Athletes’ triumph shows future of the sport in Chichester is healthy

Joe McLarnon claims a close-fought win on the track for Chi juniors at Woking / Picture by Lee Hollyer
Joe McLarnon claims a close-fought win on the track for Chi juniors at Woking / Picture by Lee Hollyer

Chichester’s junior athletes are champions again – showing the future of the sport in the area is in a healthy state.

They celebrated in style at Woking on Saturday when an emphatic victory in the final National League match of the season lifted them to the top of the table to be crowned league champions for the second year in succession.

Over the past two decades, there have been a number of league titles and a host of Sussex county champions who have passed through their ranks.

Lying in third place in the six-club league behind Walton AC and Winchester & District AC at the start of the day, a squad of nearly 50 athletes showed touches of individual brilliance and great team spirit to win the match by a staggering 70 points over Walton and league leaders Winchester.

It is fitting that this result comes at the end of the club’s 20th season in junior track and field athletics.

For the first decade of their existence until 1994, Chichester Runners & AC were almost exclusively a middle-distance road-running and cross-country club for senior athletes and a handful of juniors on their books.

The club decided to branch out into senior athletics and in May 1998 the first junior team travelled to Crawley for their opening Young Athletes match and were delighted not to finish in last place even with a squad of just eight athletes, more or less the total number of juniors on the books at the time.

Now there are more than 150 juniors in the club’s membership of 400-plus, ranging from under-13s through to sixth-form and college students in the under-20 age group.

Over the past two decades, there have been a number of league titles and a host of Sussex county champions who have passed through their ranks.

International discus thrower Simon Cooke was a member of that original team while middle-distance runner Linda Spencer and high-jumper Isobel Brown have pursued athletic careers in Australia and America respectively.

Crystal Palace footballer Joel Ward was a useful middle-distance runner and javelin thrower in his youth while sprinter Harvey Byrne, decathlete Charlie Roe and 400m runner Ollie Smith have made their mark on the national stage.

More recently middle-distance runners Will Broom and Ben Collins have gained English schools places for Sussex, as have sprinters Sophie-Anne Haigh and Alyssa White.

Just one of the 2017 vintage has achieved such individual success, 800m runner Liam Dunne, but this has more than been made up for by the team spirit of the whole squad, whether in the scoring team or as reserves.

The Chichester club have always had a background in the middle-distance events but in recent years the sprints and field events have played a crucial part in their success and recognition must go to the coaching team of Phil Kearney, Andy Hall, David Churcher and Helen Dean for their hard work. Above all, it is the athletes themselves who deserve praise for the performances over the season.

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