More than 60 Chichester Runners & AC members tackled the mud and hills of the Sussex cross-country championships course at Bexhill - and emerged with a host of individual and team medals.
After the recent storms, organisers from Hastings AC had done wonders to clear fallen trees and debris and produce a challenging course for the showpiece fixture of the county’s season.
This was the main chance to impress the selectors for inclusion in the Sussex teams for the national inter-counties event in Birmingham later in the season.
After nearly four hours of racing, Chichester emerged with four individual medals and four team awards, including two golds.
Under-11, 13 and 15
Organisers began the day with an under-11 race which brought immediate success for Chichester with Charlotte Bullard getting a well-deserved second in the girls’ race, followed by Fleur Hollyer in tenth and Rose Potter 14th. James Smith was the club’s only runner in the boys’ race, finishing in the main pack in 15th.
The under-13 girls produced excellent racing over the 3,000m lap and a pack of half a dozen emerged at the head of the field, led by two Brighton Phoenix athletes who have been dominant all season.
Chichester’s Olivia Wiseman was keeping in touch with two Hastings athletes in third and fourth and was on their shoulders with just the 400m home straight to run.
Great determination saw Wiseman go fourth and make a final break clear to snatch bronze, a great achievement in her first full year at this level.
There was good packing from Chloe Croad in 21st, Florence Smith 27th and Amelia Freeman 29th resulting in fourth team place.
In the under-13 boys’ race, Chichester knew they were in for a high-quality race as the top four Sussex athletes were all in action.
In the absence of the injured Ben Collins, in-form Leo Stallard led the Chichester team and he did not disappoint with an excellent fifth place, gaining automatic selection to represent Sussex in the national inter-counties at Birmingham.
There was a great battle for the team medals among the rest of the field with Ned Potter in 16th and Jeremy Sharp 20th to win an unexpected team bronze by a single point. Showing good strength in depth, Jack Dean led the B team home in 28th place with Harry Carter 32nd and Harry Smith 35th for tenth in the team rankings.
There was a good showing from the under-15 boys with two full teams in action. The A team showed great packing with Brodie Keates in 13th getting the better of Adam Croad 15th and a fast-finishing Ben Morton in 16th for a team total of 44 points, which left them fourth.
Sam Reading was hot on their heels in 18th to lead the B team home and with Kai Terry 29th and Jack Blackman 30th just beating reserve Benedict Robinson, they scored 77 points for seventh place.
In the under-15 girls’ race, injuries and unavailability meant Grace Wills was the club’s sole competitor but she finished seventh, her highest position of the season giving her an excellent chance of Sussex selection.
The age group where Chichester had the best hopes of winning team and individual medals was under-17, where the club have excelled all season. But nothing can be taken for granted in a one-off championship race.
Rose Ellis tried to dominate the women’s race as she has done all season and was clear halfway through the tough 5,000m course. Still leading coming into the final straight, she could not quite hold off her fast-finishing Brighton rival and had to be content with a silver medal with the consolation of knowing she has another year in the age group, having won the under-15 title a year ago.
With Brighton seeing their next runner finish fifth, just in front of Chichester’s Emma Maynard in seventh, it all came down to the third scorer for each team.
Hannah Croad confirmed her recent good form finishing in ninth for a total of 18 points and Chichester claimed team gold by just two points. Reserve Lucy Ellis ran a solid race in 17th.
In the men’s race, there was the usual fast start from virtually the whole field with Harry Leleu prominent from early on.
Brighton’s Stephen Ferroni pushed the pace after the first mile and was full of confidence having won the Brighton Boxing Day road race as a 15-year-old, beating every senior in the process.
Leleu decided to hang on to Ferroni for as long as possible and this worked to perfection as the pair found they had daylight to the rest of the field. Father back, there was a tussle between Chichester and the two Brighton clubs for team honours with Brighton Phoenix looking to provide the greatest threat.
With Leleu safely home in second place there was a battle down the home straight with Casey Keates finding himself with a chance of an individual medal. With a final flourish and a great turn of speed, Keates swept past the Phoenix runner to claim individual bronze.
Josh James came in seventh to give Chichester a team total of 12 points for one of the most convincing team victories of the day.
With Leleu and Keates already assured of Sussex selection and with James having a strong claim, all three could form the backbone of the Sussex team in Birmingham. Good back-up brought Harry Lyne in 18th, just pipping Harry Pink by one place and a single second.
Under-20 and senior men and women
The final two races of the day were even more testing than usual with the muddy conditions made worse by the preceding races.
With the under-20 men running with the seniors for the first 8,000m, the first Chichester vest to be spotted was that of James McKenzie, leading all his senior rivals.
He was quickly establishing himself among the top half-dozen in his age group and finished strongly to claim a well-deserved bronze in his best race of the season.
The seniors had to tackle an extra circuit with the field led at lightning pace by South of England champion Jon Pepper from Brighton Phoenix, who went on the claim a hat-trick of wins.
Leading Chichester runner in the absence of James Baker was improving Stephen Davy, rewarded with a fine 37th place - one of the top veteran athletes in the field.
Andy Maynard and Aaron Hancock were 51st and 52nd, with Rob Wiggins continuing his fine season in 60th - he is a firm favourite for the Sussex Masters over-60 title in two weeks.
Completing the scoring for the A team were John Bullard in 62nd and Keith Akerman in 63rd for a team total of 325 points for eighth place. With good packing, the rest of the Chichester squad were Nick Palmer in 72nd, Mike Moorcroft 77th, Dave Reading 83rd, John Betts 85th and Peter Shaw 86th.
The final race at these championships involves the senior women, who have a combined race with the under-20s.
In the league races, the seniors have been able to count on the likes of Rose Ellis and the other under-17s for team scoring but in the championships they run separately.
Rosie Hiles, having recovered from illness, was soon in the leading group with Fay Cripps and Jane Harrop in the top 20 and Georgina Warner vying with Helen Pattinson for the fourth scoring place.
With Hastings junior international Grace Baker and South of England medallist Emma Macready at the head of the field, Hiles ran superbly to stay in the top five, not far behind the leaders.
She consolidated this place to the end and was followed for Chichester by Cripps and Harrop, who were ninth and tenth respectively.
With race favourites Arena 80 assured of the team title, Chichester’s fourth scorer was Pattinson, who finished strongly to come home 21st for a team total of 45 points to clinch Chichester’s best-ever senior women’s team result, taking silver medals and leaving joint favourites Brighton & Hove third. Warner finished well in 34th and was fifth in the under-20 category and with veterans Sue Baker and Sandra Nemorin-Noel finishing 58th and 62nd, this completed one of Chichester’s most successful championships in the club’s 30-year history.