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Dowinton gets the taste for taking on longer distance

Athletics | Published:

THE teenage hurdler who so excellently rose to the occasion of the Gibraltar 2019 NatWest International Island Games now has ‘Home Games’ success in her distance vision.

Rhiannon Dowinton in the 400m hurdles in Gibraltar. (Picture by William Gracia)

In the build-up to Gibraltar, 16-year-old Rhiannon Dowinton’s competition experience had been almost solely over the standard U17 distances of 80mH and 300mH.

But stepping up to the senior distances of 100mH and 400mH, together with the heightened barriers they entail, she came home with an unexpected gold in the former and new confidence in the latter.

Her sprint-hurdles triumph came against two accomplished Games veterans.

Both Isle of Man’s Hannah Riley and Menorca’s Angela Marti vastly outstrip the Guernsey Grammar School student for experience and yet Dowinton won the windswept final in 16.34sec.

‘I did not expect it at all – I did not think I would get a medal or anything,’ said an athlete who had only raced the distance once prior to her heat.

‘It was just amazing. A really good experience.’

The deciding factor in such conditions came down to the stride pattern of the hurdles.

While she and coach Nick Marley had worked hard to nail the usually optimal three-stride pattern with just days left, the conditions in Gibraltar did not suit – as she rapidly found.

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‘When I felt myself stretching for the hurdles on three strides, I just changed to four,’ added Dowinton.

‘The first four strides were a bit slow but then you gain speed back up again.’

Of the technical aspect, coach Marley added: ‘Four strides means you’re off each leg alternately. You’ve got to hurdle off your right and your left leg, and that’s the tricky bit.’

However, it was a transition best described as seamless and in the heat of the moment, even her experienced rivals faded.

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Marti, the defending champion, said afterwards: ‘I started at three, then four, then five – I’ve never done that before’.

Marley took Dowinton’s stumble at the end in good spirits, light-heartedly terming it ‘a superman jump’.

Over the 400m hurdles, she finished just outside the medal places in her first-ever race over the distance.

‘It was really good – that was the first time I had ever run over that in a competition,’ said the teenager of an event that was not a major priority for the Games, with the extra distance representing a big challenge.

‘I didn’t expect to run that well over it.

‘Gibraltar was a really good experience. It was so fun and a really good place to have my first Games as well, ready for Guernsey.’

Of course, at her tender age and already a champion, Dowinton will be hoping for more once the Games return here in two years’ time.

Looking to her future plans, the shy athlete grins subtly at the prospect of defending her title, but she also hints at a bid to up her game over the longer distance.

‘I will obviously be looking to do a lot of training for 400m hurdles, so maybe hope to medal in that,’ she said.

‘At the moment, I don’t know.’

Coach Marley is grateful to the Footes Lane contractors for leaving one straight open into July – something that may have proved vital for one of the most unexpected triumphs of the Games.

. THE annual four-part Cliff Path Series makes its return from tomorrow morning.

Race one takes runners on a testing near-10km route from Havelet to Petit Port, including the notorious Jerbourg Steps, and back via a loop.

Jim De Garis, who earned maximum points last year despite trailing visitor James Espie in the concluding 'Dogbreaker' 15-miler, is the current champion.

Tomorrow's race starts at 9am and entries are available on the day from an hour beforehand.

Jamie Ingrouille

By Jamie Ingrouille
Sports reporter

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