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The Ă„land Adventure of the Isle of Man Athletics Team from the Island Games blog of David Griffiths

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Introducing Ă„land...

So, what sort of place are we going to for the Island Games next month? I have done a bit of research on the Aland islands, and the constitutional position is unusual and a bit confusing! It is politically and geographically part of Finland, but is culturally much more closely tied to Sweden. The majority of the travel links are also from Sweden, and Swedish is the first language. Confused? Yes, me too! Population-wise it is very similar to Shetland where the Games were held in 2005, although the capital Mariehamn is about 50% bigger than Shetland's capital Lerwick. Another similarity with Shetland is the latitude of approximately 60 degrees north, although the climate in the summer months is usually much more pleasant! The islands claim to have longer hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the Baltic Sea, and it can get very warm at times in the summer despite the northerly latitude. In midsummer when the Games are on, it will barely get dark overnight. On a clear night it will still be half-light at midnight and there will be no more than about an hour of darkness.

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Everyone I know who went Aland for the 1991 Island Games said the same - that it was a lovely place with friendly and welcoming people, and that the Games were very well-organised. Andy Fox often makes reference to the fact that athletics was probably the central sport of the Games in 1991 with big and very knowledgeable crowds every day at the stadium - the people in that part of the world really do love athletics. The stadium is also home to the local football club IFK Mariehamn who play in the Finnish Premier League, and play in front of crowds of up to 4000. The 6-lane athletics track is very close to the stand, creating a great atmosphere when there is a big crowd. No more time tonight - I will continue with this in a day or two.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009 The Team It's very nearly that time again! As I type this there are only 38 days until I begin my 2-day transEuropean journey to the Finnish islands of Aland for the 2009 NatWest Island Games, and I am looking forward to these Games possibly more than ever before. I've been to Shetland in 2005 and Rhodes in 2007 to support the athletics team and thoroughly enjoyed both, although I doubt whether there have been two more contrasting Games in the event's 24-year history. Put bluntly, Shetland was miserably cold and damp but superbly organised - Rhodes was stiflingly hot and humid, and an organisational shambles! We are all hoping for a combination of the best bits of the last 2 Games with decent weather and efficient organisation, and I think we have good reason to be optimistic on both counts. Firstly, I would like to say congratulations and very best of luck to the 20-strong team (10 male, 10 female) who will be competing in Aland. It's a great honour for anyone to be invited to represent the island whether in sport or anything else, and I'm sure this team will represent the Isle of Man with pride. The team is: Men Ben Brand Andy Duncan *Ryan Fairclough Darren Gray Ed Gumbley Michael Haslett Kevin Loundes Peter Richardson *Tom Richmond Thomas Riley Women Gemma Astin Hollie Bass Charlotte Christian Sarah Dowling Rachael Franklin Gail Griffiths *Ciara McDonnell Harriet Pryke *Danielle Ross *Marit Zahkna * = Island Games debutant 5


The management team is Andy Fox and Di Shimell, with Andy Watson providing sports massage support. This is a strong-looking team which I hope will achieve plenty of success and do the island proud. Several members of the team were Island Games debutants in Rhodes in 2007, and most have raised the level of their performances significantly over the past 2 years - in some cases by spectacular margins. It is still a generally young team, but with a solid backbone of established senior athletes and more experience than we had in Rhodes. There are 5 debutants in this year’s team – from memory I think there were 13 in Rhodes. I feel genuinely excited by the team's prospects and I am really looking forward to supporting the team in Aland. For the record, 4 athletes were selected but have since withdrawn – they are Keith Gerrard, Martin Aram, David Munro and Rachael Tewkesbury. Undoubtedly these withdrawals have affected the overall medal potential of the team to some extent, but at the same time there will now be added responsibility on others, hopefully lifting them to greater heights (or longer throws and faster times!) Others would certainly have been there but for injury problems, including John Halligan who ran so superbly in Rhodes in 2007, winning gold in the steeplechase and silver in the 10000m. Unfortunately a long-term foot injury has kept him out of action for most of the past year and continues to do so. A word of sympathy also to Sarah Astin who has achieved so much success since coming into athletics a few years ago, only to be hit by persistent injury problems over the past couple of years which have ruined her hopes of going to Aland. Thankfully, Sarah now appears to be over the worst and is steadily building her training back up again – I have no doubt that she will be a major success when she makes her Island Games debut 2 years late in 2011. IOM Long Jump record holder Phil Riley has also been out of action for most of the past 2 years with a badly broken arm, and this will be the first Games Louise Kneen has missed since making her debut in 1991 - coincidentally also in Aland! Louise has a tremendous record in the throwing events over many years, and if she has reached the end of her Island Games career she can look back with great pride on her achievements. She's still good enough to come back again though I reckon. However, from now on the blog will concentrate very much on the athletes who will be in Aland rather that those who won't. In the next entry I will look in a bit more depth at the chosen team, as not all will be familiar to the Manx athletics public. I will also post a few thoughts as to what sort of place I am expecting Aland to be.

Thursday, 21 May 2009 The Newcomers It's always an exciting but slightly nervous time before your debut in any big sporting event, and I'm sure the 5 debutants among the team of 20 will be feeling a mixture of both emotions at the moment. The two youngest members of the team are 15-year-old sprinters Ciara McDonnell and Danielle Ross (Danielle will be 16 shortly before the Games). They will both be competing in the 100 metres and the 4 x 100m relay team, and Ciara is also likely to be in the 4 x 400m relay team. They have both achieved great success in the junior age groups in the sprints events over the last few years and are both members of Di Shimell's very successful training group.

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Two years ago, Danielle won a gold medal in the English Schools Track & Field Championships as part of the Merseyside Junior Girls team who won the 4 x 100m relay. That event was televised live, and I remember Danielle featured prominently on the TV coverage as the 1st leg runner. She and her younger sister Alexandra - who is an excellent all-round athlete - have been part of the Manx athletics scene pretty much all their lives as their parents Wendy and Garry have been regular competitors in local events for many years. Danielle has had a couple of injury niggles recently and has not reached top speed yet this season, but her performance in the 200m during Wednesday night's Manx Harriers track league suggests she is getting back into good form at just the right time. Ciara is an extremely talented athlete who in the future I think has the potential to be an outstanding 400m runner, but at the moment she is focussing on her age group distances of 100m, 200m and 300m. She was absolutely flying at the start of this season, but had the desperate bad luck to suffer a hamstring injury in the last few strides of a 100m race during the second Manx Harriers track night in early April. It really was an awful moment for everyone there that night. Thankfully, after several weeks of treatment, being very careful and doing all the right things, Ciara is now getting back to full training and I was delighted to hear that she came through a 200m race in the Inter Schools championships today with no alarms. Onwards and upwards for the next few weeks hopefully for both Ciara and Danielle! The next two debutants are middle distance runners Tom Richmond (17) and Ryan Fairclough (19). With the 800m and 1500m events at the Games likely to be shared between Tom, Ryan and Andy Duncan it is not clear yet exactly who is going to do what. My guess is that Tom and Ryan will both do the 800m, with Ryan partnering Andy Duncan in the 1500. Both will also be vying for places in the 4 x 400m relay team a team which is likely to be extremely strong with fierce competition for places. Such has been Tom's progress over the last 3 years that it may come as a surprise to some that he is an Island Games debutant. His spectacular improvement in 2007 under the guidance of his coach Di Shimell came just too late to gain him selection for the Rhodes Games, but this only spurred him on to greater things in 2008. His time of 1.55.81 for an 800m race at Stretford last year cemented his place in the IOM team for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India, last October - certainly the highlight of his career so far. Before travelling to India, Tom took some time out to do an interview with me for the Manx Harriers website, which left no doubt about his passion for the sport and his hunger for success. Tom has not quite reached last year's levels so far this season (although 1.59 for 800m is still extremely impressive!), but he is training really hard and I'm sure he will be at his best when it really matters at the end of June. Ryan's great talent as an athlete has been obvious for many years, and he has achieved a lot of success both on the track and at cross country. For a guy who specialises in the 800m and 1500m events he really is a very good long-distance cross country runner, and he certainly has no worries as far as endurance is concerned. He has been in cracking form at the start of this season, his long and relaxed stride making it all look very easy and giving the impression that he always has a little more to give - which I think he has! Over the past few months he has put his football career on hold (he plays for Ramsey) and joined Andy Fox's training group, both of which have helped him focus more on athletics than he has probably ever done before. I think Ryan will make a big impression in Aland this year, and hopefully well beyond. The final debutant in the team is thrower Marit Zahkna. Marit has had a slightly different route into the team than the others, as she is an Estonian national. She moved to the Isle of Man to work about 3 years ago and is now eligible to represent the island in the Island Games. I first came across Marit when she started coming to Chris Quine and Graham Davies' training sessions a couple of years ago, and she did the odd cross country and road race. What I didn't know at the time was that she was a champion hammer thrower back home, although she hadn't competed for a few years. That all changed last summer when she joined Manx Harriers and competed in the Northern League and Lancashire Championships. It would be fair to say that she was a sensation! She smashed the Lancashire Track & Field Championship record by 10 metres, and finished the season with a best throw of just under 50 metres - yet such are her standards she still wasn't happy! She is also likely to be competing in the discus event at the Games and is probably good enough to compete in 2 or 3 other events as well. Oh, and if any of the younger members of the team are struggling with their maths, Marit is just the person to help - she is a maths teacher at King William's College! 7


Thursday, 28 May 2009 Aland track gets a wash and brush-up

The main story on the official Island Games website today is about the finishing touches being put to the refurbishment of the track. I'm sure I read last year sometime that the whole track was going to be completely re-laid, but it seems they have gone for the next-best option of patching, re-coating and cleaning it. I think this is more or less what was done at the NSC when the Games were last held on the Isle of Man in 2001. The lanes are about to be re-painted and it should look good when it's finished. I mentioned recently that the track is very close to the stand - look how close the runners in Lane 6 will be to the spectators!

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In 1991 it had a reputation of being a 'fast track' and many Island Games records were set that year. 5 of the track records stand to this day, although one is in an event that is no longer part of the programme. That was set by our own Brenda Walker in the women's 3000 metres. In addition, both the men's and the women's Half Marathon records set in 1991 still stand (Brenda again in the women's event) although I understand that there were the gravest of doubts over the course measurement on that occasion. At least the track and the stand are there in Aland. When we arrived in Rhodes 2 years ago they had only just started building the stand and they hadn't even started on most of the field event areas!! On a different subject altogether, I was a little miffed to pick up the Manx Independent today and find that much of the article about the athletics team had been lifted straight from one of the earlier entries on my blog! I'm always happy to help the media with publicising athletics, but it would have been nice to have been asked for permission to use my material, especially as a blog is effectively a personal diary and in any case is totally unofficial. The main problem I had with today's piece was that the information about the athletes who aren't going to Aland was used as the main part of the story, creating a bit of a negative article. A very similar article appeared in the press before the Rhodes Games 2 years ago. Had I been asked for permission to use material from the blog, I would have specifically asked for it not to be used in this way. The next entry will focus on 3 of the athletes who are preparing for their second Games - Thomas Riley, Michael Haslett and Peter Richardson.

Friday, 29 May 2009 Second Time Around – Part 1

Thomas Riley pictured by Ian Astin during the NatWest Island Games in Rhodes in 2007.

Exactly half of the 20-strong athletics team will be experiencing the Island Games for the second time, all ten having made their debuts in Rhodes in 2007. They all acquitted themselves very well 2 years ago, and will be hoping to use that experience to push on to bigger and better things this time around. This blog entry focuses on 3 of the men who will be taking part in their second Island Games in a month’s time. The remaining 3 men and 4 women in this category will be featured in updates over the next week or so.

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The most successful of the 2007 debutants was sprinter Thomas Riley, who produced a great run in the 100m final (and indeed in the heats and semi-final) to take the silver medal in a very rapid time of 10.73. It was such a close race that he finished just one hundredth of a second adrift of the winner. Over the past winter, Tom spent several months training in America, where he had the opportunity to mix with some of the best sprinters in the world including Tyson Gay – triple gold medallist at the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka. This must have been a fabulous experience, and will hopefully help to inspire Tom to go one better than in 2007 and climb to the top step of the podium in Aland. He will also fancy his chances of further success in the 200m and the 4x100m relay. He has the family name to uphold too, as his sister Hannah won 10 athletics medals (3 of them gold) at the Island Games between 1999 and 2005 – some record! Tom is a committed and ambitious athlete who definitely has the potential to go higher than Island Games level. The consideration standard for selection for the 100 metres in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India is 10.60, which is surely a realistic target. I hope he makes it!

Michael Haslett pictured by Ian Astin during his NatWest Island Games debut in Rhodes in 2007.

Peter Richardson pictured by Ian Astin during his NatWest Island Games debut in Rhodes in 2007.

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Michael Haslett and Peter Richardson came away from their debuts in Rhodes with a bronze medal apiece, as part of the 4x100m relay team that finished 3rd. They only narrowly missed out on the podium in the 4x400m relay as well, the very young team finishing in 4th place in a time only about a second outside the IOM Senior record. Mikey is currently approaching the end of his first year at University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, and has really pushed on strongly with his athletics career over the past 2 years. His main event is the 400m hurdles, and already this season he has run a time that should put him in with a real chance of medalling in Aland. His 55.55 second clocking at Bath at the end of April was recorded in his first outdoor event of the season after a couple of weeks of illness, giving every encouragement that he can run even faster by this time next month. He must be pretty much a certainty to be in both relay teams too – both of which look like being very strong. As well as being a very fine athlete, Mikey is a real team man who enjoys helping and encouraging other athletes. I know Tom Richmond was very grateful to him for doing a lot of speed work with him before last year’s Commonwealth Youth Games even though Mikey himself had narrowly missed out on selection. Oh, and Mikey also provided some of the best entertainment of the Rhodes Games - during the women’s football match between the Isle of Man and Aland! I wonder if the Aland number 9 will be playing against the Isle of Man again this year? If so, I want to be somewhere in the vicinity of Mr Haslett!! Peter is also finishing his first year at University, in his case at Sheffield Hallam. He is an athlete of great natural talent, and performed really well on his debut in Rhodes. As well as being part of both relay teams, he reached the final of the 400 metres - quite an achievement in an event that was exceptionally strong 2 years ago. He had a fairly low-key season in 2008 when he competed mainly for fun, but over the past winter he has trained very hard and has started this season in good form. He is a real all-round athlete, and is also likely to be competing in the long-jump competition in Aland. Following the Rhodes Games, Peter decided to have a crack at hurdling, and caused a major surprise by beating Michael Haslett in the IOM Track & Field Championships that year in a hugely impressive time of 56.0 seconds. I don’t think he has done a lot of hurdling since, but that is definitely a route his athletics career could take in the future. The distance will increase in the next blog entry – this will focus on middle distance specialist Andy Duncan and half marathon runners Kevin Loundes and Ed Gumbley.

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Monday, 1 June 2009 Second Time Around – Part 2

Andy Duncan is cheered on by his Cambridge University team mates during the 2009 IOM Easter Festival (photo Murray Lambden).

Kevin Loundes feeling the heat at the end of the Half Marathon in Rhodes in 2007 (photos Ian Astin)

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Ed Gumbley at the end of the Half Marathon in Rhodes in 2007 (photos Ian Astin)

Three more of the men’s team will be sampling the Island Games experience for the second time in Aland, having debuted in the stifling heat of Rhodes 2 years ago. Andy Duncan will be challenging for places in both the 800m and 1500m events - my guess is that he will contest the 1500m along with Ryan Fairclough. He will also stake a strong claim for a place in the 4x400m relay team, although competition for places in that event looks like being fierce. Andy did very well in Rhodes where the standard was extremely high in the middle distance events. He finished 6th in the 800m, 7th in the 1500m and showed impressive speed in the 4x400m relay. I recall that he took a bit of a battering during a very physical first lap of the 800m final, nearly falling on a couple of occasions – all part of the rough and tumble of middle distance running. Get those elbows sharpened, Andy! Andy has had a slightly different preparation for the Games than the rest of the team, spending most of last winter living and working in India where he has family connections. An injury problem caused him to miss a period of training on his return to the island, but he has worked really hard over the past few weeks and looks to be coming back into good form at just the right time. Andy is a more than useful long distance runner too, and may well challenge for a place in the longer distance events in the future. He is a good supporter of local athletics, and has brought a big party of his Cambridge University colleagues over to the island to compete in the Easter Festival for the past 2 years. Their distinctive pink shirts (that’s the boys as well as the girls!) have quickly become one of the iconic images of Easter on the Isle of Man! This time 4 years ago, Kevin Loundes had never competed in an athletics event (other than walking round the cross country course during his school days and being labelled ‘a disgrace’ by the sports master!) After making his cross country debut in the Manx Gas League during the winter of 2005, his progress was so rapid that he gained selection for the 2007 Island Games in which he contested the Half Marathon and 5000m events. He struggled in the intense heat during the last 4 miles of the Half Marathon (as did many others) but still finished well in the top half of the field. He had a great run in the 5000m, finishing 6th and showing a blistering turn of speed over the last 200 metres which he covered in around 28 seconds. Since 2007, Kevin’s improvement has been spectacular and relentless across the whole range of distances and terrain. Guided by his coach Andy Fox, his structured and thoughtful approach to both training and racing has been rewarded with a series of outstanding performances on road, track and country. Like all good athletes, he probably learns more from his very occasional bad races than he does from his many 13


good ones. He is a completely dedicated athlete who has now reached a level that must put him in with a great chance of success in Aland. I believe he is entered in the Half Marathon, 10000m and 5000m, but personally I hope he gives one of them a miss (preferably the midweek 5000m) to give him the best chance of success in the Half Marathon on the last day. Kevin is considering having a crack at a 3000m steeplechase later in the season once the Island Games is out of the way, and I’m quite sure he will be very good at that too! Teaming up with Kevin and Darren Gray in what looks like being a very strong Half Marathon team will be Ed Gumbley, who will also go in the 10000m event. Ed has been taking part in running events for several years, but only really started training seriously 3 or 4 years ago when he realised that he wasn’t too far away from the standard required for selection for the 2007 Island Games. This he achieved, thanks to a great deal of hard work, grit and determination. Both his events in Rhodes took place in the full heat of the morning sun, so he will be hoping to find much kinder conditions this time around. Ed favours the longer distances, and ran a superb Marathon in Berlin last September. His time of 2.36.53 was the fastest marathon time recorded by a Manx runner since 1994, and who is to say that he can’t dip under the magical 2.30 barrier in the future? Since competing in Berlin last autumn Ed has not quite been at his best having had a few niggling injury problems over the winter, but he seems to have been shaping up nicely over recent weeks. He has done a few shorter races lately to help ‘sharpen up’, and he looks to be running well. Ed perhaps doesn’t have the natural athleticism and speed of some of the other team members but makes up for it with masses of commitment and determination, willingness to learn and a genuine love of running. An individual medal is probably out of reach at the Games, but he must be in with a decent chance in the Half Marathon team event – and it would be thoroughly deserved. Aland will be just the latest stop on Ed’s worldwide travelogue too – he is almost certainly the most widely-travelled member of the team!

Thursday, 4 June 2009 Winter returns to Aland!

This was the scene in Aland at 4.30pm local time today, captured by the webcam overlooking Mariehamn's western harbour. This is about half a mile from the athletics stadium.

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Whilst the Isle of Man has been basking in temperatures of up to 25C over the past few days, it seems that summer has yet to fully arrive in Aland. After a promising few days last week when the temperature got up to around 14C, the BBC forecast today shows a maximum temperature for the next 2 days of only 9C in Mariehamn, and some rain is expected in the coming days. Indeed when I had a quick look at the webcam at 4.30pm local time today, the temperature was only 6.1C, it was windy and the rain was lashing down. Just like a horrible mid-January day here, except with more than 20 hours of daylight! Of course things can change a lot in 3 weeks, and hopefully we will get plenty of sunny and pleasantly warm weather during the Games. I guess the best advice for everyone going to Aland is to be prepared for anything! My bags will contain t-shirts and shorts, but there will also be waterproofs, fleeces, gloves, a woolly hat and a fairly thick coat in there as well. I suspect that the fleece jacket Gail insisted on taking to Rhodes 2 years ago will definitely be worn at some stage this time! They only have a fairly short summer in Aland, and it’s a heck of a long winter there. Towards the end of April, the temperature was still hovering around the freezing mark, and in the depths of winter there are only a few short hours of daylight. We complain about our winters here, but from the point of view of training for the Island Games I think our athletes have much better year-round conditions than our rivals from the more northerly islands. 22 days to go – must get those Euros ordered!

Saturday, 6 June 2009 Second Time Around – Part 3

Charlotte Christian pictured during the Shot Putt competition in Rhodes in 2007 (photo: Ian Astin).

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The late Merrik Bousfield, friend and mentor to many Manx throwers, pictured during the 2005 Games in Shetland (photo Graham Davies).

Gemma Astin takes the bell during the 1500m race in Rhodes in 2007 (photo Ian Astin).

Four of the female members of the team will be travelling to their second Island Games later this month – one thrower, two middle distance competitors and one long distance runner. This entry looks at two of them; the other two will feature next time. 19 year old Hammer thrower Charlotte Christian made a promising debut in Rhodes, where she finished in 8th place with a best throw of 30.92m. She also competed in the Shot Putt event, finishing 12th. Competing in her first Island Games definitely helped Charlotte to focus on what she wants to achieve and the standards required, and she has worked very hard since on both technique and fitness. Her 16


Hammer pb has improved at regular intervals over the past couple of years, and now stands at 38.99m. Her target for this season of 40 metres plus is now tantalisingly close – will it come at the Games? It is hard to predict what the standard of competition will be in Aland, but the bronze medal in Rhodes was won with a throw of 36.53m. Charlotte will have her work cut out though, as her team mate Marit Zahkna is aiming for 50 metres! It’s great to see such strength in the Isle of Man team in one of the throwing events - can we dare to dream that they will both get onto the podium? Charlotte has been studying in Ormskirk for the past 2 years, and will be starting a course at Liverpool John Moores University this autumn. She has benefited greatly from the set-up at her club Liverpool Pembroke & Sefton AC, which has a strong tradition in the throwing events. Her initial introduction to the club was through the late Merrik Bousfield, who did so much to help Manx throwers over several years and was part of the management and coaching team for the Shetland Games in 2005. Merrik is still fondly remembered by all who knew him and he would be proud of the progress Charlotte has made over the past 2 years. Charlotte puts plenty back into athletics too, always willing to help out with officiating and coaching young athletes, and she deserves to be successful. I hope she is part of the Manx athletics scene for many years to come. One of the most successful junior athletes the Isle of Man has produced in recent years is 17 year old Gemma Astin. Since getting involved with athletics about 5 years ago, Gemma’s achievements at both middle distance track running and cross country have been too numerous to list in a couple of paragraphs. Some of my favourite memories of Manx athletics over the past 3 or 4 years have been the performances of Gemma and her younger sister Sarah in the big cross country events in the UK, where they have both regularly achieved very high placings against the best athletes in the country in their age groups. Gemma has also been Lancashire age group champion several times on both track and country. The highlight of her career to date must be gaining selection for the Commonwealth Youth Games in India last autumn, where she contested the 3000m event. Gemma made an outstanding Island Games debut in Rhodes at the age of 15, finishing 6th in the 1500m and 5th in the 5000m in times that would have won medals in nearly every previous Games. Her time of precisely 18 minutes in the 5000m race was astonishing and she ran with a maturity far beyond her years. She is entered for the same 2 events in Aland. Over the past few months a succession of niggling injury and illness problems have resulted in the first real dip in form of Gemma’s career, and she cannot be expected to perform to the same level in Aland as she did in Rhodes 2 years ago. But regardless of what happens in Aland – and she will give it her all, as she always does – I have every confidence that Gemma will go on to become a fine senior athlete, probably in the distance events.

Sunday, 7 June 2009 Athletics programme and entry lists published Over the last couple of days, the full programme for the Athletics events has been published on the official website, along with entry lists for each event. Well done to the organising committee for getting these published well in advance of the Games - I don't think we saw an 'advance' list of competitors in Rhodes until the very last day of competition!! Many of the pb performances of the athletes have been published, which highlight the fact that the standard is going to be high in most of the events. There are a few weak or poorly-supported events - only 5 competitors in the women's Javelin for example - but generally the standard of competition looks very good. One huge disappointment to me is that the organisers have chosen to hold the Half Marathon events at the same time as several Track & Field events on the final day of competition. This has certainly not 17


happened in the last 2 Games I have been at, and it will force me as a supporter to choose between watching the Half Marathon or the Track & Field events on the Friday. Naturally I will be supporting Gail and the 3 Manx men in the Half Marathon, so I will miss both 4x400m relays and the Men's 1500m. I will also miss the medal ceremonies for the women's 800m, Men's 400m, Men's 1500m and all 4 relays. As we have a good chance of success in many of these events I feel totally cheated by this to be honest, especially as I have paid a heck of a lot of money to travel to Aland to support the team and the Island Games in general. I feel I am entitled to be able to watch every athletics event. Considering the athletics programme has been spread over 6 days this time (it is usually 5) I can see no reason for there to be any clashes. This situation will also put pressure on the management team who will have to cover both events. I really hope there is still time for a rethink on this - I have emailed the athletics co-ordinator with some of these thoughts, so will see if there is any reaction. I was hoping to video every event and all the medal ceremonies involving our athletes, but it looks like quite a few on the last day will be missing now!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009 Second Time Around – Part 4

Rachael Franklin finishes 2nd in her 800m heat in Rhodes, behind Claire Wilson (Shetland) and ahead of Martine Scholes (Guernsey).

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Gail Griffiths pictured in the early stages of the Half Marathon in Rhodes, in which she finished 11th. (Both photos Ian Astin).

Gail and Rachael pictured by Murray Lambden just after the 2009 Easter Festival 5k race on Douglas Prom. Rachael narrowly beat her IOM team mate in that race!

The final two athletes to be featured in the ‘Second Time Around’ category are middle distance runner Rachael Franklin and long-distance specialist Gail Griffiths, both of whom made their Island Games debuts in Rhodes 2 years ago. Both absolutely love running; both work extremely hard to make the most of their ability; one is 27 years older than the other! 17 year old Rachael Franklin has been competing in running events of all types since she was very young, and it was always obvious that she had masses of talent. Whether it was cross country, hill races, track or road, she was good at them all, but initially it looked as if she was most likely to favour the 19


longer distance events. About 3 or 4 years ago she developed much more basic speed, and that combined with building up her physical strength has seen her develop into an outstanding middle distance runner. The 800m is probably Rachael’s best event now, but she is also a very strong 1500m runner and has enough speed to be an important member of the 4x400m relay team too. She will be busy in Aland – and very competitive in all 3 events! Rachael’s performances in Rhodes at the age of 15 were brilliant. She was 7th in the 1500m, and took a superb 4th place in the 800m. The times she recorded in each event would have won medals in most previous Island Games, but the standard in the women’s middle distance events in 2007 was extremely high. Over the past 2 years, Rachael has worked exceptionally hard and shown real dedication to improving as an athlete. She has always loved running and being in the company of other athletes, but she is much more focussed these days. Being part of Di Shimell’s training group has brought her on a lot, particularly being able to train regularly with Sarah Dowling who sets such a great example to all the other athletes. Two of Rachael’s targets are an Island Games gold medal and the Isle of Man 800m record (currently 2.13), and I think she will achieve both – perhaps not this year, but she will achieve them in the not-too-distant future. If Rachael continues to work hard, enjoy her running and stay injury-free she can dominate the local athletics scene for many years. In 2005, a few months after her 40th birthday, Gail Griffiths travelled to Shetland for a holiday to support the Isle of Man’s athletics team in the Island Games without the slightest thought of competing in the event in the future. She had no athletics background, and had taken up running 2 years earlier to improve her fitness for racing her motorbike in the MGP. Gail started competing in cross country and road races, but initially stuck to the short courses - anything over about 2 miles was out of the question at that stage. During the second half of 2005 she started increasing her training, and began to rapidly improve. By early 2006 she was running 10k in under 44 minutes and was considering trying a Half Marathon later that year. After a discussion with Andy Fox at Easter that year she decided to commit to a serious and structured training programme with the aim of getting to the 2007 Island Games. This she achieved, with two excellent runs in her first two Half Marathons gaining her selection for both the Half Marathon and 10000m races in Rhodes. Gail was far from her best in Rhodes, largely because she suffered a series of niggling injuries as she increased the mileage in training on the build-up to the Games, but also due to the worry of her Mum being critically ill in hospital after being involved in a TT marshalling accident only a couple of weeks before the Games. There have been no such problems this time, and 2 years of extremely hard work (including injury prevention measures) have been rewarded with regular terrific performances and substantial pb times across all her distances. Gail’s very realistic chance of a team medal in the Half Marathon disappeared with the withdrawal of her team mate, but she will be giving it everything to try and challenge for an individual medal in both the 10000m and Half Marathon. If she doesn’t make it this time she intends to still be around for another go in 2011!

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Tuesday, 16 June 2009 Results page goes live!

The view the St Helena team will have on their return to the island's capital Jamestown in about 4 weeks time!

We really are getting close now – the official event website has launched its live results page today! This is at http://www.alandresults2009.com/ This site is completely interactive and lists all entrants in the Games in every sport. This can be listed by island, by sport, etc. Competitors can click onto their events and see exactly who the opposition is and see a photo of each of their rivals. Note – photos are not shown for competitors under the age of 16, so Danielle Ross’ photo should appear on the site tomorrow. Happy birthday Danielle! The site is packed with information including the full schedule, Games records etc, and is well worth a look. The Isle of Man team are busy making late preparations before their departure a week on Friday, and on the days of travel they will have the luxury of direct flights to Aland. Not so the team from St Helena, who are shortly leaving for a 3-day boat journey to Ascension Island. From there they have a marathon flight to London, where they stay overnight before catching another flight to Stockholm. They will then get a coach to the ferry terminal, and after a 3-hour sailing they will finally arrive in Mariehamn on the 25th June. They will presumably be travelling back the same way. That's an even longer journey than mine! To me it’s the small teams from far-flung places like St Helena, right in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean, that make the Island Games so special. When Gail and I were in Shetland as supporters in 2005 we stayed in a B&B in Lerwick, and one of the other guests was a lady from St Helena who travels 21


to every Island Games to support her fellow islanders. Their entire team usually only consists of about 6 to 8 competitors, but I still remember her absolute joy at seeing one of them win a badminton match! Just to show what a small world it is, I discovered that her doctor about 20-30 years ago was ‘Doc’ Dave Young of local fell running fame – he had a spell working in St Helena in his younger days! 10 days to go – I wonder if the 2007 Opening Ceremony has finished yet…

Wednesday, 17 June 2009 Island Games records

Pictured above are two Island Games record holders from the Isle of Man. Top: A famous photo of Martin Aram on his way to winning the gold medal in the High Jump during the 2005 Games in Shetland (photo www.shetland.gov.uk). Below: Women’s 400m record holder Julie Harrison (nee Moore), pictured with Noel Cringle after the Manx Harriers Open Meeting in 2004 (photo Stan Hall).

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It was interesting to look through the current list of Island Games records for each event on the official site. I have re-formatted them and put them into a more logical order, and they are as follows: Men 100m 10.60 Gordon Crowe Isle of Man 1989 200m 21.31 Mattias Sunneborn Gotland 1999 400m 46.70 Dale Garland Guernsey 2007 800m 1.50.37 Michael Guegan Jersey 1993 1500m 3.51.28 Lee Merrien Guernsey 2007 5000m 14.38.69 Mikael Nordblom Åland 1991 10000m 30.17.32 Kim Godtfredsen Greenland 1997 Half Marathon 67.54 Richard Large Isle of Wight 1991 110m Hurdles 14.65 Dale Garland Guernsey 2005 400m Hurdles 51.27 Dale Garland Guernsey 2003 3000m S/Chase 8.57.46 Mikael Nordblom Åland 1991 4x100m Relay 42.00 Guernsey Team Guernsey 2003 4x400m Relay 3.16.03 Guernsey Team Guernsey 2007 High Jump 2.13 Martin Aram Isle of Man 2003 Long Jump 7.73 Mattias Sunneborn Gotland 1993 Triple Jump 15.28 Urmas Treiel Saaremaa 1993 Pole Vault 4.62 Bo Jacobsson Gotland 1999 Shot Putt 16.21 Ove Lehto Åland 1997 Discus 49.22 Goran Eklund Åland 1993 Hammer 69.51 Andy Frost Isle of Wight 2007 Javelin 62.59 Sander Suurhans Saaremaa 2007 Women 100m 12.02 Kelly Sotherton Isle of Wight 1997 200m 23.27 Cydonie Mothersill Cayman Islands 2007 400m 55.10 Julie Moore Isle of Man 1995 800m 2.11.90 Eilidh C Mackenzie Western Isles 2007 1500m 4.28.17 Ann-Catrin Nordman Åland 1991 5000m 17.01.0 Maria Pardalou Rhodes 2007 10000m 36.11.68 Ann-Catrin Nordman Åland 1997 Half Marathon 73.35 Brenda Walker Isle of Man 1991 100m Hurdles 14.39 Kelly Sotherton Isle of Wight 1997 400m Hurdles 60.72 Diana Lindqvist Åland 1991 4x100m Relay 47.60 Cayman Team Cayman Islands 1999 4x400m Relay 3.54.60 Cayman Team Cayman Islands 1999 High Jump 1.75 Diana Lindqvist Åland 2003 Long Jump 5.95 Kim Murray Isle of Wight 2007 Triple Jump 12.11 Kalliopi Neski Rhodes 1999 Shot Putt 12.86 Virge Treiel Saaremaa 1997 Discus 44.91 Lauren Therin Rhodes 2007 Hammer 45.04 Amy Church Isle of Wight 2005 Javelin 50.84 Linda Lindqvist Åland 1997 The site only lists records for events that will be contested in the 2009 Games. Four of these records are currently held by Isle of Man athletes, although two of them don’t quite tell the full story. Gordon Crowe’s 100m time of 10.60 in the Faroe Islands in 1989 was recorded with a strong tailwind well over 23


the legal limit, and was not therefore ratified as an Isle of Man record. It does however apparently still count as an Island Games record. It was also generally accepted that the Half Marathon course in Aland in 1991 was measured inaccurately, and therefore Brenda Walker’s fabulous run that year was actually over a distance some way short of 13.1 miles, as was that of the Isle of Wight’s Richard Large. Martin Aram’s High Jump record of 2.13m, set in 2003, could come under threat this year as one of the Cayman athletes has a pb of 2.19m. I think that the women’s 400m record of 55.1, set in Gibraltar in 1995 by Julie Moore (now Harrison), should be safe for another 2 years though – nobody else in the history of the Games has ever got to within a second of Julie’s time! I hope that a few of the current and prospective future Isle of Man team members look at this list and think ‘I could break one of those’, and I think there is a realistic chance of at least one and possibly two of the 2009 team setting new records if all goes well on the day. In 2 years’ time there may well be two or three others who could challenge these records. Looking ahead briefly to the next Games in 2011 on the Isle of Wight, I would love to see a shoot-out between Keith Gerrard and Guernsey’s Lee Merrien (with Keith winning, obviously!) over any distance from 1500m to Half Marathon – that could take the records into orbit! 9 days to go…

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Saturday, 20 June 2009 Third Time Lucky?

Top: Typical determination from Darren Gray during the 2009 Easter Festival Relay on Douglas Promenade (photo: Murray Lambden). Bottom: Ben Brand pictured after running the last leg of the 4x400m Relay final in Rhodes in 2007 (photo: Caroline Brand)

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The two most experienced members of the men’s team in terms of previous Island Games appearances are distance runner/steeplechaser Darren Gray and sprinter/long jumper Ben Brand. Both will be competing in their third Island Games. The ’Foxdale Flyer’ Darren Gray made his Games debut in Guernsey in 2003, producing a terrific performance in the 3000m steeplechase to finish just out of the medals in 4th place. In Shetland 2 years later, he moved up to the Half Marathon, and although a novice at the distance he was part of the silver medal winning team along with John Halligan and Andy Fox. Indeed it was Darren’s last-ditch sprint finish to overhaul Guernsey’s Lee Garland (an athlete who has had many a battle with the Isle of Man’s finest) in the final 100 metres that turned what would have been bronze medals for the team into silvers. It was a moment I remember very well from the Shetland Games of 2005. Darren’s form dipped somewhat over the following 3 years, and he missed out on selection for the 2007 Games in Rhodes. After a slightly disappointing track season in 2008 Darren had a really poor run by his standards in the Peel Heritage Trail run last August which severely dented his confidence, and it would be fair to say that his athletics career was at a definite crossroads at that stage. Since then he has responded magnificently. Over the past winter and into the 2009 track season Darren has found his bestever form, his hard work and gritty determination being rewarded with an excellent cross country season and a series of pb times on both road and track over many different distances. Darren has been helped by being part of Andy Fox’s training group who are often as competitive in training as they are in races! A few weeks ago he managed to out-run Kevin Loundes on the final 400m rep of a tough session – and not many can claim to have done that over the past year or so! I can see no reason why Darren’s great improvement over the past year can’t continue and I think his best is still to come. Now aged 28, he will be contesting the Half Marathon and 3000m steeplechase events in Aland , and can look forward confidently to performing well in both. Darren will feel at home in Aland as he is used to visiting the Baltic!! Also making his third Island Games appearance is the multi-talented Ben Brand. Perhaps Ben’s biggest problem as an athlete is being such a natural in so many disciplines of the sport that probably no-one, Ben included, quite knows which his best event is! Over the past few years he has achieved Island Games selection guideline performances in about 7 different events, which tells its own story. If only there was a multi-event competition in the Island Games! Ben made his Island Games debut in Shetland in 2005 at the age of 16, and performed brilliantly. He finished 5th in the 800m in a time of 2.02 on what I recall was a cold and windy day, and did even better to finish 4th in the 400m in 50.67 – just 0.2 of a second behind the bronze medallist. During 2006 and the early part of 2007, Ben made spectacular progress in both the 400m and 800m, shattering some longstanding age group Manx records in the process. All seemed set for a cracking Island Games in Rhodes in 2007, but sadly it was not to be. A calf strain sustained during one of the first training sessions on arrival in Rhodes ruled Ben out of all his events until the very last day of competition. He recovered sufficiently to run a cracking last leg in the 4x400m relay final, in which the team missed both the bronze medal and the senior IOM record by about a second, but it was small consolation. Since 2007, Ben’s athletics career has changed direction slightly, and he is now concentrating very much on the sprint events rather than middle distance. He will be one of the team’s busiest athletes in Aland as he is entered in the 100m, 200m, 400m, both relays and the Long Jump! He will surely have to sacrifice at least one of those (probably the 100m) to give himself the best chance of success. Ben will be looking to claim his first Island Games medal this year, and his best chance is likely to be in the relays where the team looks strong in both events. 6 days to go…

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Tuesday, 23 June 2009 Summer arrives in Aland – at last!

It looks like our arrival in Aland at the weekend is going to coincide with the first really summery weather of the year there. The 5-day forecast is glorious – wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures up to around 16C. Not quite as warm as it has been here today, but that’s probably a good thing especially for the distance runners. Don’t forget to pack the sun cream! The scene (above) was captured by the webcam overlooking Mariehamn’s Western Harbour early this afternoon. It shows how glorious the weather was, and also how busy the ferry terminal is at this time of the year, with ferries and cruise liners coming and going 24 hours a day. It will be even busier over the next few days with many of the Island Games visitors arriving by sea on Viking Line ferries. I will be on the Saturday morning ferry from Kapellskar in Sweden (about 50 miles north of Stockholm) to Mariehamn, and if the weather is like this then it should be a really enjoyable and scenic 2-hour crossing past hundreds of little islands. I haven’t had much time to update the blog at any length over the last few days, but I am working on the features on Harriet, Sarah and Hollie. I hope to get these published before I leave on Friday morning.

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Wednesday, 24 June 2009 The Old Timers!

The silver medal winning 4x100m relay team in Shetland in 2005 of Hollie Bass, Hannah Riley, Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling (photo Gail Griffiths).

Harriet Pryke blasts off in her 400m heat in Rhodes in 2007 (photo Ian Astin).

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Hollie Bass gazes lovingly at her High Jump bronze medal in Shetland in 2005 – or was she sending a text? (photo Gail Griffiths).

Total commitment from Sarah Dowling in the 400m Final in Rhodes in 2007 (photo Ian Astin).

The final 3 athletes to be featured in the pre-event build-up are the most experienced Island Games competitors in the women’s team. They will be competing in their 3rd, 4th and 5th Island Games respectively, and between them they already have a total of 11 medals – 3 individual ones and 8 in relay events. Many of the team have improved greatly over the past year or so, but few more so than 19 year old 29


sprinter Harriet Pryke. She has always been a very natural athlete and she achieved great success as a youngster, being selected for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Australia in 2004 when she was only 14. She made her Island Games debut in Shetland the following year, when she was the youngest member of the team. She did really well to get into the finals of both the 100m and 200m, finishing 8th and 6th respectively. She was part of the silver medal winning 4x100m relay team, and was denied a bronze medal in the 4x400m relay when the team was disqualified. The Rhodes Games in 2007 were a little disappointing for Harriet in the individual events, as she was eliminated in the heats of the 200m and 400m, the latter event being fairly new to her at that stage. The real drama came in the 4x100m Relay Final when Harriet, running the anchor leg, was obstructed by Guernsey’s 3rd leg runner who collapsed in a heap in front of her after handing over to her team mate. Thankfully Harriet’s great agility and lightning reflexes enabled her to hurdle the human obstacle in her path, but she had lost a lot of ground. Undeterred, she recovered her bearings to produce a storming run that hauled the team back into the bronze medal position – a great performance. After 2 or 3 difficult years when she didn’t really build on her early great promise for a number of reasons, Harriet’s athletics career has been transformed since she started at London’s Brunel University last year. A combination of University life, a top coach, high quality training partners and a lot of very hard work have done wonders, and Harriet has rapidly developed into a really outstanding senior athlete. Her improvement this year in the 400m, now her specialist event, has been quite incredible. Last weekend she won the silver medal in the Northern U20 Championships in a time of 56.92 – at the start of 2009 her pb was 60.2! She is presently ranked in the top 20 in the UK in the Under 20 age group. Harriet is entered in the 200m, 400m and both relays in Aland, and has a really great chance of success in them all. I ventured the opinion in a recent entry on the blog that Julie Harrison’s Island Games 400m record of 55.1, set in 1995, should be safe for another 2 years. I still think it may be just out of Harriet’s reach this year, but I would love to be eating my words this time next week! The 2009 Island Games will see a welcome return to the team of very talented all-round athlete Hollie Bass, who will be taking part in the event for the 4th time. Hollie debuted as a 16 year old in the 2001 Games on the Isle of Man, when she finished 5th in the 400m and 7th in the High Jump. 2 years later in Guernsey she was 5th in the High Jump (missing out on a share of the bronze medal on ‘countback’) and 6th in the 400m. The real success in Guernsey came in the relays, where Hollie was part of the team that won the silver medal in the 4x400m, and a memorable gold medal in the 4x100m along with Hannah Riley, Sarah Dowling and Rachel Croft. By 2005, Hollie was expected to confirm her status as joint IOM High Jump record holder by claiming her first individual Island Games medal in Shetland, and she did just that by winning the bronze with a jump of 1.60m. She followed this up with a good 5th place in the Long Jump, and once again ran extremely well in the relays. She helped the team to the silver medal in the 4x100m, and was in the 4x400m team that was unfortunately disqualified after finishing 3rd. Following the 2005 Games, Hollie took a break from athletics to concentrate on her studies in the UK. She appeared in occasional events over the next 3 years but was not in contention for the 2007 Games. Following her return to the island to work, Hollie started training seriously again last year, spurred into action partly by losing her IOM High Jump joint record to the then 13 year old Reagan Dee. She worked hard over the winter, and her excellent form in the High Jump at the start of 2009 clinched her selection for the Games. She will also be competing in the Long Jump, and is a reserve for the 4x100m relay team. Hollie is desperately anxious to beat her 7-year-old pb of 1.61m in the High Jump in Aland. If she can do that then she has a real chance of standing on an Island Games podium again. Hollie appears to be really enjoying her athletics this year, and I don’t think we have seen the best of her yet. The emergence of several extremely talented young female high jumpers recently suggests that it is an event that the Isle of Man has the potential to dominate over the next few Island Games. Hollie will have to work really hard and literally ‘raise the bar’ over the next few years if she is to be part of it, but the people who know far more about high jumping than I do all think she is immensely talented. The rest is up to her!

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The most experienced and most decorated member of the IOM team is Sarah Dowling, who has taken part in each of the last 4 Island Games, winning a total of 5 medals. She is also the only member of the 2009 team to have previously won an Island Games gold medal in an individual event. Sarah is best known for her sprinting, but in 1999 she just missed out on selection for the High Jump in Gotland, having achieved the guideline after the team had been selected. She made her Island Games debut on the Isle of Man in 2001 and performed creditably, finishing 7th in the 100m and 9th in the High Jump. The highlight of Sarah’s athletics career to date came in Guernsey in 2003. She won the silver medal in the 100m in a controversial race that had to be re-run the following day after the original final descended into farce. The recall gun had failed after a false start, and many of the competitors ran almost the full 100m! Things only got better from there. She was part of the famous ‘Golden Girls’ team in the 4x100m relay, and capped this the following day by winning the gold medal in the 200m Final. It was a great reward for both Sarah and her long-time coach Di Shimell. Sarah selflessly sacrificed a 4th medal by giving up her place in the 4x400m relay to a team mate. By the 2005 Games in Shetland the depth of quality in the women’s sprints had increased, and although Sarah ran just as quickly as in 2003 she was only able to finish 5th in the 200m and 7th in the 100m. As usual she was a vital member of the relay teams, winning the silver medal in the 4x100m relay. Unfortunately the team was disqualified after finishing 3rd in the 4x400m relay. Sarah’s 4th Games in Rhodes in 2007 saw another increase in standards in her events, and despite running a faster time than her 2003 gold medal winning performance, she was eliminated in the 200m heats by a fraction of a second. The winner of her heat went on to reach the 200m final in the World Athletics Championships in Osaka a few weeks later! By now Sarah had moved up to the 400m, and did really well to reach the final in which she finished 6th. She guided her young team mates to the bronze medal in the 4x100m relay and 4th place in the 4x400m relay. After the final event in Rhodes, Sarah was interviewed on Manx Radio and pledged that she and the team as a whole would work really hard over the following 2 years to come back stronger in 2009. As always, Sarah has led by example and has done just that. She is now in arguably the best form of her career, having taken a sizeable chunk off her 400m pb and showing impressive speed in the shorter sprints too. She is entered in the 200m, 400m and both relays in Aland, and will challenge strongly in them all. Sarah is a wonderful ambassador for her sport, liked and respected by all, and her approach to athletics makes her a great role model especially for the younger athletes in her training group. She puts a lot back into the sport, not least by organising many of her club’s trips away to the UK. Sarah is engaged to fellow Island Games gold medallist John Halligan, and this Friday will mark a significant milestone for them – it will be exactly a year until their wedding! 2 days to go for the team – and a day and a half for me…

Saturday, 27 June 2009 The Games are Go! We have lift off! Following the Opening Ceremony earlier this evening the Games are now officially open and everyone is raring to go. After the shambles in Rhodes, I thought tonight's Ceremony was just about right. Still a little long perhaps, but it was done and dusted in less than 2 hours in glorious warm sunshine. There don't appear to be as many Manx spectators as there were in Rhodes but that is understandable - Aland is expensive, not easy to get to and accommodation is strictly limited. There were still plenty of Manx flags in evidence though.

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There are a few other Manx athletics supporters staying in my hotel - Cheryl Pryke and Frances McDonnell who were at the Ceremony, and Anthony and Caroline Brand who arrived too late to get into the stadium but who went to Games Street afterwards. It was heaving there tonight, and most of the athletics squad went there for something to eat before heading back to the school. Several of the other Manx teams were there and I had a chat with Paul McMullan who is captain of the men's golf team, and who will also be marrying my niece later this year! There were some familiar faces from athletics there too, and I spotted Eilidh Mackenzie of the Western Islands who won gold in the women's 800m in Rhodes. At that time she was being coached by former GB international Kirsty Wade who now runs a B&B near Stornoway. I don't know if she still is still being coached by her. At about 10pm I went for a stroll round the Eastern Harbour and out to the end of one of the jetties on the marina. Even at that time the sun was still quite high and it was really warm. What a glorious place this is! The atmosphere in town is absolutely brilliant and I think this has the potential to be the best Island Games yet. Tomorrow morning I am going back up to the stadium to watch the opening men's football match between Aland and Greenland - this should be a great occasion with a big local crowd expected. This will be the last football match to be played there until the two finals, as athletics takes over there until Friday afternoon. Then tomorrow night the athletics gets under way at 6pm local time (4pm at home). Events with IOM interest are the Men's 200m heats (Tom Riley & Ben Brand), 10000m Final (Kevin Loundes & Ed Gumbley), Women's 100m heats (Danielle Ross & Ciara McDonnell), 1500m heats (Rachael Franklin & Gemma Astin) and Long Jump Qualifying (Hollie Bass). Best of luck to all - fingers crossed for a medal winning start in the 10000m Final! 11.40pm now and still light - your average Manx driver wouldn't even have their lights on in this, yessir...

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Sunday, 28 June 2009 Excellent start by Manx athletes Happy faces all round - and with good reason!

Ciara McDonnell and Danielle Ross both got through to the semi-finals of the 100 metres after finishing 3rd in their respective heats. Ciara recorded a big pb of 12.83 and Danielle a big season's best of 12.82. They were proud to show the Manx flag afterwards!

Gemma Astin and Rachael Franklin were the first 2 across the line in Heat 1 of the 1500m (Rachael a fraction of a second ahead), qualifying easily for the final with loads in hand.

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Tom Riley prepares for his heat of the 200m which he won in a very impressive time of 22.11.

Sunday, 28 June 2009 Day 1 report Well, it's gone midnight, and I've had a couple of beers at Games Street and am now enjoying a generous Talisker in my room, so forgive me if there are any typos! The evening began with the women's 100m heats, featuring the two youngest members of the Manx team Ciara McDonnell and Danielle Ross. I don't think I have ever seen two more nerveless debutants! They took everything in their stride and ran superbly. Ciara was 3rd in Heat 2 in a time of 12.83, a big pb. Danielle was in Heat 3, and after a false start by another competitor she was fast out of the blocks to finish 3rd in 12.82. The first 2 in each heat and the 6 fastest losers go into the semis, and our girls were 6th and 7th fastest overall. A wonderful start to their Island Games careers. Next were the men's 200m heats, and a similar story there. There were 5 heats, and rather unusually the qualifiers for the semis were the 5 winners and 7 fastest losers. Ben Brand was in Heat 1, and finished 2nd in a pb of 22.77 - despite momentarily easing off when he thought it was the first 2 to qualify! Thankfully this was not a costly mistake and he qualified for the semis. Tom Riley made easy work of Heat 4, winning in an excellent time of 22.11. This is a pb with electronic timing (he has gone slightly faster with manual timing) and he eased off significantly in the last 20 or 30 metres. Tom has had a slight worry with a hamstring strain over the past week or so but reported no problems tonight, and he made it look easy. The first track Final, the men's 10000m, was next, and there were high hopes of a medal-winning start for the IOM. This race featured Aland's greatest ever athlete Janne Holmen, and his presence in the Island Games (possibly for the first time?) ensured a huge local support and a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium. Initially the Jersey athlete went with him, but he soon dropped off the pace and was being hunted down by Kevin Loundes and Dawes of Guernsey. After a few laps they caught him and the battle for the silver seemed wide open, but sadly Kevin's recent illness caught up with him and he soon dropped back. He showed great determination to defend 4th place with a strong last lap but he was inconsolable afterwards. Ed Gumbley also found it hard going in the heat but performed with typical guts and 34


determination to finish 10th. He must be wondering if he will ever get a cool day in the Island Games! The winning time was a new Games record, but most of the field found it hard going. I hope it is cooler for the Half Marathon on Friday, which starts at 12 noon - and indeed for Gail in the women's 10000m Final tomorrow night. In the women's Long Jump qualifying, Hollie Bass was pleased to get through to the Final with a best jump (of 3) of 4.84m. Hollie is concentrating very much on the High Jump these days so this was a decent effort. She also had problems with her run up tonight, so if she can get this sorted she will hope to better her pb of 5.12m in the Final tomorrow. The final event with Manx interest was the women's 1500m heats, with Gemma Astin and Rachael Franklin both in Heat 1. The pace on the first 2 laps was extremely slow, and Rachael was clearly itching to take it on, while Gemma was happy to keep a watching brief halfway back. On the 3rd lap the two Manx girls increased the pace and split the field, and by the last lap they were out on their own. They both recorded 4.55, which is very decent given that they were on around 5.10 pace for the first half of the race. They both looked very comfortable, and this will have done Gemma's confidence the world of good after a difficult year when she has been unable to compete much. Both she and Rachael will be very competitive in the Final. Back to the track at 11am tomorrow.

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Monday, 29 June 2009 Mixed fortunes this morning

Ben Brand and Tom Riley happy after great runs in the 200m semi finals.

Harriet Pryke focuses an hour or so before running her 400m heat.

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Ryan Fairclough, a picture of sartorial elegance, in reflective mood after finishing 3rd in his 800m heat.

There were mixed fortunes for the IOM athletes in the heats & semi-finals this morning. A total of 9 Manx athletes were action in the 5 events. First to go was Michael Haslett in the 400m hurdles heats. After a fast 1st Heat, Mikey knew he would have to run well in Heat 2 to get through either in the first 2 or as one of the 2 fastest losers. Early in the race he clattered a hurdle really hard which disrupted his rhythm for a while, but then he really picked up the pace. With about 50 metres to go he was in a tight battle for 2nd until his rival fell at the final hurdle. This allowed Mikey to ease off over the last 40 metres or so. He is in fairly confident mood ahead of tonight's Final. Next were the semis of the women's 100m featuring last night's stars Ciara McDonnell and Danielle Ross. In Semi 1, Ciara was holding 3rd place with about 30 metres to go but was unable to quite keep the momentum going to the end, and finished 5th in 13.05. It was still her second fastest ever time over 100 metres and she has done really well on her debut so far. In Semi 2, Danielle produced a terrific run to finish 3rd in a time of 12.90, and to qualify for tonight's Final as the faster of the 2 fastest losers. A great achievement on her Games debut and one that looked unlikely at the start of this season when she was struggling. The fastest runner this morning collapsed in agony at the end of the race and must be a doubt for the Final, so could Danielle be in with a chance of a medal? In the men's 200m heats, Tom Riley and Ben Brand both ran pbs of 21.95 and 22.67. Tom qualified for tonight's Final as the fastest loser and feels in good shape. He will have his work cut out to get into the medals as the standard is very high, but he will be giving it his all. Ben also ran extremely well and recorded a second pb in 2 days. He looks in really good shape and this will set him up nicely for the 400m and relays later in the week. There was further success in the women's 400m Heats, with Sarah Dowling and Harriet Pryke both qualifying for the final in style. There were 3 heats, with the winners and 3 fastest losers going through to tomorrow night's Final. Sarah was in Heat 1 with the highly rated Gemma Dawkins of Jersey, and had to run flat out. She finished 2nd and recorded a substantial pb of 58.18. Harriet had the luxury of being able to ease off in the last 30 metres of Heat 2, which she still won in a very fast time of 57.14. Both Harriet and Sarah have genuine medal chances in this event.

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The final event this morning was the men's 800m heats, featuring Games debutants Tom Richmond and Ryan Fairclough who were drawn together in Heat 2 (of 3). After a fast first Heat, the pace was slow on the first lap of this one, during which Tom got boxed and nearly tripped on the back straight. The first lap was over 62 seconds, and it was Ryan who hit the front and upped the pace at the start of lap 2. On the back straight Tom kicked and went into the lead, but in the home straight neither were able to maintain the pace and they finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Both were bitterly disappointed afterwards, but they are both debutants and this is all part of the learning process. Plenty more action to follow later. I don't think I'll have time to post any more video this week, but between the Brands and myself there will be plenty of photos.

Monday, 29 June 2009 It's a Gray day as Darren wins bronze! A full round-up of this evening's action will have to wait until the morning as it is after midnight here and I am not long back to the hotel after a visit to the school where the team have their accommodation and very nice it is too! The highlight of the day's action was a double first - the first medal of the Games for the athletics team, which was also Darren Gray's first individual medal of his Games career. He ran brilliantly to take the bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 9.47 - a pb by over 13 seconds and his first sub10 minute clocking. He followed the pre-race plan to the letter (other than running a few seconds faster than planned!), and was rapidly closing in on Guernsey's Lee Garland in the finishing straight. A superb performance and a just reward for a year of total commitment and dedication.

A summary of all the IOM performances tonight, many only just outside the medal positions: Men's 400m Hurdles Final - Michael Haslett 4th, 55.93 Women's 100m Final - Danielle Ross 5th, 13.05 Men's 200m Final - Tom Riley 4th, 22.01 Women's Long Jump Final - Hollie Bass 8th, 4.86m Men's 3000m S/Chase Final - Darren Gray 3rd, 9.47.07 Women's 10000m Final - Gail Griffiths 6th, 39.57.60 Women's Javelin Final - Marit Zahkna 5th, 28.01

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Tuesday, 30 June 2009 Monday night in pictures

Michael Haslett on his way to 4th place in the 400m hurdles final.

Danielle Ross happy after finishing 5th in the 100m final on her Games debut - a terrific performance.

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Tom Riley about to cross the line in 4th place in the 200m Final.

Hollie Bass in full flight during the Long Jump Final, in which she finished 8th. Will she make it over the top of Aland's 10000m runner?

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Darren Gray both exhausted and ecstatic as he wins the bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase.

Darren tells his story to John Watty afterwards. 'So Daz, what's this about you and the Baltic?'

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Gail Griffiths gives her all on the way to an excellent 6th place finish in the 10000m Final.

Marit Zahkna on her way to 5th place in the Javelin Final.

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Tuesday, 30 June 2009 Relay success this morning There were just two events involving the IOM this morning, both in the 4x100m relay heats. First off were the men's team of Michael Haslett, Ben Brand, Peter Richardson and Tom Riley in Heat 2, which was the stronger of the 2 heats. They finished 2nd with some very slick changeovers in a fast time of 42.98 - considerably faster than either of their times in Rhodes 2 years ago when they won the bronze medal. However, the Cayman Islands produced a fantastic time of 41.84, shattering the Island Games record in the process. Our team were 3rd fastest overall and must have a very good chance of a medal on Friday. The women's team of Danielle Ross, Sarah Dowling, Ciara McDonnell and Harriet Pryke went in Heat 1, and stormed to victory in a superb time of 49.30. This was the fastest time overall by a considerable margin, and if the team can perform to the same standard or even faster on Friday they will start as clear favourites for the gold medal. Jersey, who were 2nd in our heat, were disqualified following an infringement on the 3rd changeover, but on looking at the results on the official site I see they are still listed as finishing 2nd. Perhaps they have appealed and been reinstated? In Heat 2, reigning champions Guernsey dropped the baton on the 3rd changeover and failed to finish. Tonight, proceedings get under way with the medal ceremony for the men's 3000m steeplechase, with Darren Gray collecting his richly deserved bronze medal. There are only 3 events involving our athletes, all women's events. Charlotte Christian and Marit Zahkna are in the Shot Putt Final, though this isn't the strongest event for either of them. There follow two events where we have genuine medal prospects Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling in the 400m final, and Rachael Franklin and Gemma Astin in the 1500m final. Go Manxies!!

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Tuesday, 30 June 2009 Medal delight for Harriet, Sarah and Rachael!! A picture of sheer delight!

Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling celebrating together after the 400m medal ceremony.

Sarah was so happy to be back on the podium in an individual event for the first time since 2003.

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An overjoyed Rachael Franklin celebrating her 1500m silver medal with gold medallist Eilidh Mackenzie of the Western Islands.

What a wonderful night at the track that was! Superb performances from all 4 of the track athletes in action tonight. In the women's 400 metres, Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling obliterated their pbs yet again to take the silver and bronze medals with times of 56.46 and 57.34 respectively, behind Gemma Dawkins of Jersey who is an outstanding athlete. But Harriet and Sarah are also outstanding athletes and they proved it with a vengeance tonight! They have worked so hard over the past 2 years since Rhodes, and the absolute delight with which their performances were greeted by the entire Manx contingent told its own story. It was a wonderful moment to see them both on the podium together draped in the Manx flag. The battle for the bronze medal between Sarah and Orkney athlete Mags MacRae was desperately close and there was an agonising wait of 2 or 3 minutes before it was confirmed that Sarah had indeed got the bronze. And this was followed by incredible performances from Rachael Franklin and Gemma Astin in the 1500 metres. Rachael ran the race of her life to take the silver medal in a time of 4.36.99, taking nearly 10 seconds off her pb - an extraordinary amount over 1500 metres. She put the eventual gold medal winner Eilidh Mackenzie (a terrific athlete who won gold and bronze in Rhodes 2 years ago) under the severest pressure all through the race, and was in with a real chance of winning until the final 100 metres or so. Rachael is another who has worked her socks off over the past two years and deserves all the success she gets and this was a truly fantastic performance. And so too was Gemma's performance to finish 5th in a time of 4.42.96 - a fraction outside her pb. She has had so many problems this year with illness and injury that have restricted her training and racing to a bare minimum, so to produce a performance like this was astonishing in the circumstances. What she will do when she is fully fit is quite a prospect! Also in action tonight in the final of the women's Shot were Marit Zahkna and Charlotte Christian, who finished 6th and 9th with throws of 8.82m and 8.15m respectively. The best event for both of them, the Hammer, is tomorrow night. They have both had excellent training sessions today (whisper it quietly Marit threw over 50 metres!) and are quietly confident for the Final tomorrow. Fingers crossed...

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009 100% success in this morning's heats It was another highly successful morning at the track, as all 5 of the Manx athletes in action made it safely and convincingly through to the semi-finals. The qualification criteria for all 3 events was the first 2 in each heat and the 4 fastest losers to progress to the semi-finals. All 5 of our athletes qualified in the top 2, and all looked to have plenty in hand. In the men's 100 metres, Tom Riley went in Heat 3, and cruised through in 2nd place in a time of 11.23, a stride behind the Cayman athlete. He had a slight concern earlier in the week about some hamstring tightness but looked to be moving freely and easily this morning. In the women's 200 metres, last night's 400m stars Sarah Dowling and Harriet Pryke were quickly back in action and again ran superbly. Sarah finished 2nd in Heat 3 in a time of 26.30 with a controlled performance, and Harriet again looked effortless in winning Heat 4 in a very rapid 25.71 - the fastest time of all the heats. Finally and just as impressively, Peter Richardson and Ben Brand were in action in the 400 metres heats. Peter finished 2nd in Heat 1 behind yesterday's 800m champion Tom Druce, and had plenty in hand over the 3rd placed athlete. He was able to ease through the final 40 metres or so, yet still recorded a pretty fast time of 51.85. Ben was in Heat 4, and after false-starting at the first attempt he made no such mistake on the restart. He did the hard work in the first 200m to establish a commanding lead and was able to stride easily down the home straight to win by nearly 2 seconds in a time of 52.30. The prospects for tonight are very good. At 6pm local time we have Marit Zahkna and Charlotte Christian competing in the Hammer, the strongest event for them both. At the same time Hollie Bass competes in the High Jump Final, which is also her best event. All 3 could challenge strongly for medals if all goes well. Half an hour later the men's 4x400m relay team take part in their heat, and should qualify comfortably. There is no heat for the women's 4x400m relay - this will be run as a straight final on Friday. Incidentally, I reported yesterday that there was some confusion over the disqualification of Jersey's 4x100m women's relay team. It seems they have been reinstated as they have produced video evidence that their final changeover was legal. A bit of a controversial situation some feel! Then at 7.10pm local time Gemma Astin goes in the women's 5000m final. Last night's performance in the 1500m will have sent her confidence soaring and providing she has recovered sufficiently she should do well in this race. Fingers crossed. GO MANXIES!!

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009 Tuesday night in pictures

The 3 medal winners in the women's 400m Final at the line. Left to right - Sarah Dowling, Harriet Pryke and Gemma Dawkins (Jersey). It was a desperately close battle for bronze between Sarah and Orkney's Mags MacRae (out of shot in Lane 2).

The moment we knew that Sarah had got the bronze to add to Harriet's silver!

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Rachael Franklin gives it everything in the final 50 metres of the 1500m final. A great shot showing the poise and power she showed through the entire race. She couldn't quite catch the winner - but what an incredible performance. A pb by nearly 10 seconds and a silver medal in her second Island Games!!

A tremendous performance too by Gemma Astin in the 1500m final, showing class, courage and determination in abundance.

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Rachael about to be congratulated by her coach Di Shimell - what a wonderful birthday Di had yesterday! (All photos by Anthony & Caroline Brand)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009 Gold for Marit, Bronze for Gemma and Hollie!

Marit Zahkna celebrates with her Dad, who travelled from his home in Estonia to watch Marit compete in tonight's Hammer final. She won the first gold medal of the week for the Athletics team, shattering the Island Games record in the process with a best throw of 48.89 metres. A great performance!! Charlotte Christian finished 4th with a best throw of 37.44m, also an excellent performance.

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A picture of sheer happiness! A bronze medal for Hollie Bass in the High Jump with 1.59 metres. She had no idea she had finished joint 3rd until several minutes after the end of the competition! She was agonisingly close to clearing 1.62 with her final attempt.

Gemma Astin can scarcely take in the fact that she has won a bronze medal in the 5000 metres Final, in a new pb time of 17.51.23. This was one of the most amazing performances I have ever witnessed, bearing in mind the problems Gemma has had this year. She has extraordinary courage as an athlete as well as great ability and this will be the first of many Island Games medals for her. You read it here first!

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Rachael Franklin also has a great Island Games future ahead of her, and she explains to Manx Radio's Tim Glover how she took 10 seconds off her 1500m pb to land the silver medal yesterday. "It was all to do with the chocolate puddings from the Isle of Wight, Tim..."

Thursday, 2 July 2009 More from Wednesday night This is a slightly more detailed look back at last night's action on another memorable night for the IOM at Mariehamn's Wiklof Holding Arena. Starting at 6pm were both the women's Hammer and High Jump finals at opposite ends of the stadium, which made it a bit difficult to follow both events closely. I opted to watch from the High Jump area, zooming the video camera in on Marit and Charlotte whenever they were throwing. I missed some of their throws though. In the High Jump, Hollie Bass looked to be jumping very well and had no problems with first-time clearances of the lower heights. She failed with her first attempt at 1.56m, perhaps distracted by a nearby spectator shouting very loudly just as she was about to jump. Her second attempt cleared the bar easily, and when the bar went up to 1.59m there were only 4 competitors left (although I didn't realise that at the time). Things didn't look good when Hollie failed with her first two attempts at 1.59m, but to everyone's huge relief she cleared it at the 3rd attempt. The bar then went up to 1.62m which would have beaten Hollie's pb, and she was so close to clearing it with her 3rd and final attempt. She was convinced she had lost out on 3rd place on countback and was really down in the dumps, and it was only when she went over to congratulate the Gotland jumper that she realised their results were identical and they had shared 3rd place. Despair turned to elation in a few seconds! Hollie is an extremely popular member of the team, which was obvious from the reception she received when she stepped onto the podium to collect her medal later in the evening. At the other end of the stadium, Marit Zahkna and Charlotte Christian were in action in the Hammer competition, where the main opposition was always going to come from Island Games record holder Amy 51


Church of the Isle of Wight. Marit broke the record with her first throw of over 46 metres, and she steadily built on this. By her third throw she was up to over 48 metres, although Church had now also thrown over 46 metres to better her previous record. Marit's throwing was really consistent and most if not all of her 6 throws were legal. She was the last of the 11 competitors to throw in each round, so when Church failed to improve on her best throw with her final attempt, the gold medal was in the bag for Marit, and she was able to try and put the icing on the cake with an attempt at 50 metres with her final throw. She was unable to do this but was nevertheless thrilled and delighted with her gold medal and a best throw of 48.89m - as were the entire team. That will take some beating as an Island Games record! It was great to see her Dad there too to provide support and technical advice - he was a former hammer thrower. Marit was so proud to win a gold medal for the Isle of Man and received a great ovation from the team. Charlotte Christian also produced a terrific performance to finish in 4th place with a best throw of 37.44m. She would have liked to have broken through the 40 metre barrier but was still very happy afterwards. It's only her second Island Games, she is still very young and improving rapidly and she has a bright future. The bronze medallist threw 41.30m, which will be well within Charlotte's range this time in 2 years. There then followed the women's 5000m final, in which Gemma Astin produced a performance that almost defied logic. It has been well documented that Gemma has been unable to train at anywhere near full capacity for most of this year, and up until a month or so ago she was unable to do much more than easy jogging. Even though things have improved a lot recently, she has still had to reduce most of the harder sessions to no more than about 75% capacity. She is an extremely determined character though, and went off with the early leader Johnson-Deeley from Jersey for the first 3 or 4 laps, a fair way ahead of her main rivals Perrio and Scholes of Guernsey who were in 3rd and 4th at that stage. After about 5 laps Gemma suddenly dropped back from the leader and was quickly caught and passed by the Guernsey duo. At that stage I really feared that the wheels were about to come off and Gemma looked to be really struggling, but I ought to know her better than that by now. She gritted her teeth and battled relentlessly on over the next few laps, closing in on the tiring young Jersey runner and passing her to move up into 3rd place with around 1k to go. Still I wondered if her lack of real quality training might suddenly catch up with her in the closing stages, but the opposite happened. While everyone else tired, Gemma just got stronger and she absolutely caned the last lap to take the bronze medal in a time of 17.51.23, nearly 9 seconds inside her pb! The look on Andy Fox's face after the race was a picture - a mixture of sheer delight and open-mouthed amazement! I'm off up to the track now for the morning session and it will be busy. We have Rachael Franklin in the 800m heats, Tom Riley in the 100m semis, Andy Duncan and Tom Richmond in the 1500m heats (Andy's first action of the week, apart from keeping the troops entertained), Ben Brand and Peter Richardson in the 400m semis, and Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling in the 200m semis. Once again - GO MANXIES!!

Thursday, 2 July 2009 A busy morning - and more Manx success It was a busy morning, with a total of 8 of our athletes involved with heats or semi-finals in 5 events. 6 of them made it through successfully to the finals. The women's 800m heats were first, with Rachael Franklin going in the third of 3 Heats. With the winners and 5 fastest losers going through, there was not much room for error especially as the first 2 heats had been fairly fast. Rachael went through the bell in 66 seconds, and although two of her rivals were fairly close she was able to ease down a little to take the win in 2.18.98. Every one of the 8 qualifiers for tomorrow's final recorded times between 2.17 and 2.20 suggesting the final will be very competitive and very exciting. 52


Tom Riley was next in Semi 2 of the men's 100 metres. After 2 false starts, the second of which saw the Isle of Wight athlete disqualified, the third attempt saw Tom finish 2nd in 11.00 to qualify for tonight's final. Then it was the men's 1500 metres heats, with Andy Duncan and Tom Richmond both going in Heat 2. The first Heat, despite featuring the formidable Lee Merrien, was run at a pedestrian pace for the first 1100m resulting in fairly slow times, meaning that the 6 fastest losers’ places were up for grabs in Heat 2. Andy ran really well to finish 4th in 4.13.98, just outside his pb, to qualify easily for the final. He can proudly brag about posting a faster time than Lee Merrien! Tom Richmond ran strongly for the first couple of laps, but a recurrence of a foot injury caused him to slow after that and he finished in 8th place in 4.26.62 - still a season's best though. Next up were the men's 400 metres semis. Ben Brand went in Semi 1, and ran extremely well throughout to finish in a comfortable 2nd place to qualify for the final. The standard in the men's 400 metres is very high, and to qualify for the final is a very fine performance. Ben just dipped under 50 to record 49.97 there was some debate as to whether this is a pb. Peter Richardson went in Semi 2, and also ran very well indeed. He recorded a very decent time of 50.93 to finish 4th, but this wasn't enough to qualify for the final. Peter will be a vital member of both relay teams tomorrow. His semi was won by Guernsey's Tom Druce in a cracking time of 46.74 - just a whisker outside his fellow islander Dale Garland's Games record set 2 years ago. There was drama in the women's 200m semis, in which Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling both went in semi 1. It was a desperately close finish, and from my position just before the finishing line it looked like Harriet had won with Sarah in 3rd just behind the Guernsey athlete - but when the times were posted the positions were reversed, with Sarah 1st and Harriet 3rd. The times of the first 3 were 25.62, 25.63 and 25.64! Sarah and Harriet both recorded pbs yet again, but with Harriet (who eased slightly in the last few metres) missing out on automatic qualification for the final there was an agonising wait to see what times would be recorded by the 3rd and 4th finishers in the second semi. Thankfully they were slower, and both Sarah and Harriet will be in with a real chance in tonight's final. It is sure to be another exciting evening at the stadium tonight - can we add to the 7 medals we have won so far? I believe we can, and the evening will start on a high with Gemma Astin collecting her bronze medal for last night's 5000 metres.

Thursday, 2 July 2009 Another silver for Harriet - and Ben goes so close! The highlight of this evening's action at the stadium was another silver medal for Harriet Pryke, this time in the 200 metres. This is the eighth medal for the team so far, and we have plenty of further chances of success on the final day of competition tomorrow. I think we have very realistic hopes of 6 or 7 more medals in tomorrow's events. The night got off to a good start with Gemma Astin collecting her richly deserved bronze medal for yesterday's 5000 metres. Next, we had last night's Hammer gold medallist Marit Zahkna in action again in the Discus final. In a very close competition, Marit finished 5th with a best throw of 34.18 metres. This was a good performance, but Marit is her own harshest critic and was deeply disappointed not to collect another medal. Her target of 36 metres plus would have won bronze. Nevertheless Marit has been a great addition to the team and has been a most popular team member. I think her Dad (who doesn't speak a word of English!) has been overwhelmed by the support she has had from the Isle of Man contingent. He was proudly sporting a TT cap at the stadium tonight!

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Thomas Riley was next to go in what was expected to be a very close 100 metres final. So it proved, with Tom very disappointed to finish in 5th place. Only 0.27 of a second separated the entire field, with the winner recording precisely the same time as Tom ran to win the silver medal in Rhodes 2 years ago. He has the relays to look forward to tomorrow and will play a big part in both. Harriet Pryke and Sarah Dowling followed in the 200 metres final, both coming into the final in terrific form. Harriet again ran a blinder to win her second silver medal of the week, shattering her pb yet again with a superb time of 25.20. She finished just 0.12 of a second behind the hugely talented Gemma Dawkins of Jersey who completed a 200m/400m double. Sarah Dowling finished 5th, producing another excellent run for a time of 25.80, a fraction outside her pb set in this morning's semi-final. Sarah said she was slow out of the blocks and was disappointed with the result, but she has had a magnificent week so far with the relays to follow tomorrow. The final event with IOM interest was the final of the men's 400 metres, in which Ben Brand came within a whisker of landing his first Island Games medal. He produced a run full of determination and style, and only just failed to chase down the Rhodes athlete in the bronze medal position. The men's 400 metres has been very strong in recent Games, and to get so close to a medal was a really fine performance. Ben has had an excellent week so far and richly deserves to cap the week off with medals in the relays tomorrow. I really hope his performances will give him the encouragement to go on to even bigger and better things over the next 2 years and beyond. Tomorrow is the final day of athletics, and there is lots of IOM interest. First off is Rachael Franklin in the 800m final, followed by the women's and men's 4x100m relay finals. At 12.05pm the Half Marathons start in the stadium before heading out onto a loop round the streets of Mariehamn. The course takes the runners back through the home straight of the track halfway through the race before heading out onto a second lap, finishing in the stadium again. A strange arrangement! We have Kevin Loundes, Darren Gray and Ed Gumbley in the men's race, in which we should be very strong in the team race. Gail Griffiths is in the women's race, and will go into the race in confident mood after her excellent 6th place in the 10000 metres on Monday. I really hope for all the Half Marathon runners' sakes that the temperature drops a bit tomorrow! While the Half Marathon is in progress the two 4x400m relays will take place, followed by the final event - the men's 1500 metres in which Andy Duncan will be hoping to build on his fine performance in this morning's heat. Then everyone can party!!

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Saturday, 4 July 2009 Superb relay performances on last day!

The Golden Girls! Left to right - Sarah Dowling, Ciara McDonnell, Danielle Ross, Harriet Pryke.

I will report in more detail when I get home - so please bear with me for a few days. We have another 24 hours in Aland and I will be spending that relaxing and seeing a bit of the island rather than spending hours on the laptop! The relay teams were fantastic yesterday. One gold medal, three silvers, three IOM records (and one near miss) and every changeover very smooth. There is so much potential for disaster in relays, but not for any of the IOM teams yesterday. They deserve plenty of coverage and this will appear on the blog over the next few days with photos. The team have been quite brilliant all week and have been a credit to athletics and to the Isle of Man.

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Monday, 6 July 2009 Final Day report - Part 1

Rachael Franklin approaches the bell during the women's 800m Final. The race was sensationally won in a photo finish by 15 year old Emma Leask of Shetland (blue kit)

The Golden Girls!! Sarah Dowling, Ciara McDonnell, Danielle Ross and Harriet Pryke joyfully explain to Manx Radio's Tim Glover how they not only won the gold medal but also shattered the IOM record in the 4x100m relay final...

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A glorious sight! The Manx flag flies proudly during the medal ceremony for the 'Golden Girls'.

A great performance too from the lads to win silver in the 4x100m relay. Peter Richardson, Ben Brand, Thomas Riley and Michael Haslett celebrate, while the Guernsey athletes in the background come to terms with their team's disqualification.

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Ed Gumbley pictured in the early stages of the Half Marathon. He was the first of the IOM runners to finish, in 10th place.

Darren Gray pictured in the same place, on his way to an 11th place finish. Yes, this race really was in Aland despite the Manx vehicle in the background!

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Kevin Loundes started strongly but his recent illness proved too much for him to overcome. He showed great determination to complete the course in 12th place.

Gail Griffiths had a great run to finish 7th in the women's Half Marathon. Despite giving it her all, she still found time to smile for cameraman Anthony Brand as she passed through the stadium halfway through the race!

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Fox on a Bike! For the first time since his debut in 1987, Andy Fox was not a competitor in the Games, but still completed most of the Half Marathon course very stylishly!

It was hectic to say the least on the final day of the athletics competition on Friday. There were individual events, field events, relays, medal ceremonies - and the Half Marathon was going on at the same time as well! I tried to cover every event involving our athletes on video (including the medal ceremonies) and I think I succeeded although I would like to have seen more of the Half Marathon. By the end of the session I felt like I had run a Half Marathon myself! One thing changed dramatically on Friday and that was the weather. After the heat and humidity of the previous days, the day dawned cloudy and cool - and just as I arrived at the stadium the heavens opened for a few minutes. This was good news for the distance runners, but perhaps not for the relay competitors who would have had to contend with a wet baton if the rain had continued. Fortunately it stopped after a few minutes. The first event of the day was the women's 800 metres Final, in which Rachael Franklin had high hopes of success after her superb silver medal winning performance in the 1500 metres earlier in the week. She gave it absolutely everything as she always does, but this was perhaps a race too far for her after a demanding week. She did everything right on the first lap, staying on the shoulder of the race favourite Eilidh Mackenzie of the Western Islands, but on this occasion she was unable to respond when the pace lifted on the second lap, eventually finishing 5th. Rachael was desperately disappointed afterwards, but her time will surely come in this event in future Island Games. The 4x100m relays were next, and first to go were the women. The team of Danielle Ross, Sarah Dowling, Ciara McDonnell and Harriet Pryke had previously run together 3 times, all in the past 3 weeks. On each occasion they have posted times close to the IOM record, and they started the race with the added pressure of being clear favourites for the gold medal. And this was the crunch - could they possibly do it in an Island Games Final when it really mattered? You bet your life they could!! What an awesome performance by all 4 girls. Every changeover was perfect, and Harriet blitzed the anchor leg to take the team to the gold medal in a sensational time of 48.56 seconds, winning by a very convincing margin of 0.98 of a second from the very talented Jersey quartet. Not only was this a golden performance in every sense, it also shattered the 14-year-old IOM record of 49.03 by nearly half a second - a big margin over 400 metres. When you look at the calibre of the team that set that record in Gibraltar in 1995 (Cheryl Done, Danaa Myhill, Julie Moore, Jane Ryder) you realise what an awesome 60


performance this was by Danielle, Sarah, Ciara and Harriet. They can truly be called the 'Golden Girls' and it was an absolute privilege to be there to witness it. Next up was the men's 4x100m relay, featuring Michael Haslett, Ben Brand, Peter Richardson and Thomas Riley - and what a performance they produced too! The changeovers looked as close to perfect as you could wish for and the team stormed home in 3rd place behind the extremely strong quartets from the Cayman Islands and Guernsey. The news quickly got even better with the disqualification of Guernsey for what looked like a final baton changeover beyond the box, lifting the Manx lads into the silver medal position. Their time of 42.77 was just 0.26 of a second outside the IOM record of 42.51 set in Gibraltar in 1995 by the very powerful team of Gordon Crowe, Alistair Audsley, Kevin Furlong and Paul Bergquist. A great performance by the lads. Then came the Half Marathon, and it was a strange format and unusual course layout. The race started on the track before heading out onto a 'figure of 8' course of about 10k which was completed twice. At the halfway point of the race the runners came back into the stadium and ran up the home straight in front of the stand before heading out onto their second lap. The race finished on the track. The course mainly used the cycle paths running alongside the roads, but part of the course used a gravel track – you could almost call it a multi-terrain course. There were 4 main feeding stations, which were actually all in the same place – the crossover of the 'figure of 8'. All very unusual, and Marit and Gemma had a busy time keeping the 4 IOM competitors fed and watered throughout the race. There were high hopes that the men's team could land a medal in the team event, with Kevin Loundes also challenging for an individual medal – but things didn't go according to plan. Kevin started well, and for a few kilometres was in the chasing pack behind the runaway leader Janne Holmen (former European Marathon champion), but quickly succumbed to his recent illness. He had to stop on two occasions, but bravely soldiered on to complete the course in 12th place. Kev has worked so hard over the past 2 years and achieved so much success and it was cruel luck to pick up a debilitating illness so close to the Games. He deserves much better luck in 2 years' time. Both Ed Gumbley and Darren Gray found the course really tough going, as did many of the athletes throughout the field, and recorded times several minutes down on their best despite giving it their all. They finished 10th and 11th respectively. Indeed, the vast majority of the runners were significantly down on their usual times, suggesting it was a tough course. One athlete who bucked this trend, however, was Gail Griffiths, who produced a superb run to finish 7th in the women's race in a time only 52 seconds outside her pb. She ran really strongly throughout, and not only looked in complete control but looked like she was enjoying herself too! She ran a very even-paced race despite having few other runners to work with and tag onto. Her 2 years of absolute dedication since Rhodes have paid off with two excellent performances in Aland. It was a real shame that she did not have the opportunity to win a team medal - the silver medal was there for the taking! The second part of the final day's action will appear in a separate entry, and will report on more superb performances to round off a great week.

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009 Final Day report – Part 2

Harriet Pryke, Ciara McDonnell, Sarah Dowling and Rachael Franklin celebrate their silver medals and new IOM record in the 4x400m Relay.

Peter Richardson, Thomas Riley, Ben Brand and Michael Haslett had a relaxed and laid-back attitude to the relays - and prove it here! They also won silver medals and set a new IOM record - a great performance.

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A great run from Andy Duncan in the 1500m Final. Despite suffering horrendous blisters he surged through the field to finish in a fine 6th position. He so nearly caught the Isle of Wight athlete in front of him here.

The final 3 events of the Games involving the IOM athletes on Friday were the two 4x400m relays and the men’s 1500 metres final – and all produced cracking performances from the Manx athletes to round off a great week. After the Half Marathon runners had headed out onto the roads, it was time for the 4x400m relays, and again it was the women who went first. Our team was slightly different to the 4x100m squad, with Rachael Franklin replacing Danielle Ross and a different running order. The leg order was Ciara McDonnell, Rachael Franklin, Sarah Dowling and Harriet Pryke, and with no heats being required for the event this was the first time the team had run together. And what a performance they produced! All 4 girls ran their hearts out and were rewarded with the silver medal and a new IOM record of 3.56.69. This is 1.24 seconds inside the old record set in Gibraltar in 1995 by Julie Moore, Cheryl Done, Danielle McCarrick and Deirdre McLoughlin. The Jersey team who won gold are all very highly-rated athletes and to get to within less than 2 seconds of them was a great performance. Harriet was closing in rapidly on the 200m and 400m gold medallist Gemma Dawkins on the anchor leg. We were nearly 11 seconds clear of the bronze medal winning Shetland squad. It was then the turn of the lads, with a running order of Peter Richardson, Michael Haslett, Thomas Riley and Ben Brand. Like the girls, they also turned in a superb performance, they also won the silver medal, and they also cracked the IOM record with a time of 3.19.85. The splits were remarkably even, all four of the lads running legs of almost exactly 50 seconds. Their time took 0.50 of a second off the record set in Gotland in 1999 by Kevin Furlong, Kieron Murray, Gary Hunter and Paul Bergquist. This was a fabulous effort, and I was pleased too that Ryan Fairclough also received a medal having run very well in the Heat earlier in the week in place of Tom Riley. There was a memorable performance from the gold medal winning Guernsey team, who were using the race for an attempt at the Commonwealth Games qualifying time. This they achieved with something to spare, having flown in their 2008 GB Olympic relay runner Dale Garland especially for this single event. I’ll have to check my video to see what his leg time was – sub-46 I should think! The final event was the men’s 1500 metres final, in which Andy Duncan ran a measured and controlled race to record a big pb. He started cautiously, and after 2 laps he was down in around 10th or 11th position. On the third lap he gradually upped the pace and started to reel in several of his rivals, and then on the last lap he produced a real kick in the finishing straight to get up to a fine 6th place finish with a time of 4.07.64. Indeed he only just failed by a fraction of a second to overhaul Newnham of the Isle of Wight. This was a great run by Andy despite suffering from badly blistered feet – the state he was in afterwards suggested that he had just done the Parish Walk barefoot! This race produced another 63


cracking run by a Guernsey athlete – this time Lee Merrien. He beat his own Island Games record to win in great style in 3.49.58. Not quite as fast as Keith Gerrard ran recently though, and I really hope Keith competes in the Games next time. That was the end of the competition, and the athletics team finished with a very impressive haul of 12 medals -2 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze. A really great effort. A report on the last night party will not appear here - what goes on on tour, stays on tour as they say, and everyone had a lot of fun!! This is not quite the end of the blog though, as I will post some more considered thoughts about the performance of the team over the next few days. I also have over 7 hours of video footage to go through to try to reduce to just over 2 hours to go on a DVD - not an easy task! Incidentally, I have realised since watching some of the video that my reporting of one or two of the events at the time wasn't entirely accurate, and I am editing these as and when I find inaccuracies as I want them to be correct for future reference. The report of Gemma's 5000m race in particular has been edited quite a bit - it's difficult to fully take in what's happening when you are filming!

Thursday, 9 July 2009 Confidence vindicated! "The fact is that, despite the low medal tally, we had a very talented squad of athletes in Rhodes including some potentially outstanding youngsters who deserve everybody’s support. Whilst it is inevitable that not all of the youngsters will maintain their improvement through to the next Games I am confident that most of them will. Even more importantly in terms of winning medals, we already have a quality core of senior athletes who will still be very much around and very competitive in 2009, with some former medallists possibly on the comeback trail as well and challenging for places. In short, I think there is every reason to believe that we will do very well in Aland in 2009. Not every team member will win a medal of course, but we will be stronger than we were in Rhodes and there will be more competition for places. Let’s give the team the support and encouragement they deserve!" The above paragraph was posted by me on the www.manxathletics.com forum in the autumn of 2007. There had been some criticism of the performance of the Isle of Man team as a whole in the 2007 Island Games, and there was a lot of debate on the forum about the athletics team's performances and selection policy after winning 5 medals in Rhodes - a much lower tally than we had been used to. I argued strongly in support for the team at the time as it was clear to me that the team had great potential for the future, and the passage quoted above was the final paragraph of quite a long submission. You would have to say that pretty much everything I said in that paragraph has been fully vindicated by the performance of the team in Aland, which is a great credit both to the athletes themselves and to the management team who remained strong in their conviction that their policies for the future success of the team were correct. The athletics team were fortunate to have the support of Andy Fox, Di Shimell and Andy Watson in Aland, and I doubt if any island has a better or more professional management team. I firmly believe that we will be even more successful in 2011.

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Saturday, 11 July 2009 Some photo memories - Part 1

Below are some random photographic memories of a superb week in Aland, thanks to Anthony and Caroline Brand's camera.

The base - the Hotel Savoy in Mariehamn, where I stayed along with Anthony & Caroline Brand, Frances McDonnell, Cheryl Pryke and Brenda Riley. The Gibraltar team also stayed there. It was 3 minutes walk from Games Street and 4 minutes walk from the stadium - ideal! It also had wireless Internet access throughout, so was a perfect base for publishing the blog.

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The changeovers in all the relays were excellent, including this one between Peter Richardson and Michael Haslett during the Men's 4x400m Final.

There was a great team spirit all week, and Ben Brand is roared on by team mates Michael Haslett and Peter Richardson as he approaches the end of the anchor leg.

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On the other side of the camera for once! Anthony Brand enjoys some relaxation in Mariehamn, and contemplates the next helping of the local black bread!

The silver relay squad (with a hint of red!). Peter Richardson, Ryan Fairclough, Ben Brand, Thomas Riley, Michael Haslett.

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Marit's number 1 supporter! Her dad Lembit doesn't speak any English, but was adopted wholeheartedly by the IOM's athletics team. The following night he appeared at the track wearing a TT hat!

What it's all about - a gold medal! This year's medals were beautifully crafted in the shape of a waterdrop.

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Andy Fox in serious mood during the week. "5 medals won't be good enough this time, guys!"

. ..and in relaxed mood during the last night party!

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There's nothing easy about winning Island Games medals! Gemma Astin, Martine Scholes and Louise Perrio (both Guernsey) in varying states of exhaustion seconds after the end of the 5000m Final.

There was a great atmosphere at the stadium every day, with packed stands and noisy support. It was a magnificent venue for the athletics competition.

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At 15 years of age Ciara McDonnell was the youngest member of the team, but she lacks nothing in confidence as she argues a point with Thomas Riley!

"Andy Watson - A Lean, Mean Massaging Machine!". So said the notice on the wall at the team's accommodation. Andy did a great job all week tending to the various aches and pains of the competitors. Here he gets to grips with Thomas Riley in the treatment room at the track.

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If you love the Island Games, this is the man you need to thank. Geoff Corlett was the Organising Director of the inaugural Games on the Isle of Man in 1985 and has done so much since to help the event grow and prosper. Now well into his 80s, he remains a bundle of energy and was a popular visitor to the stadium several times during the athletics competition. If you see him around, be sure to tell him how much you appreciate his efforts. But for Geoff, you wouldn't have been in Aland last week!

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Monday, 13 July 2009 Some photo memories - Part 2 Below are some more photographic memories of a great week in Aland at the 2009 Island Games.

A moment of pure Gold! Harriet Pryke crosses the line way out in front to bring the women's 4x100m relay team home in the gold medal position. They took nearly half a second off the previous Isle of Man record.

Yes girls, you really have got the record! Harriet, Ciara and Sarah look anxiously towards the scoreboard for confirmation of the time, but Danielle seems more intent on spotting chocolate puddings!

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Gail Griffiths and Alderney's Nikki Neal congratulate each other after a great scrap for 5th place throughout most of the women's 10000m race. The 2005 silver medallist Nikki eventually came out on top in that particular battle, but Gail was justifiably delighted with her run.

Every picture tells a story! Guernsey's Lee Garland and Foxdale's very own Darren Gray find that exhaustion is a 'barrier' to conversation immediately after the 3000m Steeplechase Final. Darren took a richly deserved bronze medal just behind the highly experienced Guernsey athlete. And yes, he did get a free pint in the Baltic on his return home!

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It was not a happy Island Games debut for Tom Richmond, but he still manages half a smile. He struggled with a foot injury, which has since been diagnosed as a stress fracture of a metatarsal which will rule him out of the remainder of the track season. Tom is a hugely talented athlete as he proved with his performances last season. His time will surely come in future Island Games!

Gail Griffiths pictured at the start of the 10000m Final with 2005 gold medallist Michelle Sandison of Shetland. Michelle's injury problems caught up with her in the second half of the race and she finished last this time. I well remember the rapturous reception she received from her home crowd 4 years ago, so this was one of the sadder moments of the Games for me.

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The roving reporter! As usual, John Watterson's coverage of the Island Games in the Independent and Examiner was superb - as was his mode of transport in Aland!

Watty didn't spend the whole week on his scooter though. Here he captures an image of a joyous and patriotic Rachael Franklin after her brilliant silver medal winning performance in the 1500m Final.

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It has to be said that the girls out-medalled the boys during the Games, so it's no wonder that Rachael Franklin, Danielle Ross and Gemma Astin never stopped smiling throughout the week!

A rare moment of rest for the video camera! I promise that this will be the first and last photograph of me on the blog. I will be putting together a DVD from my 7 hours plus of video footage, but please be patient. I have plenty to catch up on before I will get a chance to start on this.

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Hollie Bass appears to be holding the bar on with her right hand! Hollie reckons she still has work to do on her High Jump technique, but it was a great performance to win a bronze medal on her Island Games return. She loved every moment of being part of the team again.

Relay controversy. This is the heat of the women's 4x100m relay, in which Jersey were disqualified for an infringement in their final changeover. They produced video evidence which, they claimed, proved that their changeover was completed before the end of the box. This was accepted by the organisers, and they were reinstated. Anthony Brand's photo suggests that their baton change was pretty late though - Harriet is already well on her way and the Jersey girls look distinctly worried!

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Winning your first individual Island Games medal is an emotional moment, as Harriet shows when pictured with her mum Cheryl shortly after the 400m Final!

A star of the future! Charlotte Christian looks happy as she is pictured shortly after her 4th place finish in the Hammer, and she will surely have a great chance of getting into the medals next time. When you consider how many 4th and 5th places the team achieved as well as the 12 medals, it is clear what a vibrant future this team has.

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Ben Brand and Thomas Riley also narrowly missed out on individual medals, finishing in 4th place in the 400m and 200m Finals respectively. Both have every chance of successful Island Games futures - Thomas already has a silver medal from the 100m in Rhodes in 2007. They both won 2 silver medals apiece in the relays.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2009 Some photo memories - Part 3 This is the third and final instalment of random photographic memories from Aland, all 10 of which are taken from the Brand collection. I hope these, and the blog in general, will provide some lasting memories of a week that none of us who were there will ever forget.

The 'Games Square' area was an inspired idea by the Games organisers in Aland. It was a great way to meet competitors and supporters from the other islands, although the competitors had to wait until the last day to sample some of the 'liquid delights' on offer!

Winning your first individual medal is a great moment for any competitor, and Darren Gray looks suitably happy as he gets ready for the 3000m steeplechase medal ceremony!

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"I did 17.51, Mum!" Gemma Astin is pleased with her new 5000m pb, and no wonder...

...it earned her the first medal of her Island Games career, surely the first of many!

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Ben Brand had a very good week, finishing with 2 silver medals in the relays - his first Games medals.

Ryan Fairclough also earned a silver medal for his excellent contribution to the 4x400m relay Heat .

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Peter Richardson won a bronze medal in the 4x100m relay in Rhodes, and improved that to two relay silvers in Aland...

...as did Michael Haslett, who also kept the team well entertained throughout the week!

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Many great athletes have graced the Natwest Island Games down the years, but Aland's Janne Holmen must be one of the very best. The 2002 European Marathon champion bowed out of competitive athletics at the age of 31 after his home island's Games, smashing the Games records in both the Half Marathon and 10000 metres.

This will perhaps be the enduring image of the 2009 Island Games for the Isle of Man's athletics team - the record-breaking, gold medal winning 4x100m women's relay team.

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Aland Adventure