Over a testing, undulating course with ankle-deep mud in places, Chichester’s contingent of more than 50 runners excelled themselves in the Sussex cross-country championships at Bexhill.
They picked up an array of team and individual medals and put themselves in the frame to represent Sussex in the national inter-counties in Birmingham in March.
Two individual and two team golds in the junior races were nearly enough to enable Chichester to retain their junior team shield as top Sussex club on the day but an unlucky fall in the under-17 women’s race meant they fell just short and handed the title to last year’s runners-up, host club Hastings AC.
So far this season Chichester’s under-17s have been giving a good account of themselves in league races and were full of confidence going into Saturday’s races.
Grace Wills soon went clear of the field in the women’s 5k race and was joined in the lead by Karina Bennett in her first championship race for the club.
With Amber Westron close behind in sixth, the team title looked a certainty going into the final lap. But a stumble on a tricky uphill section left Wills with a gashed leg, forcing her to withdraw – leaving Bennett to race clear as one of the most unexpected winners of the day.
A fine fifth from Westron gave the pair automatic qualification for the Sussex team along with Wills but the lack of a third finisher meant Chichester were not able to take the team title.
In the under-17 men’s race, the first Chi runner home was Luke Campbell in ninth. But fine packing from Ben Morton in tenth and Brodie Keates in 11th, plus reserve Benedict Robinson in 13th, meant their overall points score of 30 was good enough to take team gold and add a ten-point bonus to the overall shield tally.
Under-20s and seniors
The under-20s ran together with the seniors, the women for the complete race and the men over an 8k course rather than the 12kK for the seniors.
Rose Ellis was always in the top ten overall as leading Chichester Runner in the women’s race, where three of the top four were under-20s, led by GB international Grace Baker, who in December was part of the GB winning team at the European cross country championships.
With Baker going on to defeat the South of England bronze medallist for the second year in succession, Ellis battled bravely in the testing conditions for eighth overall and fourth under-20.
Charlotte Reading was Chichester’s next scorer in 16th and her fifth under-20 place meant both she and Ellis have automatic qualification for Sussex in the inter-counties.
Ann Sydenham and Anneliese Shaw completed the scoring in 24th and 34th places with reserves Helen Dean in 42nd and Nicola Mead 44th.
Teamwise just 22 points separated the top seven teams with Chichester just outside the medals in fourth place with 92 points, four behind bronze-medal winners Lewes and a tantalising 12 points behind winners Brighton & Hove.
The men’s under-20 race was dominated by Brighton’s Stephen Ferroni, who kept pace with senior winner Finn McNally until peeling off to finish after five miles. He was followed by Billy White from Brighton Phoenix and Chichester’s Harry Leleu.
Good packing from Harry Pink in 11th, Michael Thomas 12th and Will Kallaway 12th resulted in silver, three points behind Worthing in gold and a single point in front of Lewes.
In the senior race there was a familiar vest making his way through the pack after the first dash in the senior race with James Baker once again establishing him inside the top ten.
With McNally well clear there was a battle for the minor medals with former South of England champion Jon Pepper coming out on top and 39-year-old Baker just a minute behind after 40 minutes of running in seventh place to add to his tally of top-ten finishes in this event.
Veterans Andy Nicholson and Jim Garland belied their years to be next home in 45th and 48th with John Bullard in 74th, Lee Sydneham 82nd and Gary Williams 84th completing the scoring for a team total of 339 for seventh place.
The three reserves were closely packed behind with Tom Blaylock 86th, Dave Reading 88th and Andrew Wingham 90th.
Chichester had high hopes for medals in the under-15 boys’ race and were not disappointed – although the battle at the front of the field was the fiercest of the season so far.
Ben Collins, unbeaten by any Sussex athlete so far this season, decided to stay with the leading pack in the early stages rather than adopt his front-running tactics which have served him well in league matches.
He was joined at the front by Will Broom, who has made great strides this season, and with Leo Stallard also inside the top ten, things looked good for team honours.
On the second of two hard laps, Collins and rival Ben Martin (Lewes) had broken clear resulting in a neck-and-neck battle along the finishing straight.
Summoning up all his reserves Collins put in one final effort to snatch the title by two seconds with Broom less than 30 seconds adrift in fourth, ensuring both athletes gained selection for the Sussex team.
With Lewes, Brighton and Hastings also fielding good squads all eyes were on Chichester’s third scorer and Stallard, who has been getting back to his form of last year, crossed the line in ninth place ensuring gold for Chichester.
With good strength in depth in this age group there was a good showing from the club’s B team from Ned Potter in 25th, Jeremy Sharp 31st, JJ Staples 35th and reserve David Bissatt in 40th for tenth team place with 91 points.
In the under-15 girls’ race, Chichester’s improving team gained a well-deserved fourth place with Florence Smith leading them home in 13th followed by Caitlin Brown in 20th and Amber Dodd 23rd for 56 points.
Under-13s and under-11s
After the invitation under-11 race, in which Logan Cooper finished 21st and Max Sydenham 26th, the day’s team competition started as usual with the under-13 races.
In the girls’ race a group of six broke away and included Chichester’s Charlotte Bullard.
With no single athlete able to establish a clear lead over the rest, Bullard pulled herself up into fifth, 14 seconds behind the winner and becoming the first Chichester athlete of the day to secure automatic selection for the Sussex inter-counties team.
Also having good runs were Nina Moranne and Nicole Boltwood in 26th and 29th, both of whom have another year in the age group.
The combined team total of 60 points was good enough for sixth position. There was a battle from the B team members with Rose Potter in 40th just getting the better of Rebecca Mann in 41st and Hannah Carmichael in 43rd for tenth place in the team rankings.
Tom Davy led the under-13 boys home in a very competitive race in 20th followed by Douglas Smith in 30th and Gilbert Jones in 40th for ninth place and 90 points, with reserve George Ashby in 46th.
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