Saturday 14th September 2013 – this year’s Sainsbury’s School Games was into it’s third day as we pitched up at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield to see my 15 year old nephew, Munroe Ritchie, compete for the first time in the boys Hammer competition for South East England.
Eight regions were taking part in this annual national meeting, so opposition was tough, especially as Munroe was in his first season in the new age and weight category – 5kg hammer U17. At 15 he was the youngest competitor in the event, so the experience and advantage lay with the older boys.
This was the final event at the Don Valley Stadium, home of Olympic Heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, before being demolished, so everyone was hoping for a fitting end to it’s illustrious history.
The Hammer got underway at 12.50 with the eight throwers noticeably feeling the tension of the big event. In the opening round, throwing first, Munroe was one of only three competitors to get a legal throw away and lay in second place with 55.09m. Scotland’s Ciaran Wright threw over 61.71m with his first throw and would prove on the day to be in a league of his own with two more throws over 60m and a winning throw of 66.93m to take Gold. But the battle for Silver and Bronze would go to the wire, with a clutch of boys battling for the medals.
Munroe threw 55.63m to improve on his first throw and held onto second place until NW England’s Jack Mirfin’s third throw of 56.77m pushed him into the Bronze medal position. Munroe had two no throws in the third and fourth rounds, as pressure built, with Midlands Darren Foster closing in on Bronze with 54.91m. A good solid 5th round throw of 56.20m eased the nerves a little and put Munroe back on track, only just behind Jack Mirfin. The NW England thrower then equalled his personal best with a fourth round throw of 59.29m, which would be good enough to secure the silver medal.
The throwers from North East England, Wales and Northern Ireland never really threatened the medals and finished 6th, 7th and 8th respectively, whilst Leslie Parks, from SW England, who had the potential for a medal winning throw, was off the pace and erratic on the day, finishing in 5th place with a best of 53.93m.
Munroe saved his best for last, unleashing a final round throw of 58.35m, to secure the bronze medal for SE England. Throwing first, both he, his family and his supporters and team then had a nervous wait as one by one the other throwers failed to beat his distance.
He can be justifiably proud of his performance in his first Sainsbury’s School Games. At only 15-yrs of age, the youngest competitor in the hammer event, winning bronze was a great achievement and something to cherish. Who knows with a lot of hard graft and a little luck, next year Munroe might even bring home Gold!
Meanwhile we can only hope that the School Games will continue next year in a new home and if, as suggested, it is Sainsbury’s last year as sponsor, with a new backer to support these fantastic children in their dream to become professional athletes.
Copyright all photos and text Nick Ritchie Photography 2013