Chichester athletes help Sussex to cross-country success

Leo Stallard in sportshall action - and he has done well in cross-country recently  Picture by Lee Hollyer
Leo Stallard in sportshall action - and he has done well in cross-country recently Picture by Lee Hollyer

Chichester athletes were to the fore as Sussex enjoyed their best-ever day in the south-east inter-counties cross-country championships, held this year in Bedfordshire.

A dozen counties from London, the home counties, East Anglia and the south provided great competitive action.

Across the seven junior races, Sussex amassed no fewer than two team golds, one team silver, one bronze and a fourth place, with Chichester’s athletes making an impressive contribution.

The first Sussex gold came in the under-13 boys’ race, an age group in which Chichester have been strong all season.

Unluckily for top runner Ben Collins, his recent injury forced him to pull up - but both he and Leo Stallard, whose stunning form came too late for selection on this occasion, can take comfort in knowing they are competing with the best in the south in the league.

Stallard’s recent fourth places at Bexhill and Plumpton bode well for the county championships in the new year while Collins is hoping his injury worries will ease after a rest from competition.

There were no Chichester athletes in the other winning team, the under-20 women, although Grace Baker from Hastings, who achieved an excellent second place on Saturday, has provided a benchmark for local runners after her recent league win at Lancing.

Chichester pair Harry Leleu and Josh James were in action in the under-17 men’s race, with Leleu a marvellous eighth overall and second Sussex scorer in finishing runners-up to a strong Surrey squad by a mere two points.

James was just outside the scoring four for Sussex in 44th place but such was the closeness of the field that less than a minute separated him from Leleu.

There was disappointment for Chichester when Rose Ellis was forced to withdraw from the Sussex under-17 women’s team because of illness - but it was offset by delight that the rest of the team pulled out all the stops to clinch third place. Sophie Markwick from Hastings led Sussex home in a fine sixth place.

As Ellis and Markwick shared identical times earlier in the season in the Goodwood relays, the Chichester athlete knows she will be a force to be reckoned with when fully fit at both county and area level.

Chichester’s two representatives in this age group showed good form with Hannah Croad in 43rd and Emma Maynard 53rd - although as in the boys’ race, there was very little time between them and the top ten.

The final Chichester runner in action was Olivia Wiseman in her first-ever county team. She had a superb run to be third Sussex scorer in the under-13 girls’ race in a Sussex team which finished in fourth place just outside the medals.

Considering it is less than a year since Wiseman burst on to the running scene in the primary-school races in the Corporate Challenge in March, her progress has been most impressive, all the more so as she will have another year in the under-13 age group.

Chichester’s juniors travelled to Horsham for the second of their Sussex Indoor Sportshall League matches and put up some good performances despite not being able to field a full-strength team.

For the boys, the under-13s produced the best individual result of the day as James Gillett and Peter Hughes almost scored a double first in the shot putt.

Gillett threw more than nine metres for second place in the A string and Hughes comfortably won the B string.

Hughes then teamed up with Alex Austin on the track and both were impressive over two and four laps. In the longer six-lap race, Leo Stallard was just edged into second place, with both athletes recording fast times.

James Austin produced Chichester’s fastest sprint time of the day as runner-up in the two-lap under-15 race while Curtis Drake showed good speed in the four-lap, with Ben Morton a capable B string.

The trio picked up useful points for the team in the field events with Drake’s triple-jump the pick of the best.

For the under-11s, a new pairing of Tom Davey and James Smith scored well on track and field.

For the girls, Eloise Lane ran another well-judged race to repeat her win in the four-lap from the first match with Amelia Freeman in good support - both girls showing their versatility in shot, vertical jump and the eight-lap paarlauf relay at the end of the match.

Maria Austin showed excellent speed in the two-lap sprint, recording a faster time than many of the competitors in the older age group, while Fleur Hollyer showed promise as the B string, with the pair setting good marks later in the standing long jump.

It’s a very competitive league involving several county champions from other clubs, including Crawley, Horsham and Brighton & Hove, and Chichester are looking forward to the next fixture on January 19, when a full-strength team hope to match the best in Sussex.

Problems with the Stanmer Park course in Falmer, Brighton, have forced a last-minute switch of venue for the Sussex cross-country championships on Sunday, January 5, to Bexhill, thanks to an offer from the Hastings Athletics Club to host the event at short notice.

The Sussex officials felt they could not guarantee the smooth running of the event after the arrival at Stanmer of a large number of the travelling community, so the whole programme will switch to the Little Common course at Bexhill, which has hosted the championships in the past.

The programme is unaffected with the first race for under-11s at 11.15 am with junior races until 1pm, followed by the senior men and women - a programme of ten races in total.

PHIL BAKER