Top trio lead Chichester to school athletics success

Ben Collins, Rose Ellis and Harry Leleu  Picture montage by Lee Hollyer
Ben Collins, Rose Ellis and Harry Leleu Picture montage by Lee Hollyer

There were some outstanding individual performances and good team showings from Chichester-area athletes at the Sussex schools cross-country championships at Brighton.

After the event switched to a midweek date in 2014, there was another record number of athletes taking part this year with more than 600 lining up for six races across three age groups.

The highlights of the day for Chichester were undoubtedly the two individual wins by Rose Ellis and Ben Collins and a second place for Harry Leleu.

The two junior races for pupils in school Years 8 and 9 as usual provided the biggest fields, with nearly 200 runners in both the boys’ and girls’ races.

Collins was full of confidence after a fine runners-up spot in the county clubs’ championships and knew that the winner on that occasion was in the higher intermediate age group for the schools event.

Collins was soon to the fore in the leading bunch and decided to go clear at halfway. After establishing a substantial lead over the rest of the field, Collins had to really buckle down over the last mile as the chasing pack started to close.

However the Chichester High School pupil was never in danger of relinquishing his lead and crossed the line with a few seconds in hand.

Behind there were great runs from Will Broom (Bishop Luffa) in seventh and Alex Halfacree (Chichester High) in 14th.

The next three members of the Bishop Luffa squad packed within 20 seconds of each other with Jeremy Sharp in 28th, Ned Potter 33rd and Leo Stallard 34th for a team total of 102 points and a superb runners-up place behind Brighton College.

In the junior girls’ race there was another good show from the Bishop Luffa team with five out of their six finishers in the top third of the field – although there was disappointment for Olivia Wiseman, forced to pull out when in the leading pack with her Bishop Luffa team heading for another team silver.

Amber Dodd led home in 46th followed by Heidi King in 48th, Alice Cox-Rushbridge 53rd, Millie Rodwell 61st and reserve Holly Heffron 63rd.

In the intermediate age group, the highest-placed finisher was Amber Westron, seventh in the girls’ race for Bishop Luffa, while Luke Campbell from the same school had a finetenth place for the boys.

Close behind were Brodie Keates (Felpham CC) in 24th and Benedict Robinson and Matthew Cotton (both Chichester High School) in 34th and 68th.

There was much anticipation in the senior races, where the fine form of local athletes just over two weeks earlier in the county championships gave the squad a great deal of confidence.

Although both girls are in the first year in the age group, Rose Ellis from Chichester College and Hastings rival Sophie Markwick were soon in the leading pack.

Having occupied the top two positions in the under-17 age group in the clubs’ event, they were up against older athletes here – but that did not affect their confidence.

Ellis was first to break clear and gradually built up what looked like being an unassailable lead with a mile to run. Markwick gradually closed the gap on the fast downhill run to the finish but Ellis had enough strength for a last effort over a slight rise in the terrain to claim victory by four seconds for her first-ever schools triumph and her second Sussex title in 11 days.

There were a trio of fine runs behind with Chichester College team-mate Hannah Croad in ninth, Charlotte Reading tenth and Emma Maynard, part of the Chichester club but running for Brighton College, 14th.

In the boys’ race, the whole field knew they were probably battling for second place as Brighton’s Stephen Ferroni had been showing national standard form over the winter.

But there was a great result for Harry Leleu from Seaford College in second place as he turned the tables on Billy White from Brighton Phoenix.

Leleu had been so disappointed to miss out on a medal in the club event, being forced to retire with a back strain when well placed and allowing White to go on and claim the under-20 title.

On this occasion Leleu was in the leading bunch from the start and, after allowing Ferroni to go clear, had more than enough in hand to claim the runners-up spot with a healthy 16-second margin over White.

There was strong local interest, with Casey Keates an excellent sixth for Felpham CC with team-mate Harry Lyne in 14th and Harry Pink, running for Midhurst Rother, in 17th.

Ashley Thompson led a six-man team from Chichester College in 31st to make ten local runners in the age group, the best showing for a number of years.

* Today (Jan 24), all eyes will be on Stanmer Park, Brighton, where the top athletes in the south of England will be battling in the southern cross-country championships with the Chichester squad certain to be up against past, present and future internationals.

The day’s events start at 11am with the under-15 boys’ race and spectators are welcome.

PHIL BAKER