Chichester athletes excelled in the Bexhill mud as overnight rain turned the Sussex cross-country championship course at Bexhill into a quagmire and presented runners with one of the toughest tests of endurance seen for many years.
Despite this, Chichester Runners emerged with a host of team and individual medals and, to cap a fine day, regained the junior team shield from holders Brighton & Hove, fending off a strong challenge from host club Hastings.
Chichester’s under-17s showed their strength with Rosie Ellis producing a dominant display to win the women’s race, leading the club to team silver, and the men’s squad gaining gold and silver team medals in their race to clinch the junior shield into the bargain.
The under-11s were first to tackle the ankle-deep mud. Douglas Smith continued his fine form with a third place in the boys’ race and James Bullard bravely finished 27th despite of a couple of falls.
Gracie Roberts was impressive with fourth in the girls’ race with Nina Moranne seventh and Rose Potter and Fleur Hollyer 19th and 20th respectively.
After a fine third place in the same race last year, Olivia Wiseman went one better this time with a well-deserved silver medal, just having to give way over the final few metres to Harmony Cooper of Hastings. The pair had done battle in a previous league meeting in November, when Wiseman came out on top. Such was the dominance of the pair, the rest of the field were left trailing nearly a minute in arrears.
Next home for Chichester were Millie Selman in tenth and Coco Smythe in 13th for a team total of 25 points – good enough for a team bronze.
Xenia Truman led the B team home in 17th followed by Amber Dodd in 26th and Caitlin Brown in 27th for sixth place.
Unluckiest athlete of the day was Charlotte Bullard, whose top-ten finish was not allowed to stand as she missed the first few metres of the race.
The under-13 boys had also hoped for a team medal having won the previous league match but without Harry Sage and Jeremy Sharp and with Ned Potter still not fully recovered from illness, they realised they would have to concentrate on the league for end-of-season success.
Potter led the squad home in 13th and it gave others a chance to score for the team. Jack Dean was next home in 20th followed by Tom Davy in 35th, Max Cooke 43rd and Marcus Bugge 44th for an A team score of 68 points and ninth place.
League leaders Chichester were up with the pace from the start of the under-15 boys’ race and posted six of the top 15 runners after the first of the two-lap course.
Ben Collins was soon at the front with arch rival Joe Body of Hastings, with whom he has battled all season. The pair established clear daylight from the chasing pack of five. which included Luke Campbell making his way through after a steady start.
On the hill on the second lap Body made his break to maintain his unbeaten season in Sussex and he was followed home by Collins, who has made great strides in his first year in the under-15 age group.
Campbell was a mere 13 seconds further back in sixth and Brodie Keates completed the scoring in 11th for a team total of just 19 points but they had to settle for silver behind an inspired Hastings effort on their home course.
For the B team, Jack Blackman was 14th, Will Broom 20th and Leo Stallard 37th with reserve Brandon Bell 41st. Special mention must be made to Stallard, usually a top-20 finisher, who battled to the end despite a heavy fall during the race.
The club’s least experienced squad was the under-15 girls, but Chloe Croad in 18th led home newcomers to the cross-country scene Heidi King in 26th, Rachel Laurie 29th and Isobel Loveridge 30th for a team placing of sixth which helped the juniors’ success.
Chichester had hoped for a strong showing from the under-17 men and women based on their form in the early part of the season – and the nine-strong squad did not disappoint.
The women usually run with the seniors in league fixtures but in these championships they have their own race and the top three in Sussex were soon out in front, with Brighton athlete Martha Coyle and Sophie Markwick from Hastings joined in the leading trio by Chichester’s Rosie Ellis.
Full of confidence after finishing first as Sussex athlete in the southern inter-counties before Christmas, Ellis decided to push the pace on the second lap and gradually increase her lead from a few metres to ten seconds with just a mile to run.
Running with amazing fluency, Ellis kept up the pressure and strode down the long finishing straight to beak the tape 16 seconds clear of Coyle with Markwick in third and add another county title to her win in the under-15 age group two years earlier.
Charlotte Reading ran confidently and finished sixth and a courageous performance by Amber Westron to finish tenth after a recent illness gave Chichester 17 points to finished only a single point behind winners Hastings and claim silver medals.
In the final junior race, the club’s six-man under-17 squad knew they had to be at their best to overtake Hastings and Brighton in the overall race for the junior title.
Casey Keates again led the squad and was just edged out of the individual medals to finish an excellent fouruth, closely followed by Harry Lyne in eighth and Sam Pink 12th for a total of 24 points – equating to team gold by a four-point margin over nearest challengers Lewes.
To cap a fine showing the B team of Will Kallaway in 16th, Adam Croad 17th and Jonathan Ball 19th edged the bronze medals.
Overall junior team rankings
1 Chichester 61pts
2 Hastings 50
3 Brighton & Hove 42
5 Horsham Blue Star 22
6 Crawley 19
7 Brighton Phoenix 16
8 Worthing & District 13
Chichester’s under-20 and senior women had to try to repeat their medal-winning performance of last year without the crucial participation of top-four finisher Rosie Hiles, so the squad knew they had their work cut out to get among the medals.
In a race which saw junior international Grace Baker from Hastings just get the better of Worthing’s Emma Macready, Chichester veteran Jane Harrop had one of the runs of the day to finish 13th followed by Georgie Gair in 22nd and two under-20s, Beth Garland in 26th and Hannah Croad 38th.
Their 99-point total saw them edged into seventh with just 30 points covering the five teams in front. Reserves were Helen Dean in 65th, Rebecca Brown 68th and Sandra Nemorin-Noel in 73rd.
The full senior team will look to gain revenge on their rivals in the final league match next month, when Chichester have a chance of becoming division-one Sussex champions for the first time in their history.
In the final race of the day, the senior men know they were facing the worst underfoot conditions of all, with the ground churned up by hundreds of pairs of spikes from the preceding races.
In the absence of talisman James Baker, recovering from a training fall which left him with a broken rib, it was left to nine of the club’s veterans and a couple of seniors to fly the flag.
Stephen Davy continued his good season’s form to lead the squad home in 41st place followed by Jim Garland in 54th and John Bullard in 60th.
Another fine run from over-60 Rob Wiggins resulted in 69th spot in front of Neil Trotter 76th and another over-60, Dave Dorning, in 78th for a team finish of eighth place.
The B team were one short of a scoring six but there were good runs from Nick Palmer in 81st, Tom Blaylock 82nd, Dave Reading 97th, Andy Wingham 99th and John Betts 102nd.
The veteran men and women will be more at home when they take part in their individual age group races in the Sussex masters championships at Lancing Manor on Saturday, January 17.
- PHIL BAKER