WRITTEN FOR THE ENGLISH CROSS-COUNTRY ASSOCIATION
Team England runners proved their love of distance running on Valentine’s Day with some superb performances, including top-three domination in the junior men’s and women’s races, respectively, at the International Cross Cup in Hannut, Belgium, writes Nicola Bamford.
European under20 cross-country bronze-medallist, Kate Avery was the English runner of the day, when taking the junior women’s 4.6km event by 18-seconds from team-mate Grace Nicholls.
Shildon AC’s 18-year-old Avery; recently eleventh in the senior race at the Antrim International clocked 15:13 to the 18-year-old Tonbridge runner’s 15:31. The latter athlete’s performance follows a third-place in the Southern Championships last month.
Providing strong support, Hannah Walker (18, Dacorum and Tring); the Southern cross Champion, finished third shortly behind in 15:37, whilst Hannah Bateson; 18 and runner-up in the Northern, placed fifth 16:06.
Junior menThe junior men had equal success with Ronnie Sparke leading the way with a fine nine-second victory over the 6.6km course. The 18-year-old Woodford Green with Essex Ladies runner; fourth in the Southern cross and the younger brother of European under23 bronze-medallist, Jess Sparke, registered 21:13 ahead of second-placed team-mate Ben Norris.
Norris; 18 of Notts AC and second in the Midland championships, pipped Karl Billington (17, Blackburn Harriers) in 21:24 to Billington’s 21:28. The latter was third in the Northern cross and the squad was completed by OWLS AC’s 18-year-old Josh Norman (third in the Midlands) in 21:53.
Hallamshire Harrier’s reigning National and Northern cross-country champion, Hatti Dean (28) finished a strong fourth behind her Ethiopian, Ukranian and Belgium counterparts in 19:42 over the 6.1km route.
Bristol and West’s 26-year-old Midland runner-up, Claire Hallissey finished in tenth in 20:28 with the Midland champion, Gemma Steele coming home in fifteenth on her international debut in 20:43.
24-year-old Steele was the third and final counter after the aforementioned Jess Sparke (22, Woodford Green with Essex Ladies); the Southern champion withdrew from the competition at short notice.
Bedford and County’s Neilson Hall was the top English counter in the men’s 10.6km course. Behind a trio of African’s and a Belgium, the 27-year-old Southern champion placed fifth in 32:06.
A mere one second behind in sixth was Enfield and Haringey’s 21-year-old Jon Pepper; the Southern runner-up.
Four-time Midland cross-country champion, James Walsh (28, Leeds City AC) finished in twelfth in 32:40 with Bristol and West’s 14-year-old Rob Budgen; the Midland silver-medallist, in twentieth with 33:22.