Chichester’s cross-country season had a flying start at Goodwood.
For the 16th year, Chichester Runners & AC hosted the Sussex cross-country relays in conjunction with their open event.
The event has grown from modest beginnings in 2002 when just over 40 teams took part. This year more than 200 teams registered and the picturesque South Downs course saw 600 of the best athletes from Sussex and Hampshire tackle the undulating terrain.
There were a record number of athletes while Chichester Runners topped 80 athletes at an event for the first time in their 33-year history.
The club’s teams brought home a fine tally of Sussex medals and were in the top six in ten out of 14 age groups including team golds from the girls’ under-13s and under-17 women.
Chichester ended second in the aggregate points score out of 20 clubs taking part.
This race saw each runner tackle a leg of roughly 2,800m. Eva Buckler had the responsibility of taking the opening leg and ran well to hand over in the top five teams with the field closely bunched.
Cerys Dickinson cemented Chichester’s place and finished leg two with only Worthing in front by three seconds. Isobel Buckler overtook her rival but there was danger behind as the Brighton & Hove runner was eating into Chichester’s lead.
Buckler had enough in reserve to summon up a sprint over the last 100m to bring the club home in first place by just four seconds. Both Buckler girls had the satisfaction of recording lap times among the five fastest of the day, just outside 11 minutes.
In an incomplete B team Amelie McGurk and Skye Sadler showed promise for the future.
In the boys’ race, Chichester kept their fastest runner until leg two so Fionn O’Murchu had the responsibility of tackling the mad rush of the opening leg. He did this well, coming to the handover just outside the top ten, in touch with the leading pack.
Joe McLarnon took over and gradually overhauled most of his rivals in a storming leg of 10.10, the third fastest of the day, to hand over in third place with only eventual winners Hastings having a clear lead.
Logan Cooper raced a fine last leg but was unable to hold off Brighton & Hove, who had saved their best runner until last and whose time of 9.50 was the fastest of the day, leaving Chichester just outside the medals in fourth.
There was a good showing from the B team of Ollie Fuller, Roman Watson and Sam Corbett, who were just ten seconds faster than the C team of Arthur Dearlove, Barney McLarnon and Marcus Bone.
While neither of the under-15 A teams gained medals, there were encouraging performances from the 15-athlete squad.
For the boys, the A team of Niall Mears, Liam Dunne and Douglas Smith were in contention all the way to finish sixth, just a minute outside the top three.
Chichester put Dunne on leg two and he cut through the field with the equal second-best time of the day at 9.13.
For the B team, Archie Sadler led off in convincing style and was well supported by Joe Broad and Oscar Hares for 19th place with Eden Murphy and Kyle Chapman supporting well as reserves.
Olivia Toms led well for the girls’ A team and was only led after leg one by national cross-country champion Bethany Cook from Eastbourne Bodyworks Tri and former county champion Maya Ramnarine of Hastings.
This vintage of under-15s are the strongest in the county for many years and Nicole Boltwood fought well to finish eighth, only a minute outside the top three. Charlotte Bullard led off for the B team and was well supported by Hannah Carmichael and Rose Potter with Lucy Ward a capable reserve.
Chichester’s under-17 squad have more strength in depth this season than in any other year in the club’s history.
The Goodwood relays were the first time this was put to the test and only a superb last leg from the Brighton men’s A team prevented Chichester from gaining a clean sweep.
Alice Cox-Rusbridge made a good start for the girls, running with the senior field, and was soon up with the leading pack to hand over in tenth place but just behind under-17 leaders Hastings AC.
Imogen Matthews scythed her way through the field on leg two to give Chichester a 90-second lead over Hastings with only a strong Arena 80 senior team ahead.
Olivia Wiseman on the anchor leg made no mistake and came home in splendid isolation for a clear team gold. Equally as impressive were the B team of Beth Brown, Florence Smith and Millie Hopkins in fifth place with Rachel Laurie and Alice Ward running well as reserves.
The under-17 men also had eight runners, more than any other club, and were pipped for gold by Brighton & Hove,for whom Tom Eames ran a superb last leg to leave Leo Stallard, Ned Potter and Ben Collins having to settle for silver, their consistent times separated by just 20 seconds. Charlie Benson and Alfie Spurle gave the B team a good start with Harry Sage bringing them home in seventh place, with Jack Dean and David Bisatt giving good back-up in the C team.
Senior and veteran men
James Baker was eligible for both teams but opted for the seniors, which paid off handsomely as the four-man team gained Chichester’s first senior men’s medals for several years by finishing third overall and second in the Sussex championships.
Harry Leleu was home from university for the weekend and available to run and he led the whole field on the opening lap and clocked the second-fastest time by a Chichester athlete at 12min 10sec for the tough 4,000m course, bettered only by Baker with a club record 12.06.
Another university student, Will Boutwood, kept the club in contention on lap two to hand over Conrad Meagher, who finished leg three still in second place with only Brighton’s non-Sussex qualified team ahead of them.
Lewes were third and had saved their best runner until last so it was no surprise Chichester, with Baker running the final leg, had to settle for the Sussex runners-up spot by a mere 27 seconds.
Chichester’s B team had an average age of just 18 and finished 13th thanks to some consistent running from Joe Godwood, Brodie Keates, Ben Morton and Ethan Hartley.
For the C team Mikey Neville was joined by a trio of students, thanks to the club’s links with Chichester University, John Coates, James Haley and Emmanuel Obine.
For the veterans, even without the services of Baker, the over-40 A team managed a creditable third place for bronze medals.
Thanks to Charles Rodmell and Nick Fenmor Collins, Chichester led after the opening two legs but eventual winners Haywards Heath and runner-up Brighton & Hove had saved their best until the end.
Keith Akerman and Justin Eggins had to let them pass but were clean in third place at the finish. Solid runs from Mark Jennings, Mike Moorcroft, Gary Williams and Phil Carr brought the B team home in seventh.
The over-50s had Jim Garland on leg one setting one of the fastest times of the day with a 14.23 clocking and finished sixth thanks to Winston Bond, John Bullard and Peter Anderson. Just outside the medals were the over-60 trio of Jan Hill, Martin Miller and Tom Blaylock who were fourth.
Senior and veteran women
Chichester knew their chances of finishing high in the senior and veteran women’s races were reduced by the absence of key runners.
But the nine athletes in action enabled the club to finish three of the age categories, with more than half the runners making their first appearance at this level of competition.
Fastest was Fay Cripps with a 15.39 clocking for the same 4,000m lap as the men. This time led the over-35 teams after the first leg and together with Annabel Parker and Victoria Balandis, they finished in a creditable fifth place.
One place higher were the over-45s thanks to Nadia Anderson, Jenette Whitfield and Lorna Cowan. The senior team had two runners making their first appearance in this event, with Vikki Bennett and Sara Wareham running the first two legs, with veteran Sandra Nemorin-Noel bringing the team home.