Why Chichester’s enjoying a golden age of athletics

Phil Baker (left) from the Chichester Runners pictured alongside Peter Masters, Sussex Athletics Association, Dr Mike Louder, head of sports and science, and Vice -Chancellor, Professor Clive Behagg, at the turf cutting ceremony.''C120511-2 Spt Athlet Unitrack  Photo Louise Adams
Phil Baker (left) from the Chichester Runners pictured alongside Peter Masters, Sussex Athletics Association, Dr Mike Louder, head of sports and science, and Vice -Chancellor, Professor Clive Behagg, at the turf cutting ceremony.''C120511-2 Spt Athlet Unitrack Photo Louise Adams

THIS year promises to be one of the most exciting and challenging years ever for athletics in the Chichester area.

The city is enjoying something of a golden age, with an increasing number of youngsters taking up athletics - and going on to win local and county honours.

Chichester is producing young athletes who are making their mark regionally and even nationally and now the construction of a long-awaited new track at the city’s university will only add to the opportunities available for aspiring Olympians of the future to compete and to shine.

With many initiatives involved in encouraging youngsters to participate in athletics in the first instance,

there has been no shortage of athletes at training but the challenge for everyone is to bring promising athletes on to the next level.

The exciting new factor for the coming year and a development which the city of Chichester has been crying out for

since the first plans were mooted in the 1930s has been the completion of the first stage of an all-weather athletics track at the University of Chichester.

This J-shaped track, which will ultimately become a full 400m circuit when stage two is completed, will provide the best possible facilities for sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers with the planned provision of a first-rate throwing cage before the start of the summer season.

The Chichester club already has strong links with the university with middle-distance coach Stewart McKenzie working closely with Dr Marcus Smith and Simon Northcott from the uni’s sports science department.

Dr Smith said: “The club sets out to discover ‘rough’ diamonds in the community who display raw talent.

“Through partnerships between club coaches and sports science specialists at the university, we are now in a position to ‘polish’ such diamond and allow them to dazzle on the county and national sporting stage.”

With further links with Chichester District Council, notably during the arrival of the Olympic torch in Chichester, and West Sussex County Council, Chichester Runners chairman Tom Blaylock is confident his term in office will witness one of the most exciting times for athletics for the local community.

Chichester Runners secretary Phil Baker said: “It is nearly 30 years since a group of eight middle-distance runners met to form Chichester Runners & AC and since then the athletics scene in Chichester, Bognor and the surrounding areas has changed beyond recognition.

“Nowadays both young and old have the opportunity to compete over a variety of terrains and distances virtually

on their doorstep.”

The high-quality Chichester Priory 10k kicks things off in early February for road runners, followed by the hectic Chichester Corporate Challenge city-centre three-race series at the end of February and into March.

More big fields will be expected at the Bognor 10k in May and the Midsummer 5 around the Goodwood

motor-racing circuit in June.

Off-road, the well-established Trundle Hill race and Fishbourne Flat 5 have been joined by the Chichester Half Marathon in October which looks to become an integral part of the racing scene.

Chichester Runners host three cross-country fixtures at Goodwood in the autumn, when local promising juniors and seniors pit themselves against some of the best runners in the south.

Baker said despite adverse publicity nationally about the demise of school competition in general, this was far from the case locally with the relatively new sport of indoor Sportshall athletics able to offer sprinters an opportunity during the winter months to sharpen their speed.

Add this to area cross-country championships, area athletics events currently staged at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth, and inter-school sports competitions, there is now a wealth of opportunities across the year.

The Chichester club identified the need to provide training facilities for Year 5 and 6 pupils in the primary sector and such has been the success of this initiative that lead coach Jenny Nunn and her team envisage putting up ‘full’ signs during 2013 and creating a waiting list for prospective members.

A recent development for seniors has been the club’s involvement in the Run England Beginners scheme, which has already completed its first course under the guidance of lead coach Rob Wiggins - no relation to Bradley but nonetheless a very apt name at the end of a golden sporting year.