15th October 2022


Amelia Quirk (coach Mick Woods; club: Bracknell) and Emile Cairess (Alan Storey; Leeds City) took the senior British honours in the opening leg of the British Athletics Cross Challenge series in Cardiff today.

The duo were second and fourth respectively in their races behind Kenyan winners Edward Zakayo and Pamela Kosgei as the event also incorporated the World Athletics Cross Country Tour.

Behind them thousands of runners enjoyed mainly dry and often sunny conditions on the largely flat course at Llandaff Fields as it was run in conjunction with the Gwent League.

Amelia Quirk enjoyed a spirited run against the athlete who was fifth in the steeplechase at the World Athletics U20 Championships this year. She crossed the line in 20:34, 13 seconds behind the winner. Jess Gibbon (Reading) was third in 20:44, followed by Elle Twentyman (Taunton), Jenny Nesbitt (Chris Jones, Pontypridd) and Megan Keith (Ross Cairns, Inverness).

Quirk and Kosgei both headed the leading group of six after one lap, the pack also including Jenny Nesbitt, European under-20 champion Megan Keith, Elle Twentyman and defending British Cross Challenge champion, Jess Gibbon. After they moved clear of the rest, Quirk tried to break the Kenyan on the second lap, but it was to no avail as the steeplechaser gained a gap going over the log jump.

She said afterwards, “I could feel that Pamela and I were getting away, so I put my foot down a bit earlier. But she was just on my heels the whole way and I knew that she was still feeling good because she was still telling me that the two of us were away!”

Looking ahead to the European Cross Country Championships trials next month, Quirk, who was 12th in the under-23 race last year, said, “I’ll be a senior this year as I have a really unfortunate December birthday. It’ll be tougher but I was fourth in the senior race last year, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to make the team.”

Zakayo, who was fourth over 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games this year, clocked 26:60 to come home three seconds in front of second-placed Ugandans Joel Ayeko and Rogers Kibet in the 9.6km three-lap senior men’s race. Cairess just outkicked Ethiopia’s Gizealaw Ayana for fourth, both given 26:39. Next was defending Cross Challenge champion Mahamad Mahamed (Idris Hamud; Southampton) and brother Zac Mahamed (Idris Hamud; Southampton) in 27:06 and 27:16 respectively.

The Leeds athlete, Cairess, was last seen as pacemaker for the frontrunners in the TCS London Marathon two weeks ago and he was clearly keen once again to be mixing it with the top Africans. He was among the lead group of six after one lap, although he lost ground on the top three on the second circuit.

He said on finishing: “I was pleased with the run. It was tough. It was a high pace at the beginning. It would have been nice to have hung on to them a bit longer, but I was really pleased with how I ran and how I felt.

“I wanted to keep up with them the whole way. I want to get to the point where I can challenge them… I think it gives you a lot of confidence even if it’s only two thirds of the race that you can be in the same league as them.”

Under-17 Innes Fitzgerald (Exeter Harriers) dominated the under-17/under-20 4.45km race, crossing the line 15 seconds clear in 14:10. Under-17s Zoe Gilbody (John Skevington; Wreake) and Jess Bailey (Matt Long; Leven Valley) were second and third in 14:25 and 14:35 respectively.

The winner said afterwards: “I’m really pleased. I was a bit unsure coming in because cross country hasn’t been on the table for very long. I was a bit all over the place with tactics, I didn’t know how it was going to go at all, but I just made the decisions as I went along.”

She too will be focusing on Liverpool and said, “I’m really hoping to make the team at Liverpool. Obviously, with the under-20s, it’s going to be hard, only being 16, but hopefully I’ll get a place there.”

In fourth overall, Alice Bates (Shane Smith; Kettering) was top under-20 in 14:44. She had went off in the lead with Fitzgerald and, though she fell back, knew she was the leading under-20 all the way. Alice Garner (Mick Woods, Aldershot, Farnham & District; Mick Woods) in 14:58 and Libby Huxley (Andy Bibby; Preston) in 15:02 were next in the age group to finish.

Ed Bird (Mark Pauley; Poole) won the under-20 men’s 6.4km by two seconds in 18:49. Ben Brown (Peter Haynes; Southampton) was second and Lewis Hannigan (Kilbarchan) was third, another two seconds back.

A large leading group of about 20 on the first lap soon came down to just the eventual top three in the second half.

“Coming in, I thought if I can get in the top five, that’s a really good place to start the season, so to come first was so amazing,” said Bird. “This is just really unexpected. It more or less went to plan. I anticipated it was going to be a relatively stable first lap as that’s normally how the cross countries go. Then I kind of had a point where the crossroads were when I thought I’m going to check my position and if I’m feeling good as we go around that bend that’s where I’m going to make my move and that’s what I did. Someone went earlier than I was expecting but I was able to go with them and keep that nice easy pace.”

In the under-17 men’s race, winner Isaac Morris (Mark Vile; Cambridge & Coleridge) showed he is clearly bouncing back from a stress fracture which kept him out much of the summer.

He pulled away on the second lap to the biggest margin of victory of the day of 22 seconds. Clocking 16:22, he was followed by William Rabjohns (Mark Pauley; Poole) in 16:48 and Iwan Thomas (Neil Thomas; Carmarthen) in 16:51.

In the under-15 girls’ race, Libby Hale (John Griffiths; Swansea) added to her under-13 win in this same event last year, finishing in 10:48. Over the 3.2km course, Imogen Saunders (John Skevington; Wreake) was second and Bethany Trow (John Lancaster; Shrewsbury) was third, the time 10:50 and 10:52.

Matthew Clark (Andy Bibby; Preston) led from the start to win the boys’ corresponding race in 9:33. He stretched out a lead in the middle but was being caught at the end by second-placed George Wilson (Joanna Evans; Cleethorpes), with Jon Peppin (Southampton) third.

Bryony Boyce (Mark Gold; Cardiff) took a comfortable win for the home club in the under-13 girls’ 2.78km race in 9:30.

Boyce hung back outside the top 10 at the start but made her way through the field to the front and then pulled away with around 2km to go. Olivia Paul (Team Bath) and Sophia Maxwell (Team Bath) were second and third, running 9:44 and 9:48 respectively.

Ewan Sparey (Bristol & West) came from behind to win a dramatic under-13 boys’ 2.78km. He was second and around 15m behind the lead most of the way but, just as Rhuairdh Laing (Victoria Park; City of Glasgow) appeared on course for victory, he accelerated in front over the last 30 metres. Both were credited with the same time of 8:52, ahead of Louie Hammings (David Clay; Peterborough & Nene Valley).

Tomos Davies (Carmarthen) with 4:12 and Manon Phillips with 4:44 won the under-11 boys’ and girls’ 1.25km races respectively.