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Piers is British Athletics menís 1500m finalist Ė 12 February 2017

Ian Kennedy reports on Piers Copelandís indoor season

Over the weekend of 11/12 February the exploits of Wimborne ACís Piers Copeland had many of us glued to our laptops and tablets watching the BBC online coverage.  He was competing in the British Athletics Indoor Team Trials in the menís 1500m race.  This is the story of his journey in indoor athletics so far.

Piersí first ever indoor meeting was the Grand Prix meeting at Cardiff in December 2015.  His indoor career got off to a great start Ė a 3000m PB (8:37.39).  In the 2015/16 season he raced a further four times.  On 17 January he won the U20 1500m South of England Championships at Lee Valley (4:04.56) and a week later he won the U20 800m at the South West England Championships at Cardiff (1:54.50).  In the light of those performances he was selected to represent England at 800m in an England v Wales international on 7 February.  Piers came from the back on the last lap that day to win the under-20s race (1:52.94) Ö a thrilling spectacle.  His final race of that season was at Sheffield in the English U20 Championships on 13 February.  Another win here saw him record 3:57.52.  Piersí first indoor season saw him as South West England U20 800m Indoor Champion, South of England 1500m Indoor Champion U20 1500m and English U20 1500m Indoor Champion and an under-20 race-winner in an England vest.  Quite a season! Naturally he would be keenly awaiting the arrival of the following winterís indoor calendar.

For Piers the 2016/2017 season started with the indoor meeting that he first cut his teeth on, the December Grand Prix meeting in Cardiff.  Once again he opened his account with a 3000m, his time was 8:10.78.  In 12 months Piers had made huge progress, he improved his 3000m time by more than 26 seconds.  He was set for another exciting indoor season.

Two trips to Cardiff got 2017 underway.  The first of these was on 15 January.  Piers became South West England U20 1500m Indoor Champion that day with a new PB of 3:49.39.  He returned to Cardiff three weeks later and became U20 800m Indoor Champion with another PB Ė 1:51.58.  Needless to say Piersí best indoor times over 800, 1500 and 3000m all became Wimborne AC club records.

These performances at Cardiff saw him selected to compete in the British Athletics Indoor Time Trial in Sheffield over the weekend of 11/12 February.  Piers was invited to run in one of three events Ė 800, 1500, 3000. This is very unusual and shows his range.  He chose the 1500.  No more was he competing in under-20s competition though.  He was now up against the best senior men in the country.  There were to be qualifying heats on the Saturday and the final on Sunday.  It would be a major achievement if Piers were to make Sundayís final.

Some of Piersí Wimborne middle distance running team-mates were in cross-country action on the Saturday at Havant.  Smart work was needed in order to get back in time to watch Piersí qualifying heats at 17.35.  The meeting was being covered by BBC Sport online.  My first attempts to watch the coverage showed a fault message.  Just before the first menís 1500m heat the technical issues were resolved and we had live streaming.  Wimborne ACís social media networks burst into life Ö it was clear many of Piersí clubmates were watching avidly.

If Piers were to make the final he would need to rise to the occasion.  Of the other 23 runners in the two heats, 21 of them had faster PBs than that of Piers.  He was also the youngest competitor out there Ė the only under-20.  There were eight under-23s and the rest of the field were senior men.  Piers had a mountain to climb!

The first three from each heat would qualify for the final, along with the best three times outside the top three.  The first heat was won in the relatively slow time of 3:54.49; this was good news for Piersí ambitions.

The camera panned along the line of athletes at the start of heat 2.  There he was resplendent in his red Wimborne AC vest.  Many other athletes who were internationals chose to wear either England or GB vests, but there he was proudly sporting his Wimborne red.  A sweet moment for sure.  I love seeing Piers occasionally wearing his England vest at WAC training sessions, because itís an inspirational/aspirational sight for his clubmates.  Choosing his club vest in this setting has much the same effect Ö Piers weíre proud of you.  The online commentary team identified those who were considered contenders Ö clearly Piers was ranked as an outsider!  He didnít get a mention, it brought to mind a similar situation with the 1500m at the Schools Games in 2015 Ö and Piers did all right that day!

The race plan was to make the heat fast, with Piers going into the lead if necessary.  Coach Bob Smith did the research, and for the past five years, if an athlete ran under 3:50, they were in the final.  In addition, Bob and Piers watched all the videos they could find of the 1500m at the British Athletics Indoor Championships, so Piers was well prepared.  As it turned out, the other athletes realised the heat had to be fast and took the lead.

In the heat, Piers injured his hip having to move sideways to miss fallen runners.  When this happened, he had to run inside the track, so there was a fear of disqualification.  Bob thought he may have to argue Piersí case with the referee; strangely the two runners that fell did not lodge a complaint, which meant the referee did not get involved.  The race was physically brutal and Piers experienced an elbow in the throat at the start and was bumped several times.  He was also spiked.

It was a much faster heat; the winner crossed the line in 3:48.17.  Piers was 6th.  Would all the three Ďnext fastest timesí come from heat 2?  They did! Piers had qualified for the British Athletics Indoor Team Trial Menís 1500m Final!!  A terrific achievement.

Qualifying heat 2 on 11 February

Thankfully BBC Sportís online coverage worked much better on Day 2 of the meeting.  Piers wasnít the only athlete of specific interest to Wimborne members.  Taking part in the high jump competition alongside the likes of Olympic medalist Robbie Grabarz was Ryan Webb (also an under-20).  Ryanís talents were honed by Wimborne ACís high jump coach Peter Impett.  Ryan holds the club record for high jump, achieved on a memorable day in a South West League meeting at Yeovil last summer when he cleared 2m14.  We got to see Ryan jump 2m13 (an indoor record for him) before narrowly missing out at 2m17.

Having watched Ryan, we anticipated the forthcoming final of the menís 1500m.  Not only were Piersí indoor achievements announced over the PA in the arena prior to the final (along with those of the other competitors), but the BBC commentator also paid him due respect, as well as mentioning Wimborne AC.  The clubís internal social media platforms came to life.  It was clear that Piers had the attention of his clubmates back in Dorset.

Once again Piers appeared on the track with the familiar Wimborne red vest with black sash.  The surprise was that the field comprised 10 runners, instead of the nine expected.  Ben Waterman was adjudged to have been impeded in a qualifying heat, so he joined the other nine starters.

The final was won by Elliott Giles in 3:45.59.  Giles represented Team GB at the Rio Olympics in the 800m and he was bronze medalist, also over 800m, in the European Championships last summer.  Tom Lancashire was second in this race, his list of achievements is too lengthy to mention, see his Wikipedia page.  Piers was 8th with a time of 3:55.28.  The hip injury may have been a factor in Piers not being able to follow the pace after a slow couple of laps.

For WAC supporters it was fantastic to see a red vest racing in this kind of company.  Piers has certainly done the club proud.

Masterminding Piersí successful season has been coach Bob Smith whoís planned his training schedule meticulously and overseen strategy.  Theyíve made a great team.  At the time of writing this is where Piers stands in the rankings:

His 2017 under-20 indoor ranking in the UK is:

5th for 800m
1st for 1500m
1st for 3000m

On the ĎAll Timeí under-20 list in Britain Piers is:

34th for 800m
15th for 1500m
6th for 3000m

His European rankings are currently:

9th for 800m
6th for 1500m
4th for 3000m

His current World rankings are:

11th for 800m
7th for 1500m
4th for 3000m

Congratulations to Team Copeland on an exceptional indoor campaign!

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