Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Saucony English National cross-country Championships preview (written for the English XC Association 02/09).

With the 2009 Saucony English National cross-country Championships taking place in London’s Parliament Hill fields on February 21st, NICOLA BAMFORD previews the action for the winter season spectacular.

SENIOR MEN: Surely a fine cert for gold will be Well City Harriers’ 25 year-old Frank Tickner. With a superb 10th place in the European cross (Brussels, Dec 2008), in addition to recent fine international displays in Italy and Edinburgh, Tickner is evidently the man to beat.
Hot on his heels, however, will most certainly be the European under23 cross-country silver-medallist over the mud; Aldershot’s Andy Vernon. The 23 year-old will be looking to improve vastly on his tenth place in last years’ event; following his solid runs in Italy (behind Tickner) and Edinburgh (4th in the 4km race).
The man most likely to spoil the proceedings may come in the form of 26 year-old Blackheath and Bromley runner; Scott Overall. Despite placing a modest 39th in Brussels, Overall has improved to register impressive international performances in Italy and Spain recently.
Belgrave’s Phil Wicks will also want to make his mark; judging by his recent Southern Championship win and performances in Spain and Alsager of late. The 24 year-old 2008 National runner-up will also be joined by Steve Vernon of Stockport – the 28 year-old Northern Champion, Mike Skinner of Blackheath; who was 20th in Brussels and the fast-improving but recently sidelined Nielson Hall of Bedford. The 2008 Champion; Cannock and Stafford’s Tom Humphries has not raced in 2009 but the 24 year-old’s lack of recent competition should not be sniffed at, should he toe the startline.
A repeat of the 2008 team standings may be possible; with Leeds, Notts and Bristol all having realistic medal hopes.

SENIOR WOMEN: With the reigning Champion; Liz Yelling out this year due to pregnancy, Britain’s top counter in the European cross (in 8th place) starts luke-warm favourite. Hallamshire’s 27 year-old Hatti Dean could capture gold – if she paces herself sensibly – over the woman who got the better of her in the Northern Championships last month; Kendal’s Gemma Miles. Miles showed that despite crossing the finish-line in Brussels in 34th, Dean is certainly beatable.
Others to make a surprise splash include Jane Potter of Charnwood; the 27 year-old Midland Champion, Royal Sutton Coldfield’s 23 year-old Laura Kenney; who was 13th in the Brussels senior race and just one place ahead in 10th position of Kendal’s 22 year-old European under23 silver-medallist; Sarah Tunstall in Great Edinburgh International last month. Tunstall; the Northern bronze-medallist will also have WGEL’s Katherine Sparke – the European under23 7th placer from Brussels and Southern silver-medallist; Faye Fullerton for company.
Additional entrants set to make their presence felt are Telford’s 34 year-old Claire Martin; the Midland runner-up, Juliet Doyle of Charnwood; the 27 year-old Midland 4th-placer and Louise Damen of Winchester & District. The 26 year-old finished a fine 9th in the European event but appeared below-par with a position of 34th in Edinburgh – will she bounce back?
The top teams could look like Charnwood, Aldershot and Havering Mayesbrook AC.

JUNIOR MEN: The National title in this age-group should go to St Helen’s Sutton AC’s David Forrester. The 19 year-old is fresh from his ‘disappointing’ 5th in the junior race in Brussels and will be eager to improve on bronze from last time around. 19 year-old Mitch Goose; 15th in the European cross junior race, placed a fine 8th in the Edinburgh 4km race so should put up a good fight, as will Gateshead’s 18 year-old Ross Murray; who was 14th in the European Championships and runner-up here last year. Belgrave’s Nick Goolab; the 19 year-old who placed 65th in Brussels will additionally be striving for a medal, following his fine run in Portugal recently.
Aldershot should be a good bet for gold again and Norwich and Owls have good odds of retaining their status.

JUNIOR WOMEN: Overwhelming favourite to retain her title – and end her junior competition days on a high – is three-time European junior cross-country Champion; Steph Twell. The 19 year-old Aldershot World 1500m junior Champion and Olympic semi-finalist has been in scintillating form on the senior international circuit lately; with a win in Antrim, 4th in Edinburgh and runner-up in Italy. Twell additionally took the Southern under20 title last month and should easily retain her title here.
Twell’s team-mates; Charlotte Purdue and Emma Pallant should provide close company for much of the race. 17 year-old Purdue has yet to begin her 2009 campaign but took silver behind Twell in Brussels and 19 year-old Pallant followed her 5th place in the Europeans with a fine 12th in Edinburgh.
Other young women to watch include Lauren Howarth; the 18 year-old Leigh Harriers European bronze-medallist and recent winner of the Northerns and Stroud’s 19 year-old Emily Pidgeon; who despite not having yet raced this year, was 4th in Brussels.
Team gold for Aldershot should be a formality, with the minor medals possibly going to Rotherham and Sutton Coldfield.

UNDER17 MEN: Nuneaton’s 15 year-old Danny Mills – the Midland Champion and Ipswich’s 16 year-old Shaun Webb; the Southern runner-up are two to watch in this event which again, will probably be dominated by Aldershot.

UNDER17 WOMEN: 2008 winner and European 6th placer; Laura Park of Ellenborough AC will start as hot favourite; following her 18th place in Edinburgh. Invicta East Kent’s Beth Carter; the Southern winner will hope to capitalise on her recent fine runs in Antrim and Spain; as will Aldershot’s 17 year-old Louise Small; the bronze-medallist from 12-months ago and recent Southern runner-up.
Aldershot, Kettering Town Harriers and Royal Sutton Coldfield may be the top teams in this category.

UNDER15 BOYS: Southern Champion; 15 year0old Harvey Dixon of Aldershot and Northern silver-medallist Elliot Todd are just two to keep an eye on in this likely Bedford V Aldershot clash.

UNDER15 GIRLS: Emelia Gorecka; Aldershot’s 15 year-old Southern Champion will be aiming to retain her title form 2008 and teammate; Ruth Haynes – also 15 – will hope to reverse the placing; following her runner-up positions to Gorecka in the National and Southerns. Aldershot, Bedford and Mansfield will most likely feature amongst the team medals.

UNDER13 BOYS: 12 year-old Southern Champion; Matthew Arnold of Aldershot will start the favourite, with Midland Champion; 13 year-old Alex Carter of Team Bath likely to be hot on his heels and keen to improve on his bronze from 2008. Again, Aldershot should dominate.

UNDER13 GIRLS: The stand-out performer in this event may be Ellenborough AC’s Hannah Bethwaite; the bronze-medallist from last year. Expect Aldershot to take this title, too.

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