Recent weeks have seen the culmination of the English cross-country season with both the National Inter Counties
and English Schools Championships featuring good representation from Chichester’s athletes.
From a Sussex point of view, the highlight has been in winning two of the team titles in the English Schools championships at Derby.
In an event which has been held since the 1960s, Sussex had only won a couple of team titles during the previous 50 years, so there was much jubilation when firstly the intermediate boys and then, more surprisingly, the senior girls were victorious over the other 40 counties taking part from across the country.
The intermediate boys knew they had a strong squad comprising not only the winner of the Sussex under-17 title, Chichester’s Harry Leleu, but also the under-15 winner Stephen Ferroni from Brighton, as both age groups combine to make
the intermediate age group at schools level.
The younger athlete led Sussex home with all six scorers in the top 40 including Leleu in a fine 38th to give a team total of 129 points, well in front of the next county on 196. Josh James ran well for 136th place, less than a minute further back.
The senior girls’ victory was more unexpected with county champion Grace Baker from Hastings a fine fifth and three more runners in the top 50.
Georgina Warner kept pace in the middle of the high-quality field for 155th along with the other two Sussex runners who were
just outside the top 100 for a winning team total of 284 points.
Meanwhile, a club record 14 athletes had travelled to Birmingham to represent Sussex in what is recognised as being the highest quality event of the year, the British Inter-Counties Championships, which in recent years has also served as the selection race for the world championships.
With just the top eight runners from each of the 44 counties in the four home countries, the benchmark has been a place in the top 100 marking an outstanding performance with anywhere near the middle of the 300-strong fields considered more than respectable.
For the first time ever, Chichester runners made up half of the under-15 girls’ team with Rose Ellis once again leading the club’s contingent in 80th place, but such is the closeness of the field that there was barely a minute before Charlotte Reading, Tara Bage and Saskia Gardam crossed the line engulfed in a mass of runners in 170th, 199th and 221st respectively. There was similar good packing in the under-17 race with Chichester’s trio of runners finishing almost at once with Georgina Warner 147th, Hannah Croad 149th and Nicola Mead 163rd, with Lucy Ellis deprived of winning her first Sussex vest because of illness.
Another event which saw three of Chichester’s talented junior squad in action was in the under-17 men’s race with Harry Leleu in 80th followed by Josh James in 156th and James McKenzie in 179th with once again just over 30 seconds covering the three.
The other four Chichester competitors were involved in four separate races with Casey Keates having the race of his life in 56th place for the under-15s, the club’s highest place of the day, while Ben Collins not only made the top 100 in 99th place but also filled the last scoring spot for the Sussex team.
In just his first year at secondary school, Collins will have another year in the age group and will be eyeing up the top ten finishers who were less than a minute in front.
The same position was achieved by Rosie Hiles in the senior women’s race while James Baker was 109th in the men’s race, with both scoring for their Sussex team in a quality event serving as a full trial for the world championships teams in Poland.
* The winner of last November’s Hampshire league fixture at Goodwood, Emelia Gorecka, who runs for the Aldershot
& Farnham club, led Great Britain’s under-20 women’s team to bronze medals at last weekend’s World Cross
Country Championships in Poland behind favourites Kenya and runners-up Ethiopia.
Gorecka finished 16th in her race as the first non-African home and helped to bring home Britain’s first team medal for over 20 years.
Don’t miss the Observer on April 4 for full coverage of the final Chichester Corporate Challenge races