Along with several thousand of the top cross-country runners from all over the south of England, the Chichester squad of nearly 60 athletes descended on Stanmer Park, Brighton for the southern championships, one of the highlights of the season.
The event moves every third year from its traditional home, Parliament Hill Fields in London, because the venue hosts the national championships a month later.
Heavy rain had made the Brighton course more testing than usual but Chichester’s contingent came away with a host of great individual and team performances.
Following their fine league form during the season, Chichester’s under-17s were full of confidence. For the first time this season, both the men and women’s squads were at full strength and Will Broom led the Chichester charge, closely followed by Leo Stallard with Ned Potter not far adrift.
At the front of the race, Lachlan Wellington from Portsmouth was just pipped by his Cambridge rival on the line with Southampton’s Zach Mohammed third.
Broom crossed the line in 29th with Stallard just 14 seconds further back in 37th. At this point the team was in a tight battle for a place in the top ten with Brighton & Hove, City of Norwich and Invicta East Kent, three of the best middle-distance clubs in the south.
All eyes were on the fourth scorer for the four teams and Ben Collins strode into view in a fine 72nd, despite only recently returning to cross country.
Collins’ run put Chichester fifth, ahead of Norwich and Invicta. That equals Chichester’s highest-ever team finish, previously set by the under-17 women a few years ago.
Showing the club’s strength in depth, Alfie Spurle led home a complete B team in 96th followed by JJ Staples 123rd, Harry Sage 144th and David Bisatt 162nd.
The under-17 women’s quartet were the same as the winning team from the Sussex championships and another fine run from Imogen Matthews led the team home in 27th followed by Alice Cox-Rusbridge in 49th, Florence Smith 88th and Beth Brown 99th.
Their points total of 263 was just one more than Norwich resulting in eighth team place, one of the very few top-ten placings that Chichester have achieved over 30 years of competing in these championships.
Olivia Macdonald from Seaford College was 11th for her winning Guildford and Godalming club while second-claim Chichester member Olivia Wiseman was 16th for runners-up Portsmouth.
Under-13s and 15s
In two of the most competitive junior age groups of the day, Chichester’s under-13s fared well in the boys and girls’ races.
Such is the closeness of the finishers that Eva Buckler, Chichester first runner home in the girls’ race in 58th, was less than 30 seconds off a place in the top 20.
Twin sister Isobel was six seconds further back in 70th with Cerys Dickinson 107th and a battle for the fourth scoring place won by Maddie Byers in 205th just pipping team-mates Amelie McGurk and Tamsin Aneley.
The team total of 440 points was good enough to finish 19th as third Sussex club to finish behind Crawley and Brighton & Hove.
Chichester’s under-13 boys were delighted to put out their strongest team for the first time this season with all the top five available.
Joe McLarnon was back, having been missing from the county championship squad, and he was joined by fast-improving Fionn O’Murchu, winner of the Year 7 West Sussex West Schools race ten days earlier.
The pair battled to the line with both being given the same time of 11min 8sec, just over a minute behind the winner in 52nd and 53rd.
Out of 63 Sussex athletes in the field, the Chichester pair were third and fourth, increasing a chance for both the represent Sussex in the national inter-county championships in March.
Oli Fuller and Harvey McGuiness soon came into view in 136th and 145th with reserve Gabryel White 20 seconds further back in 182nd.
For the under-15s neither the girls nor boys were able to field a full scoring team. But Sussex county champion Liam Dunne continued his fine form and was not afraid to go with the early pace.
Dunne continued to stay with the leaders and it was only the top three who managed to gain a slight advantage at the end with Dunne a magnificent fifth and the first Sussex athlete to finish by over half a minute. There were good runs in the same race from Archie Sadler in 202nd and Tom Hartley in 226th.
In the girls’ race Chichester’s Olivia Toms had to withdraw through illness. Maggie King led the club home in 73rd, a very good run in a competitive field and just a minute outside the top 20. Nicole Boltwood finished 179th with Rose Potter 195th.
Under-20s and seniors
With few clubs able to field complete teams at under-20 level, it was good to see Chichester with two athletes in each race – with Rose Ellis having the best position in the women’s race in 28th followed by Charlotte Reading in 51st, while for the boys Ben Morton in 43rd led home Brodie Keates in 61st.
The senior man’s race is always a great spectacle with nearly 800 runners charging round the first corner to tackle the first of the hills. The southern men’s race is the only remaining race over nine miles on the national fixture list.
Chichester were able to field their bes- ever team in numbers with 18 lining up for the start. University student Harry Leleu decided to attack from the off and was rewarded with a fine 61st place, one of only a handful of occasions that the club have had a senior man in the top 100.
James Baker made a more cautious start and was scything his way through fellow runners for virtually the whole race to finish 101st.
Will Boutwood did well to finish 209th in his first race back after illness and there were solid runs from Charles Rodmell and Tom Pritchard, 285th and 295th.
There was a battle for the sixth scoring place with Richard Miles just getting the better of John Bullard in 555th and 556th, giving the team 24th overall, their best for some time and third Sussex team.
Jason Boswell followed next in 565th, followed by Richard Pullen 581st, Gary Williams 615th, Mike Ridley 682nd and Mike Moorcroft 683rd.
There were even a full set of six reserves with Tom Blaylock 693rd, Mark Jennings 699th, Tim Brown 707th, Johnny McElid 719th, John Betts 736th with last man Peter Anderson bravely bringing the club home inside the top 750.