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Willesden athletes are running out of cash

PUBLISHED: 15:27 03 March 2010 | UPDATED: 14:55 24 August 2010

Connie Henry

Connie Henry

By Ben Kosky WILLESDEN S cash-starved junior squad are set to be disbanded later this year – despite claiming their first ever gold medal at the National Indoor Championships. Sprinter Marilyn Nwawullor stormed to gold in the 60m at Birmingham, while two

By Ben Kosky

WILLESDEN'S cash-starved junior squad are set to be disbanded later this year - despite claiming their first ever gold medal at the National Indoor Championships.

Sprinter Marilyn Nwawullor stormed to gold in the 60m at Birmingham, while two other Willesden youngsters - Annie Tagoe in the 200m and triple jumper James Okeyemi - picked up bronze medals.

But, despite the squad's success, director Connie Henry has warned that an acute funding shortfall will force her to end the coaching programme at Willesden Sports Centre within a matter of months.

She said: "As usual the squad continues to look for funding to pay for the coaches, the facility and the management of this success. This financial support has been slow in coming.

"Therefore it is with great regret that I have to announce I will not be able to continue to run the squad after this year.

"It is simply not feasible to continue without financial backing.

"I am still hopeful that a solution can be found and I am leaving no stone unturned. It seems ridiculous, two years out from the country's Olympic Games, that squads like this may have to shut down.

"However, if there is no change, the Willesden junior athletics squad will have to be disbanded in August. In the meantime we hope to positively influence the lives of as many children as possible."

Henry has headed the coaching squad at Willesden for three years, along with former international colleagues such as Clarence Callender, Larry Achike and Julian Golding.

But, although the squad are affiliated to Thames Valley Harriers AC, the system of funding allocation employed by central organisations like UK Athletics means they receive no financial support.

The squad, who meet for training three times each week, consists of around 50 youngsters - 14 of whom travelled to the national finals last weekend.

Seventeen-year-old Nwawullor set a personal best in every round of the 60m and clocked a time of 7.47 seconds to win the final.

And 16-year-old Okeyemi - coached by Olympic triple jumper Achike - also set a personal best in his event, leaping 14.66m to win the bronze medal and rise to third place in the national under-20 rankings.

There were mixed fortunes for Tagoe, 16, who ran a personal best of 7.52 seconds in the 60m and then lowered that even further to 7.43 in the semi-final, enough to confirm her as national number one in her age group.

But disaster struck in the final as Tagoe's vest came loose and she lost vital seconds attempting to tuck it back in, eventually finishing fourth with what was still a respectable time of 7.51.

Despite that bitter heartbreak, the teenager from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Harlesden, displayed immense character as she returned to the track the following day and clocked 24.49 to take the bronze medal in the 200m.

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