There was double celebration for Chichester Runners at this year’s Victory 5 road race in Portsmouth.
It was the 70th anniversary of an event which, back in December 1984, was the first-ever event in which the newly-formed Chichester Runners competed in.
There was a touch of nostalgia for one of the club’s founder members, Phil Baker – he was an invited guest this year as a previous winner of the event 45 years ago.
There was a remarkable symmetry in this year’s results compared with the 1984 squad with the aggregate time of Chichester’s leading trio this year just 22 seconds quicker that the original team.
As for this year, some top-class athletes lined up at the start, headed by impressive Matt Sharp of Ealing and Haringey, who had set a massive personal best of just over 48 minutes in the Great South ten-mile event in Portsmouth in October.
He soon took up the running with last year’s winner Phil Wicks from Belgrave Harriers for company alongside the improving Alex Teuten from the home club and Aldershot’s top athlete Josh Grace.
These four had daylight over the rest of the field and finished over a minute in front of fifth place, with Sharp crossing the line in a speedy 23min 41sec, just over two seconds quicker than the 1984 winner Nigel Gates of Brighton & Hove.
Chichester’s top trio were prominent in the next pack with James Baker once again leading the club home, in 12th place in 26.21. Behind him there was excellent packing from Conrad Meagher in 21st in 27.08 closely followed by Chris Bird in 23rd in 27.16.
In a highly-competitive team race, Chichester were rewarded with third place in the team category behind Aldershot and Southampton but crucially in front of host club Portsmouth, who had to wait for their third runner home after two were in the top few to finish.
Chichester Runners are now Chichester Runners & AC, having adopted the track and field element in 1994, and are barely recognisable from the small long-distance club they were in the beginning.
There were just 12 members in December 1984 as opposed to nearly 500 at present and the club’s junior section had not been formed.
Despite the small number of members, those who competed helped the give the club a platform and put in some good times, not letting a comparative lack of training hold them back.
There were two youngsters in their early 20s in addition to a collection of ex-runners, combined with those who had retired from other sports such as hockey and horse-racing.
There is one marked difference when comparing two races as the finishing positons of Chichester’s top three in 1984 were lower down the field than at present, even though the total number of finishers at 302 was smaller.
1984 Chichester inaugural team: Gary Wright 26.21 (44th); Phil Baker 27.15 (66th); Paul Froud 27.25 (68th); Alan Mayhew 28.22 (89th); Nigel Brooks 28.52 (102nd); John Irwin 29.39 (123rd); Dave Rang 31.24 (171st); Mike O’Connor 35.14 (243rd); Alan Beale 39.55 (275th).
Chichester were well-represented in the Southern Inter-Counties cross-country championships at Oxford, with seven athletes competing across the age groups.
Although featuring only just over a quarter of the 45 counties expected at the national event in March, the quality of the fields at Oxford meant a number of potential national champions and medallists were on view.
Olivia Wiseman gained Chichester’s top spot with a fine sixth place as first Sussex scorer in the under-15 girls’ race. This more than made up for feeling slightly off-colour in the Sussex League match at Brighton the previous weekend.
Wiseman will be encouraged by her inter-county run in preparation for the Sussex championships at Bexhill in early January.
Another athlete who had suffered recent illness was Will Broom, who was forced to miss the league match but returned to his best form of the season with a 21st spot at Oxford, second Sussex scorer behind Josh Eeles of Brighton Phoenix, another athlete with Chichester connections.
In the same race, Leo Stallard and Brodie Keates had been called into the team from the reserves and neither let the county down. Stallard finished 45th and was fourth Sussex scorer while Keates came home in 69th and sixth finisher for Sussex.
Elsewhere, Alex Mani had his first taste of inter-county action but coped well to finish 47th and sixth in a strong Sussex under-15 boys’ team in which the whole squad were split by less than a minute.
Grace Wills continued her improving form of the past few weeks with 38th in the under-17 women’s race and third Sussex scorer while Charlotte Reading finished just a few places lower with 44th in the under-20 women’s race, sixth in the Sussex team.
The athletes now have nearly a month to train for the Sussex championships on Saturday, January 7, over the undulating and often muddy Little Common course at Bexhill.
In particular, the Chichester juniors will be attempting to wrest the overall junior shield back from host club Hastings AC, having had to settle for the runners-up spot last season.
Chichester fielded a stronger team for the second fixture in the Sussex Indoor Sportshall league at Horsham on Sunday and were rewarded with encouraging all-round performances.
The girls’ squad in particular showed marked improvement from the opening match with Maya Solly gaining an overall victory in the shot putt with an impressive 8.46m.
On the track Fleur Hollyer and Sophie Dudman both improved their best times in the two-lap sprint with a couple of runners-up spots while cross-country trio Nicole Boltwood, Nina Moranne and Hannah Carmichael gained useful speed work in the four-lap and six-lap events.
With Solly and Dudman on form in the vertical jump and Hollyer partnered by Moranne for good points in the speed bounce, the under-13 girls were a match for the strongest clubs present, including Crawley, Brighton & Hove and host club Horsham.
The three under-11 girls gained useful experience in all three disciplines in this age group in the two-lap sprint, speed bounce and standing long jump.
For the under-15s, Jess Rayner and Leila Solly proved a useful pairing with a couple of second places in the vertical jump and close to two metres in the standing long jump while opting for different events on the track. Rayner teasted her speed over two laps while Solly chose the four-lap distance.
The boys’ team again suffered from a lack of numbers but the four athletes on duty all performed with credit.
DJ Barth and Noah Campbell showed a good turn of speed in the two-lap race and then split events in the field in the speed bounce and vertical jump respectively.
For the under-11s both Fionn O’Murchu and James Carmichael performed well in the two-lap sprint with Carmichael showing good agility in the speed bounce and O’Murchu joining the under-13s in the six-lap to make full use of his endurance gained over cross country this season.
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