12th March 2022
MACLENNAN AND JOHNSON ARE WINNERS AT CROSS CHALLENGE FINAL AND INTER COUNTIES
Mhairi MacLennan (Ross Cairns, Scotland North) and Callum Johnson (John Stephenson, North East) triumphed in the senior races at the British Athletics Inter Counties Cross Country Championships incorporating the Cross Challenge Final at Prestwold Hall near Loughborough.
Overall Cross Challenge winners were also decided as the five-race series came to a close with winners crowned across the age groups on an excellent day of racing, made possible by the organisers and officials on the day.
There was a race long battle between Mhairi MacLennan and Jess Gibbon in the senior women’s contest – the third race of the day – but ultimately the Scotland North athlete sealed the win, crossing the line in one spike, with a comfortable margin ahead of the Oxfordshire athlete.
The pair were joined by Kate Avery (North East) and Jennifer Walsh (Yorkshire) for various stages of the contest, but as the pace picked up over the challenging 8km course, Walsh dropped back first, and then Avery peeled off the group but stayed ahead of the Yorkshire athlete to maintain her position on the podium on the day.
At the front of the field, the Scottish athlete moved away from Reading’s Gibbon on the final hill, accelerating anyway on the steep pull, losing her spike in the process, and captured a fine win.
MacLennan said afterwards, “I knew I had to just keep going for it today. The last time I was here I came third by one second, so I didn’t want to leave it too late so she (Jess Gibbon) could outsprint me, because that’s what happened last time with Jess Piasecki. So, I just pushed up the final hill, even though I lost one of my spikes. I know I’m good up hills and through mud, so I just kept pushing.”
Gibbon sealed the overall senior women’s Cross Challenge series title though after a consistent series across the winter.
In the senior men’s race, Callum Johnson finished superbly to usurp in-form Zakariya Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Hampshire) and win the Inter Counties title for the first time.
Mahamed had led for most of the contest, but Johnson and Daniel Haworth (Derbyshire) had been in close contact with him throughout – the former overtaking Haworth soon after the halfway mark. Being in striking distance ultimately came to the advantage of the North-east athlete who drew Mahamed in over the final lap and seized his opportunity to overturn a hefty lead to win by a significant margin in the end.
Haworth also fought right till the end to make sure he grabbed third, a position he’d work so hard to hold over the 10km course.
Mahamed still sealed the overall Cross Challenge series for the senior men after a consistent season which saw him win the race in Dundonald back in January.
Johnson added, “I just used the hills and the mud to get back towards them. I’m in hard training at the moment as I’m aiming for a marathon in April, so I knew I had the strength. I haven’t done the 5/10km work, so I knew I had to be careful at the start to not go off too fast. I paced it well, so I’m really pleased.
“I didn’t want to kick too early, I was about 15 metres behind, so I was just patient. I agreed with my coach to just step it up every kilometre, and that’s what I managed to do.”
Surrey teammates Pippa Roessler (Mick Woods) and Ellen Weir (Anne Hegvold) duelled for the U20 women’s win but ultimately Roessler took the victory in a race she described as “the best run” of her career to date.
She was certainly made to work for it as the pair led for much of the contest, but after taking the lead on the second lap, she produced a lung-busting finale up the final muddy hill to hold off Weir. Staffordshire’s Louise Hackett (Gareth Briggs) claimed third position and a Inter Counties bronze medal. Meanwhile, Weir won the U20 Cross Challenge series overall.
Roessler said, “I took the lead as we were going up the hill on the second lap, and that move obviously paid off so I’m really happy. Although my legs are dead now – I gave it everything, so had to just hold on to the line. I had nothing left!
“Ellen and I worked well together. I knew we had a better chance of pulling away if we worked together, and it worked. I think it is the best run I’ve ever had.
In the U20 men’s race, Shropshire’s Liam Rawlings (Colin Lancaster) came through strongly to claim Inter Counties gold, and the overall Cross Challenge series win. In fact, the top three in the race ended up being the final series standings, as Devon’s Johnny Livingstone and Kent’s Louis Small (Stella Bandu) grabbed the other podium places.
Livingstone had made the positive moves early on in the contest, and led for much of the race, but Rawlings made a charge in the closing stages to overhaul the Exeter athlete.
Hannah Ryding (Scotland West) pipped Jess Bailey (Matthew Long, Cumbria) to the victory in the U17 women’s race after an enthralling battle over the 5km course.
The lead changed multiple times, but the pair headed the field for the majority of the race, but the Scottish athlete finished strongly to take the CAU Inter Counties title by five seconds from Bailey. Yorkshire’s Evie Thomson (Richard Harris) followed in third.
Despite the second place, after a fine series of races, Bailey secured the overall Cross Challenge title for the age group.
Fraser Gilmour (Robert Hawkins) made it another Scottish victory on the day as he won the U17 men’s race in style.
It was a strong finish from the Scotland West athlete who made his way into contention in the closing stages, and a fantastic sprint finish saw him seal a memorable win ahead of Ben Brown (Peter Haynes, Hampshire) and Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Lancashire) who followed closely behind.
After his third-place finish, Deacon also secured the overall Cross Challenge series victory in the U17 men’s age group.
In the penultimate race of the day, Evey Powell (Bernard Wilkins, Oxfordshire) earned the biggest win of her career to date as she sealed the U15 girls Inter Counties title after a frantic finish with three athletes on contention as they turned into the home straight.
As Powell turned on the burners to seal the win, Yorkshire pair, Lilia Harris (Richard Harris) and Isabella Waugh (Richard Harris) earned their spot-on podium.
Freya Woodhead won the overall Challenge series for the U15 girls.
Robert Price (Andrew Carter, Cheshire) continued his domination of the U15 boys age group as he won the Inter Counties gold medal and sealed the overall Cross Challenge series win.
The Vale Royal athlete held a significant margin over the rest of the field and came across the line with his arms aloft. Scotland East’s Craig Shennan (Angela Carson) was second while Essex’s Sam Plummer came through on third.
Katherine Haslip (Sussex) came away to win the U13 girls race, moving away from her fellow competitors late on in the race. She finished ahead of Katie Webb (Barry Hearn, Buckinghamshire) who claimed second, while Maya Jobbins (Mick Woods, Surrey) won the battle for third place for an Inter Counties bronze medal.
Surrey’s Jake Meyburgh (Shireen Higgins) produced a great display over the 3km route, winning the U13 boys race. He pulled away from his opponents in the final straight to earn the Inter Counties gold.
Thomas Thake (Yorkshire) was next home in second position as he finished just ahead of Will Birchall (Devon) who was a convincing third.
Libby Hale was crowned U13G Cross Challenge series winner, while Birchall won the boys equivalent.