Chichester cross-country crew shine among south’s finest

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In one of the biggest athletics events seen in Sussex for many years, nearly 2,500 of the best cross-country runners from the south converged on Stanmer Park, Brighton.

The southern cross-country championships is second only in size to the nationals later this month at Parliament Hill in London and the Brighton event proved a true test of cross-country running.

In such company, any top-100 place is cause for celebration – and Chichester saw a number of athletes step up to the mark.

The highest individual placing was from Harry Leleu, a superb 16th in the under-15 boys’ race, but the best team performance was from Chichester’s under-17 women’s quartet – they achieved seventh place, the highest for any Sussex team.

In a race including Jessica Judd from Essex, tipped as one of Britain’s athletes to watch, Chichester elected to start at a steady pace and make their way through the field. This paid off handsomely as Beth Garland moved up to a fine 28th place by the finish, with Georgina Warner in 37th and Lucy Thraves 54th. Needing a fourth scorer to count, Molly Peel, normally a 400m runner, showed great determination to finish the 5,000m course strongly in 100th place for a total of 219 points and seventh spot behind strong clubs such as Aldershot, Tonbridge, Chelmsford and Windsor & Eton.

Charlotte Reading led the club’s under-15 girls home in 100th place with Nicola Mead 117th, Holly Beaton 136th and Lucy Ellis 157th for 21st team spot.

In the under-13s Saskia Gardam finished 106th, just in front of Mia Selman in 124th with Molly Whatmore 191st and Mia Faulkner 214th for 27th place.

In the boys’ under-13s Josh Eeles continued his recent good form to come 54th followed by Sam Pink in 100th, Brodie Keates 103rd and Ben Collins 152nd - especially pleasing as Eeles, Keates and Collins will all be eligible for the same race next year.

There was disappointment teamwise for the under-15s as they were unable to field a full side. Leleu was in the top dozen athletes after the first mile with Josh James also in the first 50. Leleu slipped back a few places at the end but was rewarded with a top-20 place, one of the best individual placings the club have ever had at this level.

James pulled through to finish 41st and Harry Pink was third scorer in 195th. It was a question of what might have been as a score of 156 would have brought Chichester their first team medals at the championships.

In the massed start of the senior races, the course coped well with nearly 800 runners in the men’s race and 350 in the women’s.

For the men, these championships are the last in the UK calendar over a full nine-mile course. James Baker decided not to go with the early pace but made his way through the field, gradually going from the top 100 to top 50 and finally finishing 31st, beating his own previous club record by a couple of places.

At the front of the field, two of the stars of the Goodwood relays in October, Ben Tickner and Jon Pepper, claimed two of the top three places. Chichester’s ten-man squad was the largest for several years with Dave Dorning next home in 375th – the first over-55 to finish. John Leonard was 494th, Tom Blaylock 572nd, Mike Moorcroft 607th, Nigel McNestrie 625th, Dave Reading 635th, Colin Harley 664th and John Betts 685th.

Chichester’s senior women produced their best result for many years with Jane Harrop in 71st and three seconds off being the first over-50 runner home.

Fay Cripps had her highest finish in a major championship in 75th with Sarah Fenmor Collins 121st and Jane Leonard 185th, providing the club with an age-group double by also being first over-55 home.

Capable reserves for the women were Tracy Jayant, Sue Barty and Eva Mikuska.

PHIL BAKER