Chichester celebrate best-ever day at county cross-country championships

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Chichester Runners are celebrating their best-ever day in 28 years of the Sussex cross-country championships.

Having promised so much throughout the season, Chichester’s cross country runners rose to the challenge to come away with their best ever haul of individual and team medals from the championships on the challenging Stanmer Park course at Brighton.

With most of their successes coming in the junior races, the club had the further honour of being crowned top overall junior club and regaining the junior team shield which they last won in 2011.

The most exciting finish of the whole nine-race programme featured two Chichester athletes in the under-15 girls’ race over 4,000m.

With defending champion Grace Cook from Eastbourne’s Bodyworks Triathlon Club taking an early lead, Rose Ellis broke away from the chasing pack to gradually wear down her rival and seem to be heading for a clear victory with 800m left.

However, just behind, another Chichester athlete, Saskia Gardam, had caught Cook and while the pair battled each other down the finishing straight they were making fast inroads into the lead of Ellis.

With a blanket finish on the line it needed the race referee to judge that Ellis had held on by the narrowest of margins and given the same time as Gardam, with Cook relegated to third.

There was another Chichester battle to see who would be the third scorer with Charlotte Reading just edging out Tara Bage in ninth to confirm Chichester as team winners from defending champions Hastings. In the same race Annabelle Phillips had a good race to finish 24th.

Chichester’s under-17 also showed their form, but it was more about great team packing than individual honours.

With junior international Grace Baker from Hastings in the field, it was always going to be a question of team tactics being important.

Georgina Warner looked on good form in the chasing pack and looked a certainty for a top-five place when she had to retire just beyond the halfway point of the 5,000m course.

Fortunately Chichester athletes occupied the next three places with Hannah Croad, Nicola Mead and Lucy Ellis eventually finishing fifth, sixth and seventh to give a team score of 18 points and the team gold medal in front of runners-up Lewes. Emma Maynard was an excellent back-up in 12th.

In the first race of the day, Chichester’s under-13 girls gave their best all-round performance of the season to date.

A tenth-place finish was a good reward for Mia Selman and just over a minute farther back there were four Chichester athletes in five places. Chloe Croad led the pack home in 23rd with Katie Hains just getting the better of twin sister Anna, 24th and 25th respectively.

Alyssa White, normally a sprinter, was pleased with 27th. With Amelia Freeman in 43rd and Lucy Ashill 50th their reward was a finishing team position of seventh for the A team and 12th for the B team.

The winner was Almi Nerurkar, daughter of GB international and winner of the London marathon Richard.

In the four boys’ races Chichester very nearly achieved a Sussex first by winning team medals in each age group.

It was just by a single point that the under-13s missed out on bronze but the under-15s, 17s and 20s all ended in the top three.

Chichester’s best individual and team performance came from the under-17 men, who were able to field their strongest team for only the second time this season.

In-form Harry Leleu was soon at the front with his Brighton Phoenix rival Fitzgibbon, who had won their previous encounter at Bexhill in December.

This time, Leleu looked composed and in control throughout and was able to pull away over the final 1,000m of the 5,000m course to win by 20 seconds.

In the next pack, James McKenzie was in good form for sixth place, one place behind the Phoenix number-two runner. With both teams totalling seven points, with the final third-scoring athlete to finish, there was great excitement when Josh James appeared, finishing strongly for Chichester in eighth. But he was just unable to catch the Phoenix third-placer, who ended in seventh, a mere three seconds ahead, to leave Chichester with 15 points, just one behind their rivals.

The club’s under-15s gave a good account of themselves with six finishers in the top 18. Casey Keates underlined his good recent form with a fine fourth place, just three seconds outside an individual medal, and with Ed Gerwat in 10th and Harry Lyne 12th, they convincingly won team silver from Brighton, well in front of current league leaders Lewes.

With just 13 seconds splitting them at the finish, the B team of Jake Pillans, Sam Pink and Harry Pink were 15th, 16th, and 18th for fifth overall, beating many of the other clubs’ A teams.

In the under-13s, Chichester were not anticipating great things from an inexperienced squad but the six athletes exceeded expectations.

Ben Collins has another year left in the age group but put up a fine performance against older rivals to finish seventh and with Brodie Keates 11th and Leo Stallard 13th, their 31-point total was just one behind Worthing Harriers in a fight for team bronze.

The B team of Huw Wiseman (31st), Benedict Robinson (35th) and Lewis Hall (43rd) were 12th.

With six of the seven junior races completed there were just two clubs still in with a chance of lifting the coveted junior team shield.

Last year’s winners Brighton, with Horsham and Lewes, were too far back to snatch the top spot which left Chichester in-form Hastings to battle it out.

With Hastings hot favourites for the final race, the under-20 men, Chichester were hoping a six-point cushion would be enough.

Running over two laps of the testing senior 8km course, sterling runs from Callum Adams, Harry Sumner and Rory Myers resulted in an unexpected but well-deserved team bronze for eight team points against the maximum ten from Hastings to give Chichester overall victory by just four points.

Final Junior Sussex Team Shield Rankings (Top 5)

1 Chichester 65 team pts

2 Hastings 61

3 Brighton & Hove 47

4 Horsham 40

5 Lewes 34

Chichester’s senior men and women knew this year was not going to be vintage one for cross-country championship honours - but that did not stop the athletes giving a good account of themselves.

In a race won by the favourite, Fernhurst-based Emma Taylor-Gooby, Chichester’s Rosie Hiles had an excellent run over the 6,500m course to finish sixth overall and as fifth senior to give her an automatic place in the Sussex team for the national inter-county competition later in the season in Birmingham.

In the absence of Jane Harrop, who withdrew through illness, Linda Roberts, making her first appearance for the club, was next home in 59th, followed by veterans Sue Barty in 76th and Sue Baker in 80th for a team placing of 15th.

In the men’s 12km race, Phoenix pairing Jon Pepper and Ben Tickner, both internationals now living in Sussex, were at the head of things. Such was the standard, recent Hampshire League winner Adam Clarke from Hastings was relegated to fourth.

James Baker produced yet another of his consistent runs for ninth place to keep up a remarkable record over 15 years in the event.

Two improving seniors followed with Dave Prickett 72nd and John Leonard 77th, with evergreen Dave Dorning in 82nd in his last race before lining up in the over-60 ranks at the Sussex Masters at Bexhill in ten days’ time.

Five more of the club’s veterans completed the scoring - Andy Maynard 103rd, Dave Reading 119th, Tom Blaylock 122nd, Colin Harley 123rd and John Betts 127th. All made their contribution to a finishing team position of 12th.

by PHIL BAKER