Chichester’s veterans show they are the true Masters of Sussex

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Chichester’s best-ever showing in the Sussex Masters Cross Country Championships resulted in medals galore – and brought the overall team shield to Chichester for the second year in succession.

The event at Lancing, postponed before Christmas because of snow and ice, saw Chichester able to field their strongest squad in the club’s 26-year history with 38 veteran runners in action.

In the five team categories Chichester emerged with four sets of team medals to go with the four won by the club’s juniors two weeks earlier at Brighton – to set another club record.

In the women’s race, Chichester knew they had strength in depth but were expecting to be pipped by the stronger clubs for the medals.

But it was with much delight that the over-35s were first to learn they had won bronze with Angela Carpenter leading the way to confirm her recent fine form with sixth place, closely followed by Helen Pattison in seventh.

With Steyning and Worthing already home with their three scorers, Katherine Bond came into sight for 13th place to edge out the normally-invincible Arena squad for third place.

Bond had Trudi Cunningham and Rachel MacKinney right behind her to lead the B team to a fine fifth place with Shan Langley closing the scoring in 19th.

For the first time ever, a complete third team closed in to give Chichester more valuable team points towards the overall total with Eva Mikuska 21st, Alison Defries 23rd and Debbie Lord 24th.

The over-45s packed well with tenth, 11th and 12th places going to Amanda Godfrey, Tracy Jayant and Jane Leonard, with Leonard also scoring an individual silver for second place in the over-55s.

Teamwise, it was clear Brighton and Arena were fighting for gold but the final place was between Chichester, Worthing, Hailsham and Crawley.

Again the fact that Chichester’s three finishers were separated by less than a minute clinched another bronze. Sue Barty led the B team home in 20th closely followed by Sarah Richardson in 24th and Carol Palmer 26th, and Lynn Harley the reserve was 27th.

The 30 team shield points picked up by the women had brought Chichester to within three of leaders Brighton & Hove with only the men’s race to go.

Usually split into two races, the three veteran men’s groups were on the start line together, which made for a competitive race.

Chichester were less confident than usual about their medal chances, especially in the over-40 race where they had lost two of the quartet who had narrowly missed out on gold a year earlier.

With Andy Nicholson abroad and Gary Wright out with a long-term injury, the two remaining team members, Jim Garland and Chris Jack, led the way.

Starting conservatively just inside the top 20, the pair made their way through the field and spurred each other on during the second of the two climbs up to the downs.

They were rewarded with a fine last mile to finish in a virtual dead heat for eighth place with Garland getting the nod by the thickness of a vest. Behind them Tony Roddis was less than a minute behind in 14th and Lee Neumann was 22nd, with reserve Steve Hasler in 28th.

There was an anxious wait for the medal presentation with last year’s winners Crawley certain of gold, having finished with four in the top six, but with the minor placings a straight fight between Chichester and their two perennial rivals Brighton and Phoenix.

In the event it was an unexpected silver for Chichester by ten clear points with – again – the close packing the secret of their success.

The over-50s lined up with no fewer than ten runners and were attempting to continue an unbroken run of success by winning their eighth team medal in successive seasons.

For most of that time the same three athletes have featured in the scoring team, making them the most consistently successful team of the past decade or more.

Once again Dave Dorning turned in a superb performance to win Chichester’s second individual silver.

Rob Wiggins was close behind in fifth and with Dave Worcester making ninth they were too good for arch rivals Brighton who, despite having the third and fourth-finishing runners, had to wait until 14th to complete their team.

Behind this trio, club chairman Tom Blaylock also beat the third Brighton man in 13th followed by a rejuvenated Chris Benham in 17th and Kevin Lockyear in 23rd for fifth place for the B team.

The C team had more impressive close packing than any other team, with Dave Reading in 25th just in front of Colin Harley (26th) and Terry Healy (27th) with just 12 seconds separating them. Alistair Kennaugh was reserve man in 29th.

With just one age category to count, the over-60 men had to hold Brighton at bay, having gone into an overall lead after the three scoring teams of the over-50s.

With the club’s potential top two – Don Faircloth and Martin Miller – unavailable, it was a great sign of their strength in depth that they were able to put two full teams onto the start line.

All six made it to the finish after five-plus miles of tough terrain, with Terry Slade leading the A team in 12th followed by John Betts in 13th and Dave Betts bravely making it to the finish in 21st despite an Achilles injury.

With Brighton the over-60 team winners, Chichester cemented their position as champions when Peter Shaw (23rd), John Holloway (25th) and Dave Grunwell (26th) completed a well deserved B team and Chichester’s 11th scoring team of the day.

PHIL BAKER