner in 11.76 secs, with near backmarker Rory Voss of Pitreavie AAC (1.0 metre) holding off veteran Ian Horsburgh of Central AC (5.0 metres). Frontmarker James McClafferty was some way back in fourth and scratchman Ethan Pottie of Victoria Park AC limped in fifth.

The metric mile - Open 1500 metres - made its New Year Sprint Gala debut with the honours going to Alan Neill of Law & Dist AAC who won with plenty to spare. A gutsy run saw Matthew Fleming of Kelso take second place with Ryan Kellock of Law & Dist AAC in third, while Seonaidth MacInnes of Glasgow Uni AC edged out frontmarker Eily Sinclair of Team E Lothian. John Thomson of Glenrothes was a few seconds back in sixth.

The massed ranks of the Youths 200 metres heats were whittled down to just nine to fight out the final, with Caitlin Creaby winning very comfortably in 22.32 secs, having earlier run in the 90 metres final. Stefan Cowan of Law & District AAC was well ahead of third placed Luke Evans of Law & District AAC who edged out Faye Allan of Pitreavie AAC, who in turn narrowly beat Mia Fairweather Pitreavie AAC for fifth.

The Open 200 metres final and David Blair Cup was fittingly won by Ramsay Blair of Lasswade AC, who was presented with the cup by his mother. David Blair, father of Ramsey and Murray, was an even time sprinter, who sadly died in 2017 whilst still in his 40s. David Wilson was half a metre back in second place with backmarker Murray Blair in third a couple of metres ahead of Petter Tye of Lasswade AC. Fraser Neil of Kelso pipped James McClafferty of Law & District AC for fifth.

The Open 400 metres saw a desperate finish from frontmarker Layla Zuill of Stirling University as she tried to fend off backmarker Benjamin Schofield of Gateshead H & AC. Layla lost balance right on the line, falling headlong to the ground. The naked eye appeared to show that she handed the win to Schofield, but the photofinish said otherwise. Maybe the finishing dive to the track was intentional! Over two metres back was second frontmarker Abbi Macleod of Falkirk Victoria Harriers who held off second backmarker Callum Letham of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers. Charlie Carstairs of Lasswade AC was fifth and Ewan McArthur of Victoria Park AC was sixth.

Thanks to her strong running, frontmarker Gemma Bolton never looked like being beaten in the Ladies 90 metres, as she led a one, two, three for Team East Lothian. Laura Buchan edged out Beth Connolly for second place who in turn just held off Jodie McMail of Victoria Park AC for third. Ella Jones of Harmeny AC was fifth and backmarker Kerry Morris of Team E Lothian, who ran in the New Year Sprint cross-ties, came in sixth.

The final final in the build up to the New Year Sprint final was the Masters 90 metres in which Fraser MacDonald of Milton of Campsie just got the better of backmarker Ian Horsburgh in 9.96 secs. Gregor Knight of Lasswade AC was over a metre behind in third with second backmarker Alan Robertson of Motherwell AC in fourth. Some way behind was New Year Sprint cross-tie qualifier Keith Kong with Paul Allan of Pitreavie AAC bringing up the rear.

As is tradition, the meeting concluded with the presentation to the New Year Sprint winner. The honour fell to the new promoter James Cunningham, who can rightly feel pleased with the way the meeting played out. May this be the first of many successful New Year Sprint meetings for James.