GALLERY: Athletes do battle in southern cross-country

Perfect racing conditions greeted nearly 4,000 of the best cross-country runners from across the south.

The southern cross-country championships at Stanmer Park, Brighton, saw clubs represented from Norwich in East Anglia across the home counties right down to Cornwall and the Channel Islands.

Action from the southern cross-country championships at Brighton   Picture by Lee Hollyer

Action from the southern cross-country championships at Brighton Picture by Lee Hollyer

The event is second in importance for the whole season, only surpassed by the English national championships at Parliament Hill Fields, London, next month.

There was strong Sussex representation in all ten races in the programme, culminating in a fine win for Ben Tickner and a third place from Brighton Phoenix team-mate Jon Pepper in the senior men’s race.

Chichester had one of their best-ever turnouts across the age groups with a number of athletes inside the top 100 finishers, generally considered to be a fine achievement.

Under-17s and under-20s

Going by the season’s form so far, Chichester reckoned before the start of the day it was in the under-17 age group where they had the best chance of a high team and individual placing – and neither the men’s nor women’s squads disappointed.

Fresh from her Sussex schools win just ten days previously, Rose Ellis had the confidence to place herself just inside the leading group of 20 runners after negotiating the first steep hill.

Surrounded by a host of individual county champions, Ellis gradually made inroads into the top 15 and at one stage a top-ten placing looked on the cards.

In the end she had to settle for a fine 12th place, beating many fancied athletes in the process, including Sussex rival Sophie Markwick from Hastings by a clear margin of 50 seconds – compared to only four seconds between them in the schools chanpionships.

Behind Ellis there were equally-good runs from Charlotte Reading and Amber Westron, who crossed the line virtually together at the finish in 37th and 38th place with a resurgent Saskia Gardam less than a minute behind in 62nd and reserves Holly Beaton 130th and Rosie Riedel-O’Brien, in her first major championship, 142nd.

The team placing was even better than anticipated as their sixth spot was the best in any age group in the club’s history at these championships. They were beaten only by the likes of Windsor, Aldershot, Bracknell and Blackheath and were in front of Southampton, Tonbridge and Herne Hill.

There were not such high expectations in the men’s race but the five-man squad all performed with credit to fill 13th team spot and be crowned leading Sussex club, beating close rivals Lewes, a repeat of their triumph in the Sussex championships.

Again it was a Chichester athlete who led the Sussex runners home with Casey Keates in a fine 34th place. Harry Lyne was 96th and there was excellent packing from Harry Pink in 114th, Adam Croad 122nd and Will Kallaway 123rd, the three separated by just 11 seonds at the finish.

Chichester had three runners in the under-20 group and again provided the first Sussex finisher with Harry Leleu running a well-controlled race to finish 28th. He was in sight of the leaders for much of the race and just about a minute from the top ten after nearly 30 minutes of tough running.

Also doing himself justice was Conrad Meagher in 61st in probably his best race to date, making him fourth over the line for Sussex.

In the women’s race, Hannah Croad finished a well-judged race in 30th for Chichester behind Aldershot-based winner Amy Griffiths, who showed she had fully recovered from collapsing at Goodwood in the Hampshire League in November when she was affected by a virus.

Under-15s and under-13s

In the two youngest age groups Chichester were without key athletes because of illness and injury.

The under-15 boys were most affected with a hamstring injury preventing schools winner Ben Collins from completing the course and number two Luke Campbell missing out through illness.

Despite this the four athletes in action all performed with credit to give Chichester a team position of 29th in a very competitive field.

Brodie Keates led the team home in 110th, closely followed by Jack Blackman in 124th, Benedict Robinson 136th and Leo Stallard 169th.

The under-15 girls had two Chichester competitors, with Chloe Croad 195th and Isobel Loveridge, another athlete in her first race at this level 237th. Josie Czura, record holder in the Chichester Corporate Challenge, was runner-up for Portsmouth.

In the under-13 races, Chichester’s girls packed well for a team placing of 34th with Charlotte Bullard having one of her best runs in 73rd place, followed by Xenia Truman in 138th, Rosie Sloane 209th, Caitlin Brown 222nd and reserve Maggie King 228th.

The under-13 boys looked to be heading for a top-20 place with Harry Sage 52nd, Ned Potter 59th, Jeremy Sharp 104th and Harry Smith not far behind before he was forced to withdraw with a recurrence of a knee injury.

Senior men and women

One of the great sights in athletics is the start of the men’s race in championships like this, where a massive field of good-quality runners make a charge to get a good position after the first mile.

The sight at Stanmer Park was certainly impressive as the men started on their nine-mile course of three arduous laps over undulating terrain of grassland and woodland sections.

A group of some 20 athletes were soon at the head of the race.

Coming down to an incredible sprint finish with the top four athletes separated by just four seconds after more than 50 minutes of racing. Ben Tickner and Jon Pepper from Brighton Phoenix occupied first and third place, split by Ugandan international Paskar Owor running for Belgrave Harriers.

These two had occupied the top two placings in the Sussex championships, although in reverse order, and also hold the two fastest times ever in the Goodwood cross country relays.

There was a strong Chichester contingent with no fewer than 14 finishers over the tough, strength-sapping course.

Although not fully recovered from his rib injury after a training fall over Christmas, James Baker decided to test his fitness and was rewarded with a fine 65th position, probably some two minutes off his best which would have seen him vying for a spot not far off the top 20.

Any place in the top 500 in the men’s field is a worthy effort and three more of the Chichester squad achieved this with Steve Davy 356th, Mike Houston 424th and John Leonard 486th.

Gary Williams was next home in 572nd followed by Tom Blaylock in 665th, Justin Eggins 689th, Mike Ridley 722nd, Nick Palmer 743rd, Dave Reading 758th, Mike Moorcroft 761st, Mark Jennings 779th, David Knight 801st and Neil Trotter bravely bringing the team home in 828th despite cramp over the last couple of miles. The team position of 39th was just reward for their efforts, one place behind Southampton and four places in front of Portsmouth.

In the senior women’s race, the Goodwood course record holder at this season’s cross-country relays, Emma Macready, had the race of her life to claim a bronze medal behind two internationals, Louise Damon from Winchester and Georgie Bruinvels from Aldershot.

Chichester had Kim Nelson leading the way in 205th followed by Jane Leonard 244th, Sue Baker 324th and Sandra Nemorin-Noel 326th, all four deserving huge credit having been part of the club’s veteran team at the Sussex masters earlier just a week previously.

PHIL BAKER