Just two weeks after running in the South of England Championships over the same course, Sussex cross-country runners returned to Stanmer Park, Brighton, for the final Sussex League fixture of the season where individual and team medals were decided.
In the earlier championships, conditions underfoot had started out wet but manageable; however on Saturday one experienced Sussex official described the state of the ground as resembling a battlefield with the usually-firm parkland course at its worst in living memory.
In a busy time of the winter calendar, Chichester knew they were going to field weakened teams in most age groups but the 41 athletes who turned out stepped up to the mark and ensured that in every single race where Chichester were in a medal position, they maintained their challenge.
There were also individual gold and silver success with the added bonus of several athletes notching their highest-ever finish.
In the final two races of the day, run under worsening weather conditions, both the women’s and men’s teams were led home by new faces – Ben Morton, still an under-20, for the men and Sophie Wright in her first year as a senior in the women’s race.
The under-11 races are not part of the official league programme but can act as useful pointers to the future.
For the girls Florence Ingram had her best race to date with a fine second place, leading home four more good performances from Chichester with Lillie Hellyer eighth, Laila Hellyer 11th, Carrie Anelay 14th and Grace Eminson 23rd. For the boys in a slightly larger field, Sam Cato in 25th, led home Digby Fulford in 33rd.
In the under-13 races, Chichester teams had a chance of medals although the girls were favourites.
The girls have been lucky that all their top three runners have been fit and well all season and the same trio lined up on Saturday.
Isobel Buckler led the charge finishing in eighth place, with Cerys Dickinson and Eva Buckler close on her heels in 12th and 13th for a team total of 33 points to cement team bronze medals behind Crawley and Brighton i– a clear 70 points ahead of fourth place.
The boys’ outside chance of gaining ground on the top three were dashed on the day of the race when Fionn O’Murchu, in outstanding form in recent weeks, had to pull out ill.
In his absence Harvey McGuiness had another good run to finish ninth with Joe McLarnon 15th. Hal Edgar, in his first race for the club, was next home in 33rd with James Bullard and Barney McLarnon 39th and 40th.
The team were fifth on the day and a very creditable fourth overall for the season, just outside the medals.
Maggie King achieved a best-ever finish in the under-15 girls’ race. Good packing from Nina Moranne in 20th, Charlotte Bullard 22nd and Rose Potter 27th gave the team fifth place on the day and a solid fifth over the season.
With Chichester’s women’s under-17s unbeaten all season, having won the Sussex championship in January as well as being top Sussex club in the South of England championships, there was a chance of a clean sweep going into Saturday’s race.
But the unavailability of Imogen Matthews, Beth Brown and Olivia Wiseman meant the club’s resources were stretched.
Ever reliable Alice Cox-Rusbridge and Florence Smith were fit to run and Rachel Laurie, normally one of the club’s top sprinters, offered to be third scorer.
The trio did the club proud with Cox Rusbridge third, Laurie sixth and Smith seventh out of the under-17s to give the club 16 points, a winning low score on the day for a season’s score of 78 points over the four fixtures – and a massive gap to Hastings in second place with 124 and Horsham in 3rd on 133.
Chichester’s men’s team were equally depleted with only three out of the squad of nine available to run. Will Broom had a storming run to finish runner-up to Sussex No1 Tom Eames from Brighton & Hove while Alfie Spurle in 15th and Harry Sage 25th ensured their points score was enough to hang on to third place.
Crawley chased hard in fourth but were not able to overturn Chichester’s advantage leaving them with a 14-point margin in third to gain bronze medals. This ensured both Chichester men’s and women’s teams have finished in the medals in all Sussex competitions over the winter.
Senior men and women
Chichester’s senior women started the day in the bronze-medal position in the overall standings but knowing they were not able to field their strongest team and that Hailsham Harriers were hot on their heels.
With the under-17s in the same race and also able to score as seniors, this has been a help all season and Saturday was no exception.
Fast-improving Sophie Wright led the squad home in a fine 15th, her highest-ever placing, with Alice Cox Rusbridge close on her heels in 16th.
University student Emma Hughes was 24th with Rachel Laurie 32nd giving an A team total of 87 points, behind Hailsham on the day but still a crucial 25 ahead over the whole season to secure team bronze.
What bodes well for the future of the club is that their average age of just 19 was the youngest ever for a scoring quartet.
Florence Smith led the B team home in 34th with Jenny Jakeman 36th, Helen Dean 43rd and Rebecca Brown 60th with reserve Sue Baker 71st for a creditable fourth place finish in division two.
The club’s senior men’s A team have spent the past three seasons in division two of the county league and have found to their cost one poor result over the season has cost them chances of promotion.
It looked as though they may fall to a similar fate on Saturday for, although leading the second division by a clear margin, they were not able to call on any of the senior men’s scoring team who had performed so well in the southern championships and the Chichester 10k.
But youth was to the fore with under-20 Ben Morton having his best run to finish eighth overall, second under-20 home and as a result individual gold medallist in winning the under-20 league title.
University student Joe Godwood was 31st with another of the club’s under-20s, Brodie Keates, in 39th and winning overall silver for under 20s.
There was a welcome return from veteran Andy Nicholson, who battled hard to finish 70th and give the A team 148 points, which surprisingly won their division and meant a finish as league champions, securing a return to division one next season.
Their margin of 250-plus points over the season was more than anyone could have imagined.
Backing up well were the B team with John Bullard in 88th, Om Phulphan 92nd, Mike Moorcroft 113th and Mark Jennings 125th to complete a fine league season for the club.
* With a few days to go until the opening race night next Wednesday, entries for the 27th running of the Chichester Corporate Challenge look as healthy as ever.
In recent years there has been a fairly even balance between senior and junior entries and once again there will be a need for five separate junior races to enable the large field to safely negotiate the tight city-centre course.
It is a far cry from the early 1990s when the event started. At its inception in February 1992, the aim of the series was to promote healthy activity in the workplace and for the first few years only seniors were catered for.
In the mid 90s a junior element was introduced but the early fields were so small that one race was sufficient with a maximum of 50 runners across both primary and secondary age groups combined.
Fast forward to the present day and not only are the primary and secondary split into separate boys and girls’ race but the primary boys need separate races for school Years 5 and 6 to fit everyone in.
In this age group there are already sizeable entries from East Wittering, Parklands, Oakwood, Central, Funtington, North Mundham, Fittleworth, Lavant, Aldingbourne, Westbourne, Fishbourne, Bishop Tufnell, Walberton & Binstead, Jessie Younghusband and Bosham – with a few schools still to enter.
The secondary races tend to attract athletes from farther afield with a strong Portsmouth-based contingent always ready to challenge.
The event has seen over the years the beginnings of illustrious athletics careers for some of the athletes.
Boys’ course record holder Lachlan Wellington has gone on to represent GB in the European cross country championships while the joint girls’ record holders Linda Spencer and Charlotte Browning have shone as far afield as Australia and America.
As for the seniors, many of the regular entrants have sent in strong teams with multiple winners DSTL Portsdown having the largest entry so far of more than 20 athletes.
Locally-based Linn Systems will also be a force to be reckoned with as previous winner Zach Lahlal will be in their ranks.
This may be the year when youth rises to the fore as both the university and Chichester College will swell the ranks, not forgetting Chichester’s medal-winning under-17s, who will all be lining up with the seniors this year.
There is still time to enter before the closing date next Monday and it may be possible to accept a few late entries on the race night on Wednesday (Feb 21).
The race HQ at the Assembly Rooms, North Street, will be open from 5.30pm. Forms are available from the Chichester Runners website.