Willesden squad in running battle
PUBLISHED: 17:47 24 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:54 24 August 2010
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By Ben Kosky WILLESDEN S junior athletes are aiming to strike gold at the National Schools Indoor Championships this weekend – in more ways than one. The squad includes four medallists from the recent South of England Championships – sprint pair Lumar Sy
By Ben Kosky
WILLESDEN'S junior athletes are aiming to strike gold at the National Schools' Indoor Championships this weekend - in more ways than one.
The squad includes four medallists from the recent South of England Championships - sprint pair Lumar Sylvester and Annie Tagoe, triple jumper James Okeyemi and Marilyn Nwawullor in the long jump.
Further medals in Birmingham would not only reward the efforts of the Willesden youngsters and their coaches - it might also help ease a severe cash shortfall.
Although the squad, who train three times a week at Willesden Sports Centre, are affiliated to Thames Valley Harriers AC, they receive no funding from central bodies like UK Athletics.
That means the young hopefuls will have to travel up to Birmingham at 6am on Saturday - less than ideal preparation - as they cannot afford the costs of an extra overnight stay.
Squad director Connie Henry, who heads a coaching team that includes other former international stars such as Julian Golding and Larry Achike, explained: "In a way we're becoming a victim of our own success.
"There are so many kids coming through that it's harder to afford to keep the programme going. That's why we're trying to get UK Athletics and England Athletics to recognise us and give us some financial support.
"Their system is to put all the clubs into a network and they decide how to allocate funding, not the clubs. The problem is that we're not a club, just a squad, and we're not recognised as a legitimate structure.
"We've got 50 kids coming to us three times a week, we're seeing some great results and we're giving them all these athletes - yet they just don't seem to understand."
Sylvester, 18, a student at the College of North West London, broke his personal best en route to the 200m title at the South of England final last month.
Sixteen-year-old Tagoe, who attends the Covent of Jesus and Mary in Harlesden, will also run in the 200m, but her top target is the 60m, where she is already ranked number one in the country at under-20 level.
Tagoe was the squad's sole representative at last year's nationals and returned with two silver medals, but Henry is hopeful the teenager can do even better this time.
She said: "Last year we didn't send more because we weren't happy with their commitment. This time I sat the squad down, reminding them they had to prove they were worth the effort.
"They've listened and responded and I'm expecting a minimum of three medals - and a gold somewhere along the line. Annie is the newest member of the squad, but she's shown the quickest improvement and really matured along the way.
"The school are really supportive, both educationally and in terms of her athletics career. If they knuckle down in school, we find they knuckle down in training as well.
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