Chichester athletes are third at Portsmouth - but so close to second

Relay action involving Chichester Runners at Portsmouth
Relay action involving Chichester Runners at Portsmouth

Chichester were agonisingly pushed into third place in a thrilling Southern League fixture at Portsmouth where the top three teams kept swapping the lead throughout the match.

Just over ten points separated them from winners Havant, with Berkshire-based Team Kennet just half a point in front after a combined total of 72 events.

These three finished well clear of a combined Lewes and Haywards Heath team in fourth while Sutton & District were soundly beaten in fifth.

With a squad of 30, this was the best all-round team Chichester had been able to put out in the four years since the men’s and women’s matches were combined into a single fixture. It also marked the first time Chichester’s women had outscored the men in a joint match.

In the women’s events, leading from the front were two athletes who combined youth and experience. Still an under-17, Jess Breach scored a double A string win and was the thickness of a vest away from making it a hat-trick.

Just pipped in the 100m in 12.6 seconds, the same time as the Sutton athlete, Breach made no mistake in the long jump and shot putt where marks of over five and nine metres were good enough for maximum points.

The other A string winner was Linda Spencer, visiting England from her home in Western Australia, principally to try to gain selection for the Commonwealth Games over 10,000m but staying on for some local action.

Spencer opted for the 3,000m at Portsmouth and strode home in a fine time of 9.35min, a new division record by 30 seconds and only just over a second outside the Southern League record. Backing up well was Linda Roberts to give Chichester nearly maximum points.

Caitlin Moore and Alex Fryday looked sharp in the sprints while Rosie Riedel-O’Brien showed fine form in the hurdles, with Fryday supporting over 100m and veteran Helen Dean tackling the 400m.

Rose Ellis and Saskia Gardam recorded second places in the 1,500m while Charlotte Reading and Hannah Croad were going well in the 800m before Croad was unluckily tripped when trying to get a clear run down the back straight.

The pair made up for this in the 400m with two confident runs.

In the field events, Nathalie Godden and Poppy Wildsmith combined well to score near-maximum points in the high jump while the throws featured a combination of youth and experience with under-17s Alex Jarrold and Chayleigh Jennings joined by veterans Dean, Jenny Nunn and Sandra Nemorin-Noel to cement Chichester’s women as matchwinners of their section.

With half a dozen key athletes missing from the men’s squad for this match, Chichester called on capable replacements to support their regulars.

Two of these made their mark at Portsmouth with double A-string victories. Ollie Smith was again in commanding form in the 400m with a 49sec clocking in testing conditions.

In the 200m he was drawn in the outside lane with two very good athletes from Team Kennet and Sutton on his inside. Coming off the bend just behind his rivals, Smith powered away over the last 50m for an impressive win in 22.3sec, a fraction outside his all-time best.

The other double win was from James Baker who followed a smooth 3,000m in just over nine minutes with a fluent steeplechase, with Harry Lyne running well in the B string.

James McKenzie was involved in one of the most exciting races in the match, losing out by less than half a second to the Team Kennet runner in a new PB time of 1.56.9. Adam Croad dipped under 2.20 for the first time for second in the B string.

University student Tom O’Donnell ran a brisk 100m in 12.0 sec while Stephen McNally joined Lyne to score good points in the 400m hurdles and Sam Reading stepped in over 200m in addition to his non-scoring middle-distance races.

Harry Pink and Aaron Hancock teamed up for the 1,500m and Hancock tried his best to fill the shoes of decathlete Charlie Roe, unavailable for the fixture, by adding all four jumps, the high hurdles and the two relays to his tally of events.

Chichester showed their improving balance in the all-round team showing with three very capable throwers in action. Tim Brown, the mainstay of the throws for Chichester over the past decade, was joined by university lecturer and decathlete Phil Kearney and Andy Hall, who is returning to local competition after several years abroad.

Brown was joined by Kearney in the shot and javelin and by Hall in the hammer while Hall joined Kearney in the discus.

Chichester return to the Mountbatten Centre for their next league fixture on Saturday, June 21.

PHIL BAKER