English National CC 2009: Young Athletes

The highlight of the young athlete races at Parliament Hill during Saturday’s English National Cross Country Championships was undoubtedly the Junior Men’s race for which Ronnie Sparke claimed a bronze medal and our team was only 11 points adrift from winning a team medal of the same hue. There was also a modest supporting cast of our runners in the other races with some fine individual performances but half term absences took their toll and we only managed to field scoring fours in two other races. 

The Junior Men’s race, however, was an enthralling encounter which saw the lead change hands several times before the outcome was resolved.  Once the pace had settled during the opening lap, a leading group of eight runners containing the principal contenders including Nick Goolab (Belgrave), Ben Hunter (Southend), Phil Bernsten (Winchester), Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) and of course, Ronnie Sparke had formed.  By the time that they had reached the Tumulus field on the homeward stretch, the group was still together and whilst looking like a steady training group run were nervously eyeing each other but with no one willing to push hard too soon.  Angus Holford and Tom Phillips were handily placed back in the low twenties whilst Omar Mansour and Gavin Lewis were close together about half way down the field of 130.

The spell was broken for the leading contenders at the start of the second lap when Ben Hunter made a break and the group fractured with Goolab, Goose, Bernsten and Wilkinson (Leeds City)  giving chase with Ronnie dropped from the group, some 20 or 30 metres a drift.  However, it was Mitch Goose who lead into the Tumulus field on the way out but by the time they emerged from the wooded area at the north end of the course, the lead had changed hands again.  Nick Goolab was now heading Hunter by some 20 metres, Ronnie back in 5th and Mitch Goose nowhere to be seen but eventually emerging in 18th having been forced to stop and stretch a troublesome calf.  Angus meanwhile had worked his way up to 20th and Tom was still holding his own four places back.  Whilst the first two positions didn’t change hands again, Ronnie demonstrated his increasing racing maturity by fighting his way back up to 3rd place and by the time they had reached the back of Kite Hill, he had a cushion of 15 metres over Bernsten; this he converted to a 9 second advantage at the finishing line.

With Ronnie’s third place, the possibility of a team medal beckoned as Angus in 19th and Tom in 26th both came home very pleased and surprised by their placings after less than ideal preparation.  However, we lacked the necessary strength in depth and despite trackman Omar Mansour's sterling efforts, his 70th was not quite enough as the team closed on 118 to Aldershot’s 114 and Winchester (who claimed the bronze) on 107.

The Junior Women also fielded a team in a race predictably dominated by Aldershot who managed 4 in 9 with Stephanie Twell winning.  Georgie–Lou Sales  was our first runner home in a fine 27th place with Jessica Docking (85th), Kavita Solder (98th) and Amelia Holford (107th) completing the team who claimed 6th spot.  This race was run jointly with the U17 Women and Claudia Conway, feeling stiff after a week’s skiing, managed 90th place out of the 184 finishers.

The other individual result of note was Liam Blaikie’s 43rd place in the U15Boy’s race.  Liam was delighted with his run and also pleased to have been bettered by only one other Essex runner (Basildon’s Jack Fitsal).  Chris Sear made his Championship debut and, although feeling that he didn’t run well, in truth 183rd was admirable for a first time out over the heath (which was very heavy going in places) in a field just short of 400 runners.

Our U15 Girls’ team of Amy Doyle (203), Sophie Fuhr (253), Georgina Ferrari (269) and Holly Bedeau (287) found the going tough but got round and managed a smile at the end despite Sophie gamely struggling home with a twisted ankle. They finished 29th in the team race.

Our U17 Men’s team was particularly badly hit by other commitments and so only Khalid Yusuf (94th) and Alex Cornwell (104th) were available to race.  We also had two runners in the U13 Girls race where Ellie Foster acquitted herself well in 171st as did Stephanie Smith in 304th.  Lorenzo Ferrari (344) was our only starter in the U13 Boys’ race and was more successful than most in steering his way past the mud without picking up too much of it in the process; given the conditions this was no mean achievement.