8 March 2014
The grand finale of the 2013-14 British Athletics Cross Challenge lived up to expectations on Saturday 8 March with a mixture of runaway winners and ding-dong battles at Birmingham’s Cofton Park.
Much like the weather, the action seemed to get better and better as the day went on, with Richard Goodman (coach: Mick Woods) taking his first senior Inter Counties title after a three way tussle with cross country stalwart Steve Vernon (Dave Turnbull) and Welsh champion Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans). In the senior women’s race it took Lily Partridge (Woods) the full 8km to shake off the challenge of Katie Brough (Andrew Carter) to secure her first senior title.
The final race of the day was certainly worth the wait as a 276 strong field charged up the hill that dissects Cofton Park. Perhaps surprisingly it was Middlesex’s Nick Torry who took up the early running, but by the time they headed out onto their second of four 3000m laps, there was a three-man breakaway, made up of the three eventual medallists.
Goodman, Vernon and Griffiths were never more than a couple of strides apart in their reverse arrow formation, and whilst the rest of the field chased to no avail, the three leaders made light work of the hills and boggy sections the course had to offer. Heading into the last lap smart money would have been on a three way burn up over the final few hundred metres, however, St Mary’s University based Richard Goodman had other ideas. The former European junior cross country silver medallist decided enough was enough with half a lap to go, and made his decisive move, first despatching Griffiths, before slowly opening a gap on Vernon.
Up the final hill the gap back to Vernon was around 50m, as the crowd turned up the volume a notch in the expectation that mountain running specialist Vernon could potentially mount a comeback. However Goodman had other ideas, fighting all the way to the line, which he crossed with a roar of jubilation, showing just what the title meant to him.
Goodman said: “It’s fantastic; I’m really pleased with today. I tried to stay patient and not take it on too soon. I knew the back side of a course is a long way from home, but the only way you’re going to break Steve Vernon is by going from a long way out. If he was with me going up the last hill I may have dropped my head, so I was just using all I had left to get up that hill as fast as possible.”
“I’ve had a terrible two years of really bad stress fractures and I wasn’t eating enough and was training way too hard. So I had to take a step back, and I was in the gym every day building leg strength and I never stopped training, whether it was on the bike or gym work.
“I can’t believe how well this year has gone. Today has capped it off. It’s a dream come true really.”
Heading in to today’s race, Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) and Dewi Griffiths were tied at the top of the Cross Challenge series, meaning that whoever finished higher on the day would pocket the £2000 prize money on offer. So in the end that accolade went the way of Griffiths thanks to his third place finish, and post-race he commented:
“On the second lap I was really starting to hurt, but I had a quick look over my shoulder and I realised Steve, Richard and myself were pulling away, so I thought if I can stick it out for a couple of laps here I’m clear third, regardless of what happens. I just buried myself!
“After winning the Bristol Cross Challenge at the start of the year, winning the overall series was the goal. I knew I had a chance, and with Andy Vernon going to the World Indoors I knew I had a chance, and it was just a case of beating Adam on the day.”
Wearing the gold of Surrey, Lily Partridge clinched her first senior Inter Counties title after a close battle with Cheshire’s Katie Brough. With a lap to go, the pair had broken clear of Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg), but as hard as Partridge tried, she couldn’t shrug off a determined Brough, who seemed to keep pegging her back through the muddy sections. However in the end perseverance told as Partridge finally got the gap she was working for and was all smiles at the finish.
“I’m super happy! After the National I knew I was in good shape and I really wanted to back up my junior win, so it’s my first national senior title, which is pretty special. I really struggled through the really muddy sections, so whenever there was firmer ground I tried to make it fast running to try and break it up a little bit.”
Brough was also pleased with her run, which meant she overhauled Juliet Potter (Roy Stowell) to take the overall Cross Challenge series crown.
“I’m made up. I’ve been going well in training but I didn’t think I could finish this high up! I really enjoyed Bristol and the race at Sefton Park in Liverpool, where I qualified for Belgrade [the venue of the 2013 European Cross Country Championships], so with today being my last cross country race of the season I just wanted to go out and push it as much as I could. There wasn’t much to lose!”
Under 20 Men
Getting the day's proceedings underway were the junior men, who had to negotiate a 3 lap, 8km course. To the fore early on were eventual medallists Matt Shirling (Adrian Webb), wearing the purple of Merseyside, and Jamaine Coleman (Andy Bibby), in the white vest of Lancashire. As the laps went by the field started to thin out leaving the two of them out front with Alex George (Paul De-Camps) of Gloucestershire chasing. But it was Shirling who looked full of running with a lap to go, as he eased away from his rivals to take a commanding 22 second victory. In the end it was Alex George who took silver, with a tiring Coleman hanging on for a hard fought bronze.
Having been second twice before in younger age groups, Shirling was pleased to finally win the Inter-Counties title.
“It feels really good. It shows that I’m still progressing and I’ve had my best winter ever so I’m really pleased.”
Sixth on the day, Wiltshire’s Alex Carter (Adrian Clover) wrapped up the British Athletics Cross Challenge Series title.
Under 20 Women
Pre-race we billed it as our favourite sibling rivalry, and that battle didn’t disappoint as Alex and Bobby Clay (both Peter Mullervy) had plenty at stake, battling it out for both the Inter-Counties title and the overall British Athletics Cross Challenge title, where Alex led the series standings by five points.
It was younger sister Bobby who made most of the early running though, with sister Alex, and Leicestershire’s Amy Griffiths (Woods) in tow. However as the kilometres ticked by older sister Alex started to fade, and coming into the final kilometre was back in sixth place. Whilst the winner was never in doubt, with Bobby moving further and further clear of Griffiths in second, Alex was on her own charge, climbing back into the medals before catching and passing Griffiths with just 200m remaining to ensure a Clay one-two. With that result, Alex clinched the series title, with Bobby having to settle for second, meaning they were both winners on the day.
Bobby commented: “It’s really nice that we can share a win! But the biggest thing is that we can share the fact that our hard work is paying off, as we work hard together and results like this show that what we’re doing is paying off.
Alex added: “It’s not just us though. Our mum, dad, coach and physio all support us all the way.
She continued: “I love cross country. It gives you a great focus throughout the winter and the series has been a great help."
Another GB & NI junior international Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) led the under-17 women’s British Athletics Cross Challenge series heading into the final in Birmingham, and she was part of the closest race of the day, running virtually shoulder to shoulder with Cheshire’s Harriet Knowles-Jones (Russell Tart) until the final hill of the 5,000m race. Knowles Jones, who was denied a spot on the GB & NI team for the European Cross Country Championships last December due to being too young, showed why she is a name for the future, edging clear of Turner to take the title. Turner’s second place finish was enough to ensure she was the victor in the overall series.
In the under-17 men’s race, Jordan Rowe (David Smith) of Essex overhauled Zak Miller in the final two minutes of running to take the Inter Counties title. However it was bronze medallist on the day Iolo Hughes (Andrew Walling) who will take the series title back to Wales after a winter full of good results.
Ben Dijkstra continued his excellent winter form, adding the Inter Counties title to the English National title he won two weeks ago, also wrapping up the Cross Challenge series in the process. It was a similar story in the under 15 girls’ race as pre-race favourite and series leader Sabrina Sinha (Mark Newell) took both titles thanks to a dominant victory on the day.
In the under 13 races Zakariya Mahamed and Alex Brown took their respective boys and girls titles over 3,000m.
Look out for interviews and our highlights package on http://www.youtube.com/britishathleticstv shortly after the event.