A CHICHESTER squad of more than 50 athletes head to Brighton with high hopes of honours in Sunday’s county cross-country championships.
With Brighton & Hove Albion playing at home in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday, the Stanmer Park event takes place the next day to avoid congestion in the Falmer area.
With the standard of cross-country running in Sussex on the up in recent seasons, competition is certain to be fierce.
But a strong-looking Chichester squad may have a chance of team and individual medals in more than half of the nine races in the programme.
If pre-Christmas form is repeated, it is the under-15s who have a great chance of success.
The in-form girls’ trio of Rose Ellis, Tara Bage and Saskia Gardam are up against champions Hastings while the boys, led by Casey Keates and Ed Gerwat, will have strong teams from Lewes and Brighton to contend with.
The under-17 men have arch rivals Brighton Phoenix in their sights but with top performances from Harry Leleu, James McKenzie and Josh James, the result should be close.
Georgina Warner hopes to lead her women’s team in the same age group to team medals but over a 5k course rather than the usual 4k for a league race.
The youngest age group kick off the day – the under-13s, with Chichester improving as the season progresses but not realistically expecting medals in either event.
However two past medal winners should provide experience with Mia Selman likely to lead the girls home following her bronze team medal from last year, while Brodie Keates, joined by Ben Collins, should enable the boys’ squad to give a good account of themselves.
The club have very different expectations in the senior races and whereas the mens team is very much in transition, Chichester’s senior women have shown themselves as a force to be reckoned with already this season. James Baker has a record of consistency second to none in these championships.
But he will have to rely on help from the club’s veterans to achieve a respectable team placing over the seven-and-a-half miles of hilly terrain in Stanmer Park.
Chichester’s women should be spearheaded by Rosie Hiles and Jane Harrop, who both achieved top-ten placings in the most recent Sussex league match before Christmas but Sunday’s medal prospects will depend on the finishing positions of the third and fourth members of the team.
With Arena 80 strong favourites to collect gold, Chichester know they have a battle on to challenge for a minor placing.
As well as county medals to be challenged for, there is the extra incentive of the top five in each race receiving automatic selection for the Sussex team in the national inter-county event in Birmingham later in the season, so an exciting day’s racing is in prospect.
n See next week’s Observer for news of how Chichester athletes fare at Brighton.