Chichester Runners finished their Sussex Cross Country League season in fine style at Lancing Manor by coming away with their best-ever individual and team medal haul in their 30-year history.
They made the top three in seven out of the eight age groups and three of the team medals were gold – a first for the club.
There were three individual golds as well as a host of minor places and to cap a fine day, Chichester emerged as the top overall club in the county for the season.
Chichester are currently strong across all age groups, but the under-17 age group has stood out this season.
The women’s team knew only the best would be good enough to hold off a strong challenge from Brighton & Hove and especially Hastings, who were just two points adrift before Saturday.
It looked precarious when Rose Ellis was forced to retire soon after the start and Brighton and Hastings were occupying the first three places.
However one of the club’s strengths this season has been the depth of talent in their squad and fine runs from Amber Westron, Charlotte Reading and Saskia Gardam in fifth, sixth and seventh gave a low total of just 18 points to secure gold, with Brighton finishing as their nearest challengers and Hastings demoted to third.
The under-17 men were lying in a solid silver-medal position and produced their best team performance of the season to win the fixture with just 13 points. Another win from Casey Keates ensured him the individual title and an inspired run from Harry Lyne in third was his highest-ever league finish in any age group.
Harry Pink completed the A team scoring in ninth which left Chichester just nine points behind winners Lewes after a hard-fought season over four tough fixtures.
Again Chichester showed their strength in numbers has been a factor, with the B team putting in a strong performance to clinch third place on the day thanks to Will Kallaway in 12th, Sam Pink 15th and Sam Reading 18th.
One team with a slightly more comfortable margin at the top of their division were the under-15 boys, who were holding an 11-point lead over Hastings before this final fixture.
There was the usual sight of the leading two runners at the head of the pack once the race had settled down, with county champion Joe Body from Hastings shoulder to shoulder with Chichester’s Ben Collins, the pair having occupied the top two places in the county championships in January.
Once again it was the Hastings athlete who was just able to stretch clear over the latter part of the course leaving Collins to finish as runner-up on the day and over the season as a whole. Collins has another year in the under-15 age group, but his main rival will be in the under-17s.
Behind Collins, there was another fine run from Luke Campbell in fifth with Brodie Keates in ninth completing the A team scoring just in front of Jack Blackman in 11th, with Leo Stallard having a solid run in 21st.
In the girls’ race there were good runs from Chloe Croad in tenth and Isobel Loveridge in 21st but the team have suffered from injuries this season and so did not feature in the final rankings.
Under-13s and under-11s
On paper, both the under-13 boys’ and girls’ teams were in line for team medals before the final race but knew that only their best efforts would ensure success.
The boys were without regular scorer Jeremy Sharp so much depended on the other two top scorers, Harry Sage and Ned Potter, who obliged with fourth and ninth places respectively.
With league leaders Lewes guaranteed gold, it was then up to Chichester’s third scorer to match the run of the Brighton & Hove athlete to preserve Chichester’s four-point margin for team silver.
A top-25 placing was reckoned to be enough and Tom Davy, in his first season with the club, crossed the line on 23rd place to ensure the silver medals.
Next to finish was Ben Woolnough, in his first race for the club, in 28th, followed by JJ Staples in 32nd and Marcus Bugge 39th for a B team total of 99 points in tenth place.
The girls’ under-13 squad was back to full strength for this final fixture with Olivia Wiseman and Cheyenne James finishing third and fourth respectively and Charlotte Bullard having her best run of the season in seventh for a total of 14 points, their best team effort of the season and good enough to pull clear from Brighton Phoenix for team bronze.
Despite feeling below par, Wiseman’s run was good enough to win individual silver after having already won at Goodwood and Plumpton before Christmas.
In another age group where Chichester have a depth of talent, Coco Smythe led the B team home in 14th place followed by Caitlin Brown in 26th and Maggie King 31st.
In the non-scoring under-11 race Douglas Smith was a close fourth in the boys’ race with the top five runners involved in a sprint finish and covered by just four seconds at the line, while Nina Moranne led the girls home in third place with Eden Murphy, James Bullard and Rose Potter also gaining good experience for the club.
Senior men and women
There was much anticipation in the outcome of both the senior men’s and women’s races with the men hoping gain promotion back to the top division and the women involved in a close three-way battle for medals in division one.
Both teams achieved their objectives, with the men consolidating their position to emerge as division-two champions and the women overtaking host club Worthing to finish as division-one runners-up behind Lewes in the final race.
Fay Cripps continued her fine season in sixth with Jane Harrop next home in 15th, cementing her position as over-45 champion for the season. Under-17s Amber Westron and Charlotte Reading followed closely in 16th and 19th respectively with Saskia Gardam 23rd as back-up.
Nicola Mead in 55th was followed by Holly Beaton in 70th and Rebecca Brown 74th for a good showing by the B team.
For the men, James Baker showed he was back to nearly full fitness with a strong run in third place to claim the senior league crown to add to his impressive collection of the past 20 years.
Next home was an equally-delighted Harry Leleu whose sixth place overall was his best-ever in the senior ranks and ensured an unbeaten season as an under-20 in the league to claim individual gold.
Steve Davy in 33rd and newcomer Derry Lozano-Moyland in 48th gave the club a division-two win on the day and moved them more than 60 points clear of Lewes to clinch the title.
Over-60s Rob Wiggins and Tom Blaylock were next home in 87th and 99th but more importantly second and third in their age group to claim silver and bronze.
The rest of Chichester’s overall total of more than 50 athletes were Mike Moorcroft in 112th, Mark Jennings 123rd and John Betts 128th.
Today (Feb 21) the top cross-country runners will be at Parliament Hill Fields in London for the English nationals, with Chichester aiming to produce good results.
Meanwhile, the streets of Chichester will be thronged with hundreds of runners next Wednesday evening when the first race in the Chichester Corporate Challenge series hits the city centre.
- PHIL BAKER