Chichester runners marvellous in the mud at Parliament Hill

Sam Pink slogs through the mud in London Picture by Dave Reading
Sam Pink slogs through the mud in London Picture by Dave Reading

Once every three years, the English national cross-country championships returns to London and Chichester athletes are among the best in the country who do battle at the iconic Parliament Hill and Hampstead Heath venue.

With undulating terrain over the whole of the course, this year’s event was made all the more difficult because of heavy rain in the preceding 48 hours resulting in scenes more like a battlefield at the end of the day.

The event has been won in previous years by the likes of Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Andy Vernon, all multiple track medallists, and on show this year were internationals of the past and present and stars of the future.

Under-17 men and women

Chichester’s under-17 women were considered to have the best chance of a high team placing but the news before the race that No1 and Sussex champion Rose Ellis had not fully recovered from a virus meant the rest of the squad were faced with an even more difficult task.

It became clear Amber Westron, Saskia Gardam and Charlotte Reading were all having great runs in an event where any spot in the top 100 in an achievement.

After 5,000m of tough running the trio were just five seconds apart at the finish, with Westron in 74th just pipping Gardam in 75th and Reading 78th. Fighting to be the team’s fourth scorer were Holly Beaton and Rosie Riedel O’Brien, who ended 209th and 222nd.

The team score of 436 earned eighth place – the highest Sussex team placing in any of the ten races.

The club’s under-17 men managed a very good 17th place with the previous week’s Sussex league winner Casey Keates having an outstanding run to come 68th. Keates showed his strength over the second half of the 6,000m course to pull through the field.

Next home was Harry Pink, winner of the Ben Steppel memorial award in the recent Chichester 10k, in 174th followed by Jonny Ball having his best run for the club in 210th, with Will Kallaway completing the scoring team in 215th. The non-scorers were Sam Pink in 223rd and Sam Pink in 266th.

Under-13s and under-15s

Chichester’s under-13 and under-15 boys teams performed with credit although both had to compensate for missing athletes.

For the under-15s Chichester, newly crowned as Sussex League champions, were missing silver medallist Ben Collins but still managed a team position just outside the top 20.

Luke Campbell was team leader and was soon in an ambitious top 100 slot. He maintained this right through the 4,500m course to finish an excellent 94th. Such is the standard at this event that next man Brodie Keates was 177th despite being just 52 seconds behind his team-mate.

There was good packing from the remaining two runners with Jack Blackman and Benedict Robinson finishing almost stride for stride in 209th and 211th for a team total of 691 points and 23rd position.

In the under-13 boys’ race Chichester’s top three were the same three who occupied those places in the South of England championships at the same venue in 2014. Harry Sage came out on top with a fine 101st place followed by Ned Potter in 142nd and Jeremy Sharp 180th.

Completing the team was a brave effort from Marcus Bugge in his first experience in a top-class race in 387th giving Chichester 30th place, a good reward for their efforts.

In the under-13 girls’ race Chichester’s two runners finished just one minute apart but were separated by 125 places.

Coco Smythe had her best run for the club and was rewarded with 99th place, with Charlotte Bullard in 224th.

Under-20s and seniors

With many of the club’s top seniors deciding to give the event a miss, favouring a chance to test themselves at the half marathon distance instead, under-20 Harry Leleu gave the best performance despite being hampered by a niggling injury in the latter stages.

At the halfway stage of the strength-sapping two-lap senior course, Leleu looked like finishing well inside the top 50 but was forced to slow down and eventually did well not to lose too much ground and finish in a brave 84th.

In the senior women’s race, Rebecca Brown was first home among Chichester’s three runners in 664th followed by Sue Baker in 776th and Sandra Nemorin-Noel 790th.

The start of the senior men’s race, the final event at Parliament Hill, is considered one of the great spectacles in British sport.

With 2,000 runners charging up the first hill the race resembles a cavalry charge. The seniors had to combat the worst underfoot conditions of the day with 5,000 pairs of feet already having crossed the surface.

That did not stop a quartet of brave Chichester athletes from completing the 12,000m course with Neal Trotter coming 1,573rd, Tom Blaylock 1,634th, Mike Moorcroft 1,724th and Mark Jennings 1,787th.