Amy-Eloise Markovc’s European gold medal brings welcome focus on Wakefield Harriers

It was refreshing to hear the name of Wakefield Harriers in the news this weekend – and timely.

Golden girl: Wakefield Harriers’ Amy-Eloise Markovc won gold in the 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships. Picture: (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

The long-established athletics club found itself being mentioned as part of the story of Amy-Eloise Markovc the 25-year-old club member who won a gold medal in the 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships in Poland on Friday night. Doing so live on BBC Television in a primetime slot was the perfect shot in the arm for the club, and the sport of athletics, which is in dire need of a few good-news stories.

Markovc’s association with Wakefield Harriers, though, is not a deep one.

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Markovc, nee Neale, was born in Stockport but moved to America with her family aged just two. She earned a scholarship to the University of Washington where her running developed. She has dual-nationality but chose to run for Great Britain. To do that she needed a British club to represent and when her parents moved to a village just outside Wakefield four years ago, Wakefield Harriers was the obvious choice.

Amy-Eloise Markovc of Great Britain (L) on her way to winning the Women's 3000 metres during the European Athletics Indoor Championships at Torun Arena on March 04, 2021 in Poland. (Picture: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for European Athletics)

“It’s fantastic that Amy-Eloise has represented the club with such distinction,” said Harriers chairman Chris Bedford.

“The name of Wakefield Harriers is already one that carries far and wide and we’re very proud of what she’s accomplished. We’ve been in touch with her and hopefully she can come back and see us.”

Markovc’s success is timely in that it comes just a week before proposals for a brand new replacement facility at the Harriers’ Thornes Park Stadium are set to be presented to Wakefield Council’s cabinet.

Thornes Park Stadium was built by the council in 1991 for the provision of athletics. There is an eight-lane running track which widens to 10 lanes on the straight, and an in-field, complete with long jump track, javelin run-ups and all the other elements of a traditional athletics in-field. But no stand was built, meaning as good as the track was and still is, the Harriers – who rent the facility – cannot host even regional events.

Thornes Park stadium and leisure centre. (Picture courtesy of Google)

Last February the stadium building was badly damaged by fire, prompting the council to look at how to rebuild it. The council want Thornes Park to be amenable for all recreational users in the area, by providing a 3G football pitch and indoor bowls space among facilities.

Coun Jacquie Speight of Wakefield Council said: “Levels of physical activity in the district remain low and below average and adult and child obesity rates in Wakefield are above national and regional averages.

“It is important that the Council ensures there is a wide range of indoor and outdoor physical activity opportunities for all residents.”

Harriers are concerned that the 3G pitch will be built in the in-field of the athletics track, which would need to be reduced by two lanes to accommodate it.

They are not opposed to the site as a whole being used for multiple sports, so long as their athletics facilities are not hampered. “Six lanes would hamstring us severely,” said Bedford, who was keen to stress the club have a good working relationship with the council.

“It wouldn’t make sense to reduce the number of lanes because you would then be reducing the number of meetings we could have, and more people at the site means more money going into the cafe etc.”

A further statement from Julie Russell, Service Director: Arts, Culture and Leisure at Wakefield Council, read: “A consultation and feasibility study has been held that has given stakeholders, including clubs who currently use the facilities, the opportunity to comment and feedback on initial proposals.

“This feedback has been carefully considered and will be presented to Cabinet members on March 16 providing options for their approval.

“The recommendations include a change of initial proposals, to place a 3G Artificial Grass Pitch in the athletics track infield and to instead find another suitable, alternative location in the Park to be determined at the next stage.

“The proposals also include options for a 400 metre running track to be flood lit for all year round use. It would either be a six lane track with an eight lane sprint track. Or an eight lane track and an eight land sprint track, depending on costs and feasibility, all to be determined at the next stage of development.”

In a non-Covid world Harriers have 100 juniors and another 100 seniors training with them twice a week. More may now come after watching Markovc run so impressively on Friday night.

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