A squad of more than 40 runners put in a fine overall performance for Chichester at the Sussex Cross Country Championships at Bexhill.
In near-perfect conditions they came away with a couple of gold team medals as well as individual honours and a number of automatic qualifications to represent Sussex in the national inter-counties championships in Nottingham in March.
Having gained bronze last year, Chichester’s under-20 men were out to improve on their placing and did not disappoint.
With both Will Broom and Leo Stallard having recovered from injury and together with in-form Ned Potter, Chichester were able to field their strongest team and felt confident in mounting a decent challenge to Brighton and Horsham, the top two clubs in 2019.
Running with the seniors, albeit competing over a shorter 8k course, the Sussex under-20s were soon making their mark occupying half of the top ten places with Brighton’s Tomer Tarragano, the Horsham number one and Potter all in the leading bunch.
As the race unfolded Broom was improving steadily with Stallard doing remarkably well in his first race for several months. Coming into the finish, Potter was bravely hanging on to the bronze medal place with Broom not far behind in fifth and all depended on which club was the first to close in its third scorer.
Finishing strongly Stallard got the better of his rivals to finish 11th, one place in front of the Horsham runner, to give Chichester team gold by two points from Horsham with Brighton back in third. Also showing good form to the end was reserve Harry Sage in 17th.
Chichester’s under-20 women were running with the under-17s for the first time because of the extra distance of the senior women’s race this year.
This proved to Chichester’s advantage with Alice Cox-Rusbridge gaining a well-deserved individual silver medal with the top three under-20s separated by no more than a few seconds throughout the 5k race.
Not far behind were Rachel Laurie and Beth Brown, who ran together for most of the race to finish seventh and eighth and give Chichester a total of 17 points to become the inaugural winners of the team race.
What was most gratifying to Chichester Runners is that all seven under-20s are a product of their junior section with five having started with the club when still at primary school.
It was in the under-17 men’s race where spectators witnessed the most thrilling finish of the entire day involving Chichester’s Liam Dunne. As the 5k race unfolded, a group of three detached themselves from the rest of the leading pack on the final lap of three and with just under half a mile to go the leading pair pulled clear with Dunne chasing Adam Dray from Lewes as hard as he could.
On the long, straight finishing section with the waiting crowds in sight, Dunne pulled level with his rivals and both headed for the line neck and neck ad from somewhere the Lewes man drew into reserves of energy to win the title by the thickness of a vest with both athletes given the same time.
In the same race Archie Sadler was pleased to finish 19th in his first year in the age group but the absence of a third runner meant that Chichester were not able to contest the team race.
Nicole Boltwood led the under-17 women home in 18th supported well by Amelia Bromell in 23rd and Rose Potter 25th for a total of 66 points and sixth team.
Under-13s and under-15s
In the junior races at the start of the event, Chichester were unlucky not to win team medals in both the under-13 races.
The girls’ leading trio of Lillie Hellyer in 11th, twin sister Laila 12th and Florence Ingram 15th were separated by less than half a minute and posted a team total of 38th points, agonisingly a single point off the bronze medal placings.
Reserves Ela Pemberton and Millie Isitt both ran well in 24th and 30th places respectively.
For the boys, Chichester’s leading trio were in a safe medal position for most of the race but Josh Dunne was unlucky to twist his knee on one of the uneven parts of the course and had to walk back to the finish.
This left Alessandro Schmitt as the club’s leading runner in eighth with Noah Collins overtaking Will Bailley near the finish for 22nd and 26th places with reserve Digby Fulford close behind in 38th.
Even without Dunne, the team score of 56 points was good enough for fifth. There was a sixth place for the under-15 girls with Gemma Appleton leading the team home in 17th followed by Issy Isitt in 23rd and Amelia McGurk 27th.
Even though the under-15 boys were only tenth team, another three points less would have brought them home in seventh, this despite the club’s top two, Joe McLarnon and Fin Roberson, being unable to compete.
Hal Edgar led the club home in a fine 18th place followed by Gabryel White in 25th and James Davies 38th for a team total of 81 points.
Senior men and women
It was a question of what might have been for Chichester’s senior teams with each finishing in a highly respectable fifth place despite missing a number of key athletes.
As with the under-20s, both of Chichester’s first runners home were a product of the club’s thriving junior section with Harry Leleu and Charlotte Reading joining the club in school Year 6 as ten-year-olds.
Leleu has made his mark on the international triathlon circuit in the past year and ran a great race on in a high-class field to gain automatic selection for the inter counties.
Always with the front pack over the testing 10.3k course, Leleu even had a chance of his first Sussex individual medal on the final lap. However he could not quite close enough on the final hill and had to settle for fifth.
Also clawing his way through the field was evergreen James Baker who achieved a fine tenth place at 42 years of age against his younger rivals. Two places further back was Will Boutwood, now back in Chichester after three years at St Mary’s College, making it the first time in the club’s 35-year history they have scored three runners in the top dozen in this competition.
Chris West was back in action as a senior, nearly 20 years after being one of the top juniors in the UK as an under-13. His 41st place was followed by 73rd from Steve Davey and 86th from Mike Moorcroft with reserve Paul Stallard in 90th.
In the women’s race, competitors had to tackle the 10k distance for the first time. The fact the course was over-distance and the terrain had already been trodden by hundreds of pairs of runners beforehand made conditions challenging for all concerned.
Despite these difficulties, Chichester’s team of six all performed with credit. Reading was especially pleased with her 17th place in 46 minutes, a time that would have beaten a number of men over the same course.
Aleksandra Vargin was next home in 26th with the remaining four athletes well into their veteran categories. One of the country’s top over-60 runners, Helen Dean, was 34th followed by Amanda Godfrey 39th, Sue Baker 42nd and the club’s amazing over-70 runner Wendy Whelan in 52nd.