Chichester field two dozen - and they're on track for a fine summer of athletics

In the white and green Chi Runners vests are Elle Cleasby and Emily Russell / Picture by Lee Hollyer
In the white and green Chi Runners vests are Elle Cleasby and Emily Russell / Picture by Lee Hollyer

Chichester Runners and AC’s senior squad were in action in the opening fixture of the Southern Athletics League at Basingstoke - and got their campaign off to a flyer.

Despite the early start to the campaign, the club were able to field a squad of 24, equally divided between the men and women’s sections, enabling them to contest the majority of the events for the first time in a virtual Olympic programme over the space of just five hours.

One of the main factors in this new strength of the club has been the transition of athletes from the successful junior ranks over the past three to four years. In fact 17 of the 24 in action at Basingstoke were under 20, with seven coming straight from last season’s medal-winning under-15 squad.

There was one link to the past in that middle distance athlete James Baker was in the squad exactly 25 years after the club took their first tentative steps into track and field league action.

In the club’s first athletics league match in 1994, Baker was in action in the 100m and in the intervening period has competed in every track distance up to 5000m including relays and the steeplechase. These days the 42-year-old confines himself to non-barrier races and still is able to compete with the best, testified by yet another win on Saturday to add to his considerable tally of victories over various distances and terrains. Baker has featured in each of the 25 seasons since – as has team manager Phil Baker, who is not related to James.

The result of the efforts of all 24 Chichester athletes enabled the club to record its best start to a league campaign by finishing as runners-up to a strong City of Portsmouth squad but in front of arch rivals Havant AC, who finished in a higher league position last year.

Picture special from the opening fixture
Overall match result

1 City of Portsmouth 251pts

2 Chichester 189

3 Havant AC 174

Men’s match

With a biting wind and temperatures more suited to the cross-country season, the hurdlers and sprinters got things under way.

Jack Dean joined Oscar Hares for a new combination in the 400m hurdles with the pair starting the ball rolling in the best possible manner gaining seven points out of a maximum eight, both athletes recording personal-best times, a fine achievement at this early stage in the season.

In the 100m, last year’s under-15 DJ Barth joined Cellan Robinson and both Chichester sprinters kept rivals Havant at bay, but had to give way to a talented City of Portsmouth duo.

Two more of last year’s under-15s contributed to the track action over the shorter distance with Jack Wadman joining Robinson in the 200m and Ollie Beach pairing up with Ben Collins over 400m.

Collins, the hero of the Sussex road relays the previous weekend, had already been in action in the 800m where he was just pipped by his rivals over the last 50m, having bravely led the opening lap to ensure a fast pace.

Pictures from the Brighton Marathon
Collins gained his revenge later in the 1500m and rounded off a productive afternoon with the long jump and a relay leg in the 4x400m.

Another newcomer to the team, Archie Sadler, put in a steady performance in the pole vault before setting a new mark in the 1500m.

The final pairing on the track saw another newcomer, Marcus Hammerton, join Baker in the 5000m with Baker pleased with his 15.58.5 winning time in far-from-ideal conditions, while Hammerton made the transition well from a parkrun regular to competing on the track and was delighted with second place in the B string to add another crucial three points to Chichester’s tally.

The 400m hurdles duo of Dean and Hares showed their versatility with another seven-point near-maximum haul in the triple jump while the men’s squad was completed by throwing pair Tim Brown and Jonathan Russell, who picked up 14 points out of 32 from the shot, discus, hammer and javelin with Brown’s narrow hammer victory with 34.63 the pick of the day.

Women’s match

The women’s 12-strong squad was Chichester’s largest ever in the competition meaning they were able to contest all but a couple of the 36 events.

The 400m hurdlers got the track events under way with Alice Cox-Rusbridge and Jenny Jakeman proving a useful partnership and match the men’s score of seven out of eight points.

In the sprints, in-form Fleur Hollyer, another athlete coming up from the under-15s, joined Rachel Laurie in both the 100m and 200m, the pair ending with identical times of 13.6 and 27.2.

Emily Russell and Ella Cleasby ran good times in the non-scoring races.

Laurie went on to use her winter’s endurance fitness to produce a good 400m in a PBof 62 seconds with newcomer Kayla Fisher a useful B string.

In the middle-distance races first-year under-17 Nicole Boltwood joined student Sophie Wright in the 800m and 1500m notching up no fewer three personal best times.

Wright joined Jakeman in the 3000m while Cox-Rusbridge and Jakeman saved enough for the steeplechase, when Havant had closed to just a handful of points, enabling Chichester to maintain their advantage.

In the field events, Florence Smith was joined by Hollyer, Laurie and Cox-Rusbridge in the three jumps while Millie Grant acquitted herself well in the throws with personal bests in shot and hammer.

Lucie Munday was on equally good form with a best all-time throw in the javelin and a near best in the discus.

Completing the picture, good baton changing enabled the 4x100m relay team to record a creditable 53.8 clocking, a good early-season mark, while the 4x400 quartet set a new club record for this league of 4.33.

* After this weekend’s Easter break, Chichester’s under-13 and under-15 squad open their own National League campaign at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth, on Saturday, April 27, where virtually half the squad will be making their first appearance on the track in a Chichester vest.

* While a section of the club’s seniors have turned their attention to the track, the marathon runners have also been battling on the streets on Manchester, Brighton and elsewhere. Reports of how they have fared will be in next wek’s Observer.