Teenage runner lands gold at English Schools Championship

GOLDEN STAR OF FUTURE? Teenage Hucknall runner Robert Needham
GOLDEN STAR OF FUTURE? Teenage Hucknall runner Robert Needham

HUCKNALL schoolboy Robert Needham looks set to develop into a star of the future after he won a gold medal at the Aviva English Schools Athletics Championship.

Robert (pictured), of Stainsborough Road, raced to victory in the senior boys’ 800 metres at the prestigious event, held at the Gateshead International Stadium.

The 17-year-old, who runs for Notts AC, followed up an impressive personal-best time of 1.51.50 minutes in the heats by claiming gold in a tight finish in the final.

Robert, who goes to Hucknall National Comprehensive School, admitted that all the hard yards in training had paid off as he grabbed his win in the final stretch.

“I’m happy with the performance,” he said. “It was just down to the last few strides and we had to wait until the photo finish.

“I only made it through to the semi-finals last time I came here, so I have clearly learned and improved from that experience.

“My time in the final was 1.51.75, which is pretty decent for me, but just off my personal best, which I got in my heat.

“I started running when I was about nine, just for fun, and then I started doing it properly a few years ago. So far, it’s been going pretty well.

“I see myself hopefully running in the Olympic Games one day if it goes well and I don’t get too many injuries. But it is early days yet.”

The championships have previously helped launch the careers of stars such as Mark Lewis-Francis, Perri Shakes-Drayton and Olympic bronze medallist Katharine Merry, who remembers overtaking Paula Radcliffe in a sprint relay in the competition in 1990!

Merry is now adamant that Needham will have benefitted enormously from the experience of scooping a medal in front of a packed crowd at Gateshead.

She said: “It is huge for them. For Robert, this is the be all and end all. If he can perform to the best of his ability in front of a big crowd and on live television, that is a big confidence booster.

“I remember thinking after I won a medal that I am the best schoolchild in England and that really rubberstamps your potential.

“You can’t put a price on the confidence that brings. When you look down the list of past record-holders, you can see that this competition does produce world champions and you just don’t know how many of this group will go on to make a name for themselves.”

THE Aviva English Schools Athletics Championships is part of the Aviva Athletics Academy, which encourages and enables children to get involved in athletics. For more information, go to aviva.co.uk/athletics

FORMER Hucknall athlete Kevin Archer is also celebrating after winning the men’s 1,500 metres title for those aged 55 to 59 at the British Masters Championships.

Archer, who now lives in Weymouth, was the oldest runner in the final field of eight. But he clocked a time of four minutes, 38.84 seconds to storm home at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham.

It was his sixth British title (four at 1,500m and two at 800m) — success that he attributes to the seaside air and his runs on Weymouth beach and prom!