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Time to shine for stars of the future

Young athletes take on part of iconic course in Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon

One of the great traditions of London Marathon Sunday has been restored to its rightful place, as the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon roared back into life.

The event, which sees athletics stars of the future getting their first taste of big-time competition, sadly had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, excited youngsters throughout Britain were eager to make up for lost time as they grabbed their chance to take on 2.6K stretching from Temple Place all the way to The Mall.

It was a fantastic experience for the youngsters, all aged between 11 and 17, as they competed over the iconic final section of the full Virgin Money London Marathon route itself. 

Northern Ireland’s Emma McKee could hardly contain her excitement as she took the title fought for by the youngest runners, saying she couldn’t believe it when she turned into the famous finish down The Mall and powered home to become the Girls Under-13 champion.

“It was really amazing!” she said afterwards. “I’ve never been to London before and it’s so cool to be here and winning my first race in London. I didn’t have a plan – I just ran as fast as I could!”

That’s the glorious all-or-nothing tactics that kids have been employing in the Mini London Marathon for years. If it was good enough for the likes of David Weir and Mo Farah in the past, it was certainly going to work for some of the class of 2021.

The amazing Weir, who finished third in his 22nd appearance in the wheelchair race on Sunday, had been reflecting in the build-up about how wonderful it was to have competed in the Mini London Marathon – he won it seven times – and in Illias Zghoundi, he may now have found a youngster who could follow in his tracks.

“I went full power at the end, as it was a sprint finish,” smiled Zghoundi, who won three English titles in August and has been helped by Weir, after he raced to the Boys Under-17 wheelchair title, winning by just one second from Oliver Porter.

“I’m really happy with my first place. David Weir has been a big influence on me and it’s great to follow him.”

Alex Yee, Britain’s Olympic gold medal-winning triathlete, who also competed in the Mini London Marathon as a youngster, said he was honoured to be official starter for the day’s races.

Asked what the young Yee would have thought if he’d been told back then that he’d go on to win a gold and silver at the same Tokyo Games, he smiled: “He’d probably have laughed in your face!”

But the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon kindles dreams, and some of Sunday’s winners were doubtless inspired by other Tokyo Olympic medallists, such as Laura Muir, Keely Hodgkinson and Josh Kerr – also Mini London Marathon veterans.

“I’m really looking forward to the cross-country, as I really want to develop this in my career,” explained Enfield’s Jorjia March, after taking the Borough Challenge Girls Under-13 title as the top finisher among competitors from all London’s 33 boroughs.

“It was very busy at the start, but then it evened out and I got my own pace and I managed to keep that going.”

Northern Ireland’s Nick Griggs, who won the men’s 3000m final at the recent European Athletics U20 Championships, was perhaps unsurprisingly the fastest runner of the day, scooting round the course in seven minutes, 21 seconds as he took the Boys Under-17 crown.

Yet it was a triumph that surprised him, after some recent woes: “I had an unbelievable race considering I only had Covid three weeks ago,” explained the Tyrone runner. My plan was to sit up with the leading pack and, when anyone made a move, I’d push hard and see how long I could last.”

Next stop, he said, would be the Irish cross-country championships.

Like many of those champions listed below, the Griggs’ name may well be one to watch in the future.

2021 Virgin Money Giving Mini Marathon winners

  • Boys Under-13: Jake Meyburgh (South East) 08:14
  • Boys Under-15: Gianleo Stubbs (London) 07:42
  • Boys Under-17: Nick Griggs (Northern Ireland) 07:21
  • Girls Under-13: Emer McKee (Northern Ireland) 08:28
  • Girls Under-15: Zoe Gilbody (West Midlands) 08:21
  • Girls Under-17: Jess Bailey (North West) 08:14
  • Boys Ambulant Under-14: Oliver Scott 08:59
  • Boys Ambulant Under-17: Arthur Milles 09:43
  • Boys Wheelchair Under-14: Oliver Porter 07:43
  • Boys Wheelchair Under-17: Illias Zghoundi 07:42
  • Girls Wheelchair Under-14: Yasmine Hodkinson 10:00
  • Girls Wheelchair Under-17: Chloe Lewis 09:55

2021 London Borough Challenge winners

  • Boys Under-13: Joseph Scanes (Bromley) 08:15
  • Boys Under-15: Gianleo Stubbs (Barnet) 07:42
  • Boys Under-17: Jacob Taylor (Southwark) 07:34
  • Girls Under-13: Jorjia March (Enfield) 09:10
  • Girls Under-15: Katie Pye (Kingston) 08:45
  • Girls Under-17: Fleur Todd-Warmoth (Wandsworth) 08:23