Chichester bid for honours in Sussex cross-country special

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For the first time in its 100-plus year history the Sussex cross-country championships will be held on a Sunday this weekend – and it marks the start of an exciting three months for Chichester athletes.

The event will see 500 of the best athletes in the county line up at Stanmer Park, Brighton.

Organisers were forced to make use of their reserve date once the third-round FA cup draw had pulled Brighton & Hove Albion out of the hat for a home tie at their new stadium, which is in the same area as the course used by Brighton Athletics Club for cross-country events.

The same course will host the South of England event at the end of January, which will be followed by the national championships over the famous Parliament Hill course in February.

This weekend’s races will not only have individual and team medals up for grabs but also coveted places in the Sussex teams in the national inter counties event in March.

Another big incentive for Chichester Runners will be their attempt to match their stunning all-round performance of 2011 when they became the first Sussex club to win the three overall team titles – junior, senior and combined.

To achieve this, clubs need to show strength in depth – and the performance of B and in some cases C teams is as valuable as the front-runners.

Following an encouraging autumn, Chichester’s juniors will be hoping to have top-five finishes in most of the seven junior races with the boys and girls’ under-15 age groups especially strong. Harry Leleu, Josh James and Dan Eeles will provide stiff opposition to the rest in the boys’ race while the girls could be led home by any one of a number of athletes including Emma Maynard, Rose Ellis, Tara Bage and Charlotte Reading.

In the under-17s, it will be interesting to see whether Beth Garland, Georgina Warner and Lucy Thraves can repeat their team tactics shown in the Hampshire League at Goodwood in November when they sliced through the field after a steady start to place all three in the top eight finishers.

The under-17 boys will be faced with a stern test to gain medals but in-form Callum Adams should lead the rest of the Chichester squad home.

As usual the two under-13 teams will be Chichester’s least experienced but they may cause a surprise - as happened last year when the boys won an unexpected medal.

Competition in the senior races looks to be the strongest in Sussex for many years with internationals Jon Pepper and Ben Tickner now resident in the county and eligible to compete in the championships.

James Baker has once again been the club’s most successful senior runner over the year but if Jo Corbett and Chris West reproduce their recent form, a top-five team placing may not be out of the question.

In the final race of the day, the senior women’s race, Chichester will be hoping to finish the day with a bang with veterans Jane Harrop and Angela Carpenter joined by seniors Fay Cripps and Sarah Fenmor Collins.

As a quartet they are having their best season and may spring a surprise among established clubs Arena, Brighton & Hove and Crawley.

What is certain is that it will be a great day’s racing with the first race at 11.30am and the final runner crossing the line just after 3pm. Spectators are welcome and entrance to the course in Stanmer Park is free.

PHIL BAKER