Ian Kennedy reports
Having won the 1500m at the British Athletics European Indoor Selection Trials at Sportcity Manchester on 21 February, Wimborne AC’s Piers Copeland was one of three Brits selected to represent Team GB at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland. Although Piers has represented Team GB previously, this was to be his first outing in the senior ranks.
A mighty challenge awaited Piers in Poland. In a number of events at the European Indoor Championships the field had been weakened as some athletes had chosen to concentrate on their preparation for the rescheduled Olympics rather than compete in Torun. However, the only really notable omission from the 1500m was Team GB’s Jake Whiteman, otherwise it was pretty much the cream of European 1500m running on show. Amongst the stellar line up was defending indoor champion and home favourite Marcin Lewandowski, he was hoping to make it a hat-trick of European Indoor Championships 1500m winner’s medals. There were also two of the famous Ingebrigtsen brothers from Norway, as well as a formidable pairing from Spain – Jesús Gómezand Ignacio Fontes.
Firstly the qualifying heats had to be negotiated. In the past Piers has shown himself to have nerves of steel in qualifying, but with the quality of the field, this would be his stiffest qualifying test yet. Some 51 runners were vying for 12 starting places in Friday’s final. There would be four qualifying heats with 1st and 2nd from each race making the final, and then the next four fastest times across the four heats would be allocated the remaining four starts. With Piers having been drawn in Heat 2, so with two more heats to follow his, the only certain path to the final was to claim a top two finish.
If Piers was in any doubt about the scale of the task, Heat 1 had already seen Filip Ingebritsen finish only 4th, so he was now sweating on whether his time would be good enough to get him through to the final (it wasn’t). It was textbook stuff from Piers in Heat 2, his fast finishing caught a few out as he claimed second place behind Ignacio Fontes. With 800m done, he was way back in 11th place, he then made up three places on the next lap, and another four places in the following one, a final surge saw him home in 2nd place. It was job done … and in some style, Piers was in the final. Not only did this race turn out to be the fastest of the four heats, it was also the fastest qualifying heat for a 1500m in the championship’s history. Ultimately the times of both 3rd place Andrew Coscoran (Ireland) and 4th place István Szögi (Hungary) were enough to take them through to the final too. Team GB’s Neil Gourley qualified as the winner of Heat 3, but Archie Davis (Piers’ room-mate for the trip, missed out in Heat 4 despite running a season’s best).
Hot favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen and defending champion Marcin Lewandowski had secured their places amongst a quality field in the final. Czech Jan Friš was adjudged to have been impeded in Heat 3, so he was reinstated making it a busier than expected 13 man line-up for the final. Indeed it was Friš leading at 100m, but it wasn’t long before Ingebrigtsen, with Lewandowski on his tail, stamped his authority on the race, with Gomez sitting in third. Ingebrigtsen, however, had been caught up in some jostling on the first lap which almost came back to haunt him.
After being 7th at 200m, Piers settled into his race spending most of it in 9th or 10th position. With 200m to go he was still only 10th but with that turn of speed he is capable of, he started to eat up the ground and make up places. His final 300m was run in 42.2 seconds, the only other runner in the field to match that pace in the final 300 was race winner Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Piers climbed to 5th position.
Then drama … first across the line, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, was disqualified for a lane infraction in that early tussle. This awarded the win to Lewandowski and elevated everyone else’s finishing position by one place. The disqualification seemed a harsh one and was successfully appealed. Ingebrigtsen was subsequently re-installed as race winner. He told Athletics Weekly, ‘… if you’re pushed to the inside of the curb and it’s not your fault, it’s OK … there were just too many runners in the race. … none of us [were] trying to shove the other one, it just happened when too many other guys were coming from the outside. I simply wanted to win the race.’
Piers exploits in Poland had been followed avidly amongst his clubmates (and if social media was anything to go by, also the people of Wimborne), he’d delivered a performance that he could be proud of on his senior Team GB debut and was first Brit home. Great work Piers.