26th November 2022


Jess Warner-Judd (coach: Mick Judd, club: Blackburn) and Emile Cairess (Renato Canova, Leeds) were among the winners on a superb day of racing at the British Athletics Cross Challenge Liverpool which hosted the European Cross Country Championships Trials.

The duo were among several athletes to secure places on the plane to Turin next month, as James Heneghan (James Thie, Pontypridd) and Revee Walcott-Nolan (Dale Clutterbuck, Luton) won the mixed relay trial races, and Innes Fitzgerald (Exeter) and Will Barnicoat (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District) were the U20 winners at Sefton Park.

For Judd-Warner, it was a repeat of her win last year, albeit in slightly milder conditions, and also facing quite the battle from her opponents. The Blackburn Harrier was made to work hard for it by U23 athlete Megan Keith (Ross Cairns, Inverness) and Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincoln Wellington).

The trio opened a large advantage on the opening small lap which was maintained throughout the contest. Keith – the European U20 champion in Dublin last year – is stepping up in age group, and therefore distance this year, and she appeared unfazed by the 8km undulating course as she led for long stages of this one. Growing impatient with the steady pace on the first small lap, Keith pushed it on with Warner-Judd and Donnelly sticking with her.

The chasing pack consisted of several athletes battling for places on the senior and U23 GB&NI team, with Jess Gibbon (Reading) and Amy-Eloise Markovc (Rob Denmark, Wakefield) the main contenders for automatic spaces.

Further up the field, at around the halfway mark on the final long lap, Warner-Judd made the decisive move to secure the win, while Keith and Donnelly fought well to earn the other podium places. Coming home next was Markovc who overhauled Gibbon on the final long finish straight. There was a frantic finale to the race to confirm the next few placings as Grace Carson (Bill Foster, Mid Ulster), Poppy Tank (Alistair and Amy Cragg, City of Plymouth) and Alexandra Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta East Kent) were separated by just four seconds from positions from sixth to eighth.

Warner-Judd said afterwards, “I haven’t raced since the Leeds Abbey Dash so it was a little scary coming into this one but I am really pleased with how it has gone. Megan and Abbie ran really well. They were really strong, and when Megan was making a move, that was probably where I wanted to make a move too, so I just sat in there. I felt really good coming down the finish, so I definitely saved the best until last.”

In the last event of the day, Emile Cairess produced a gutsy performance through the muddy conditions in Sefton Park to take the win in the senior men’s race.

He was part of a wider group that were packed together over the opening few laps, with Cairess, Marc Scott (Jerry Schumacher, Richmond & Zetland), Mahamed Mahamed (Idris Hamud, Southampton) and Hugo Milner (Derby) among those featuring in those early stages.

As the laps ticked down, Cairess pushed the accelerator down as he looked to guarantee his place in Turin. Splattered with mud as he crossed the line, his boldness paid off as he won by over 11 seconds from a fast-finishing Hugo Milner who managed to hold off the threat of World Indoor 3000m bronze medallist Marc Scott for second.

Jack Rowe, winner in Liverpool last year, came through for the fourth automatic selection place for Italy, finishing ahead of Milton Keynes winner Mahamed Mahamed who was back in fifth, with Ben Connor (Derby) – a former winner in Liverpool – next home in sixth.

Cairess added, “I settled in the group on the first lap, but then I just wanted to run it on and speed it up because I thought that would whittle the group down. I just found myself opening a little gap so I thought I would just keep going. It was pretty tough because it was a long way from home, but it was a good and hard run.

“It was pretty muddy in the end and I don’t like the mud at all. But I’m happy I’ve qualified for the Europeans. It should be a better course for me. We’ve got a good team so hopefully we can do well for Britain.”

The combined U17/U20 women’s race proved to be another exciting contest for places, but the winner was a convincing one as Innes Fitzgerald (Exeter) impressively won as she ran wire-to-wire at the front.

The Devon-based athlete has been in strong form during the Autumn season having won in Milton Keynes a couple of weeks ago. Still in the U17 age group, Fitzgerald was not overawed by the occasion as she led comfortably for the whole contest, gradually increasing her lead throughout. She opened up a 50m lead on the first small lap and this extended to 100m as she neared the finish, such was her dominance in this contest. As she took the tape at the front of the field, the battle for places behind her was in full flow.

Alice Bates (Shane Smith), U20 Cross Challenge winner in Cardiff and Milton Keynes this season, was second across the line, and first U20 to make it a hattrick of full series points for the Kettering athlete.

As she booked her place in the team for Turin, three more athletes made sure they’ll be heading to Italy for the Championships in two weeks’ time. Megan Harris (Hayley Hemmings, Chelmsford) was third, while there was a tussle between Beatrice Wood (Dave Amey, City of Salisbury) and Rebecca Flaherty (Bingley) – the latter the World Mountain Running Championships silver medallist – to confirm their fourth and fifth places ahead of Alice Wright (Jon Bigg, Brighton Phoenix) who was one second further back in sixth.

In the U17 Cross Challenge standings, Fitzgerald took the full points, while Isobelle Jones (Wolverhampton and Bilston) and Yasmin Kashdan (Vince Golding, Crawley) were second and third U17s in the race.

In the men’s U20 race, Will Barnicoat (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District) laid down a statement ahead of the European Cross Country Championship as he put in a superb performance to win the U20 men’s race ahead of Exeter’s Sam Mills.

Barnicoat, a regular on GB&NI age group teams in recent years, said afterwards that he was targeting a podium finish in Turin next month. Judging by his intent in the trial race, he will be one to watch in Italy.

It was Barnicoat and Mills who opened a lead on the rest of the field during the first lap of the race, a significant move which no one else wanted to commit to at that stage. The chasing group included several athletes who have excelled so far this cross country season including Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgins, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) and Edward Bird (Mark Pauley, Poole), winners in Milton Keynes and Cardiff respectively.

Barnicoat dropped Mills on the final long lap, but the duo were comfortable as they held onto those positions, while Birdseye showed his grit to come through for third, chased by Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Chorley) who pushed on for fourth, while another Exeter athlete, Johnny Livingstone bagged the fifth automatic spot in fifth, just ahead of Bird in sixth.

Once again taking place at the Sefton Park event, the mixed relay trial proved a popular once again with large fields seeking to earn the four places – two women and two men – on the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team.

In the women’s race, Revee Walcott-Nolan (Dale Clutterbuck, Luton) returned for a year of injury and illness to book her place in the squad. The Tokyo Olympian looked in supreme form as she led coming into the long run to the finish. She was in a battle with Hannah Nuttall (John Nuttall, Charnwood) and Khahisa Mhlanga (Herts Phoenix) for long spells of the 1500m course but as the Luton athlete pulled away, Mhlanga also won the fight for second place against Nuttall to earn her first senior GB & NI vest.

In the men’s race, James Heneghan (James Thie, Pontypridd) was delighted to bag the win in front of family and friends who had travelled up from South Wales. He was a dominant winner and even with Calum Elson (Cambridge & Coleridge) chasing him in the closing stages, the win never looked in doubt, and those two athletes also booked their spots in the quartet for Italy in two weeks’ time.

In the earlier U17 men’s race, Isaac Morris (Cambridge & Coleridge) captured a brilliant victory as he overcame the challenge from Oscar Schofield (Trevor Painter, Sale Harriers Manchester) to earn the win. The latter chased Morris all the way, sitting on his shoulder as they entered the last 800m. But the C&C athlete showed his composure to seal the win, with Schofield – adorned in a backwards facing cap – holding on for second, with William Rabjohns (Mark Pauley, Poole) in third place.

In the earlier age group races, Shaikira King (John Skevington, Wreake & Soar Valley) repeated her victory from 2021 as she won the U15 girl’s race in dominant fashion. She was always in contention at the front but in the final half a mile, she looked on course for another memorable win. Ultimately, she was ten seconds ahead of Isla McGowan (Banbury), with Katie Pye (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham and District) confirming her podium place in third.

Owen Ulfig (Wolverhampton and Bilston) and Evan Grime (Ian Grime, Salford Harriers) played out an entertaining final sprint for the line in the U15 boys’ race, but it was the Ulfig who came from behind to seal an impressive victory. Coming into the last 200m, it was Grime who had the advantage, but as the muddy and slightly uphill finish took its toll on the Salford athlete, Ulfig snatched the victory in the final few strides to take the full Cross Challenge points back to the Black Country. Scottish athlete, Calum Dick (Angela Carson, Giffnock North), secured third position and some important Cross Challenge points in the process.

Jasmine Christmas (Richard Park, Cambridge and Coleridge) ran well to earn victory in the U13 girl’s race. Taking the final bend in the lead, she held on down the long finish straight to take the Cross Challenge win ahead of Maya Schofield (Rotherham) and Penelope Boyle (Leven Valley).

Fred Jones (Wolverhampton & Bilston) overcame the threat of Noah Homer (John Skevington, Wreake & Soar Valley) and William Delamere (Southport Waterloo) to take a comfortable victory in the U13 boy’s race. Jones finished 16 seconds ahead of his nearest opponent to secure full points in the Series.

Elsewhere, Harri Tancrel (Kendal) pipped Thomas Smout (Sarah Kearney, Wirral) to victory in the U11 boys race, while Lucy Delemere (Southport Waterloo) won the U11 girls race narrowly ahead of Eve Beddow (Wirral).