A squad of 30 Chichester Runners travelled to Parliament Hill in London for the South of England cross-country championships and were rewarded with some fine team and individual performances – and one outstanding highlight in the final race of the day.
Around 3,000 of the best runners in the south competed in ten races over five age groups, the senior men’s field always brings proceedings to a close and the sight of more than 1,000 athletes charging up the first hill is reckoned to be one of the iconic sights in athletics.
For once James Baker was not favourite to be the first Chichester man home as the club’s new signing from America, Chris Zablocki, had shown outstanding form two weeks earlier when finishing eighth and third non-African in the Antrim International, finishing just behind GB internationals Andrew Buchtart and Jonny Hay.
Saturday’s senior men’s race is considered to be toughest in England, being the only surviving nine-mile cross-country race left on the UK calendar.
When the field had settled down halfway round the first lap of the undulating course around Hampstead Heath, Zablocki was in the perfect position in a group of some 20 athletes at the front of the race with Hay, full of confidence leading the pace.
Gradually Hay pulled clear on the second lap and the chasing group were gradually whittled down to half a dozen athletes including Zablocki.
The Chichester man made his move at the start of the third and final lap and pulled clear of the pack to claim a fantastic second place, easily Chichester’s best result at these championships.
Close behind were no fewer than ten Sussex athletes in the top 100 finishers, a fine achievement for the county and including Baker, who posted yet another high finish at 71st.
Four further Chichester finishers did well with John Bullard in 574th, Gary Williams 760th, Neil Trotter 860th and Dave Reading 997th giving the team a finishing position of 59th with 3,264 points.
Earlier, in the junior races, Rose Ellis had posted one of her best runs of the season with 18th in the under-20 women’s race with Charlotte Reading not far behind in 34th.
Chichester’s best team result of the day came with a fine ninth place for the under-17 women – led home by Karina Bennett in 43rd with good packing from Grace Wills in 62nd, Amber Westron 92nd, Annabel Jeffries 128th and reserve Rosie Riedel-O’Brien in 143rd.
For the boys under-17s, Brodie Keates led the club home in 129th, with Sam Reading 147th and Sam Pink 158th while Will Kallaway had a good run in the tough under-20 race for 77th place.
In the youngest age groups which started proceedings, Chichester’s champion Sussex under-15 boys’ squad were without Ben Collins and Will Broom.
It was left to improving Leo Stallard to lead the club home in 63rd followed by Harry Sage in 193rd, Ned Potter 201st, Jeremy Sharp 220th and reserve JJ Staples 260th for a team position of 27th.
Florence Smith led the under-15 girls home in 177th, followed by Caitlin Brown in 192nd and Amber Dodd 233rd.
The youngest age group featured three Chichester girls who were having their first ever experience of such a large scale championships and all three ran with promise for the future with Nina Moranne in 168th, Nicole Boltwood 204th and Gracie Roberts 236th.
Chichester Corporate Challenge entries are coming as the start of the popular midweek series looms on Wednesday, February 24.
Some 800 athletes of all ages will be expected to pound the streets of Chichester on each of the three evenings, the other dates being March 9 and March 23.
In the junior ranks Chichester’s best are likely to be joined again by an invasion from Portsmouth – three of their juniors gained individual medals in the South of England championships.
For the seniors, all eyes will be on Chris Zablocki to see if he can reproduce his marathon and cross-country form over the shorter distance of 4.5k for the senior race.
Forms are on the Chichester Runners website and the club noticeboard at Westgate Leisure.
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