From Neil Riddell in Åland. Photos by Kevin Jones.
Emma Leask became the new golden girl in Shetland’s athletics on the medal rostrum for the first time when she won on the finish line in the 800m on the final morning of track competition at the Island Games in Åland on Friday.
The Lerwick girl, who only turns 16 later this month, ran a quite sensational time of 2:15.39, only six hundredths of a second ahead of the Western Isles’ Eilidh Mackenzie. She was only entered in the race at a late stage having previously been more accustomed to running shorter distances, and she tore through the final 100m to cruise past Gibraltar’s Kim Baglietto before pipping Mackenzie on the line in a photo finish.
And just over an hour later, things got even better when Leask – running the final leg of the women’s 4x400m relay – took Shetland home for a team bronze after her team mates Allie Elphinstone, Megan Smith and Inga Woods had provided a sizeable lead over the first three laps. Their time of 4:07.50 left them third behind Jersey and the Isle of Man.
It has lifted spirits hugely among the squad, providing by far the most emotional moment of the week as tears of joy were shed at Leask’s unexpected success. Later in the day, a silver medal-winning outing from shooter John Magnus Laurenson in the Olympic skeet individual event brought Team Shetland into double figures at the end of their final day.
It was a fitting finale as Laurenson and team mate Bryan Sutherland had set the ball rolling with a team bronze medal on Monday. Laurenson’s score of 131 was just a single point ahead of Sutherland, who was tied with the Isle of Man’s 13-year-old Daniel Shacklock and Bengt-Olof Lindgren from the hosts. He missed out on a bronze medal after misfiring two shots in the three-way play-off.
Shetland Island Games Association chairman Andrew Inkster said: “John Magnus has been strong for a while now, we knew he’d do well. They got us off to a good start and have finished off with a silver, we’re delighted. Bryan did very well too, it’s his first games away from home and to get into the skeet final against the standard of competition that we’ve seen here today is incredible.
“To grab a gold, silver and bronze on the final day is just what dreams are made of, absolutely delighted with the performance .From Emma this morning through to the girls in the 4×100 and now John Magnus with his silver has just rounded off a fantastic last day.”
Leask, who only took up athletics less than four years ago, could scarcely comprehend what she had achieved: “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, oh my god!” she gasped after being mobbed by delighted team mates and her proud mother down at the track side when, after an agonising 15-minute wait, it was confirmed that she had won gold.
After receiving her medal on Friday lunchtime, she still wasn’t sure if the victory had quite sunk in yet. “I’m still in shock, I didn’t expect to get a gold in the 800m, and getting the bronze in the relay with the Shetland girls is really good. I was lying about sixth with about 200m to go but I knew I still had enough left so I kicked and just gave it my all in the last 100m.
“I didn’t know if I’d got gold but it was probably about the last 10m I realised I could maybe get this, so I sprinted and ducked at the line. I’m only 15, so I can only improve. I’d like to thank my coaches, my family and friends for supporting me. My mum was really happy with me, she’s so proud.”
Coach Martin Leyland said Leask had only been entered at the last minute after running a personal best of around two minutes and 21 seconds in a Scottish schools race a few weeks ago. “That’s how stories are made,” he said. “That lass has just executed the perfect race, she’s done it.”
A tearful team manager Karen Craigie said they had been a bit worried at the mid point of the second lap when Leask appeared to get boxed in the running pack, but she had run a “fantastic” final 100m to bring home gold.
“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” said Craigie. “We know she’s got that speed, we didn’t realise just how much. I’m so, so happy for her and the team. She did a really good Scottish schools a month ago, so we thought we’d put her in and see what she can do. You just never know what these games are going to throw up, do you?”
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Lerwick postman Bill Adams, 62, bowed out of the Island Games 18 years after winning a team silver medal in the half marathon when the games was also here in Åland. He ran the 13 miles in just over one hour and 25 minutes to finish in 18th place out of 24. Team mate Karl Simpson was almost three minutes faster to claim 15th.
Adams received one of the most rousing cheers of the tournament at the Wiklöff Holding Arena on Sunday evening when he ran in the 10,000m and was even approached by “a couple of middle-aged ladies” from Jersey later in the week who told him he was their hero.
“It’s nice to bow out on a high,” he said. “For the conditions, it was a good time, pretty tough out there today. It would have been a lot worse yesterday, it was very, very hot. The supporters have been great, the spectators – they cheered me almost as much as the guy who won. I was here 18 years ago and I really wanted to come back, it was good to be back as part of the athletics team. It’s a very young team here and they’ve done really, really well. These young lasses getting medals – that’s the future.”
There was disappointment for Sakchai Makao when a niggling injury restricted him to a single jump in the men’s triple jump final on Friday morning, although he did still manage 12.98m to finish in 8th place, less than 1m short of the bronze medal position.
Meanwhile, table tennis mixed doubles pair Lynda Flaws and Daniel Mainland bowed out at the group stages when, after comfortably seeing off Alderney 11-8, 11-3, 11-7, they lost out 3-0 and 3-1 to Faroe and Gotland respectively to finish third in the group.
Lone golfer Jordan Leask had a better day on the course on Thursday, shooting a much improved 75 after Wednesday’s 84, to bump himself back up the leaderboard to joint 26th in a field of 79 golfers ahead of Friday afternoon’s final round at the Castle Course, in which he posted a 77 leaving him with an overall four-round score of 313. That moved him up to a highly impressive 22nd on the leaderboard in a field including some top-notch golfers.
Their final day success means Shetland, having been sitting below Orkney for the past three days or so, have now climbed above their nearest neighbours in the medal table. Inkster said: “That’s absolutely right, I’ll better be careful what I say with an Orkney man standing behind me, but significantly we’ve hit double figures. To come away with ten medals is bloody good going. We’ve got a young team and we knew medals weren’t just going to be plentiful this time around, but ten is an excellent result.”