WRITTEN FOR THE ENGLISH CROSS-COUNTRY ASSOCIATION
Ahead of the forthcoming Saucony English National cross-country Championships, Nicola Bamford previews the top contenders to look out for at the Leeds event...
As previously feature on the ECCA website, Stockport’s Steve Vernon starts as a hot favourite to capture the senior men’s 12km title. The 29-year-old has made a fine competitive comeback after a five-month hiatus with third place in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international 4km last month and recently took his third Northern cross-country crown. Vernon will be looking to go one better than his second-place finish in 2009 behind Frank Tickner – who has been off the racing circuit for the past ten months.
He will be hard-pushed by Aldershot, Farnham and District’s Andy Vernon for the title of England’s fastest mudlark, though. The 24-year-old recently took the UK indoor 3,000m in Sheffield and British University cross title in Stirling and will be hoping to improve on his bronze medal-winning display from last year.
Others expected to figure prominently are Blackheath and Bromley’s Mike Skinner (30); eighth in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international 9km and 4th behind Vernon in Sheffield and Leigh Harrier, Pete Riley (30); the training partner of Steve Vernon and another on a successful comeback trail.
Neilson Hall, Scott Overall, Jon Pepper, James Walsh, Andi Jones and Ricky Stevenson could also feature.
European cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling-Higham makes her return to the English National after a five-year absence and starts as the favourite. The 36-year-old Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow runner was fourth in a classy Edinburgh 6km field and fifth in the Antrim leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge last month and is eager to add to her 2003 and 2005 victories over the 8km course.
Three-time European junior cross-country Champion and Olympic 1500m runner, Steph Twell has been running sublimely of late; with the 20-year-old AFD athlete placing fifth just behind Yelling in Edinburgh and recently taking her second British Universities title.
Featured on the ECCA website, European under23 cross-country bronze-medallist, Jess Sparke (22, Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) and Hallamshire Harrier’s reigning champion and current Northern Champion, Hatti Dean (28) should also feature highly.
Others to watch include Lauren Deadman, Faye Fullerton, Katrina Wootton, Jo Wilkinson, Felicity Milton and Claire Hallissey.
European under-20 cross-country silver and bronze-medallists, Nick Goolab and James Wilkinson go head to head over 10km in the junior men’s event. Belgrave’s 20-year-old Goolab; the 2009 winner and second behind senior, Andy Vernon in the British University Championships recently faces the equally in-form Wilkinson from Leeds AC (19), who was eighth in the same race after taking the Northern crown.
Additional athletes to watch include Jonny Hay, Ronnie Sparke, David Forrester, Jonathan Brownlee, Ross Murray.
Despite not racing since taking the Gateshead leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge last November, AFD’s European junior 5,000m runner-up, Charlotte Purdue will be hard-pressed to beat is she toes the line. The 18-year-old was fourteenth in the last World cross-country Championships and will be keen to win after missing the 2009 event.
Also contesting the 6km route will be European under-20 cross-country bronze-medallist, Kate Avery (18, Shildon AC) and England-international, Hannah Bateson (18, Lancaster and Morecambe).
Lily Partridge, Jo Harvey and Natalie Grant also expect to place highly.
Southern Champion, Richard Goodman should be the man to beat over the 6km route. The 16-year-old Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier capitalised on his magnificent European trials under-20 win and fifth-place in the continental Championships at the end of last year with victory in the Cardiff leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge and South of England Champs last month.
His closest competitors should come in the shape of Thomas Curr (17, Stroud and District AC); the Midland cross winner, Sam Atkin (16, Lincoln Wellington AC); the Northern victor and Ben Connor (17, Derby AC) 2nd in the Northern cross.
Emelia Gorecka (16, AFD) is in imperative form to retain her under-17 women’s title. If the Southern cross and World schools’ 3000m Champion succeeds over the 5km course, then Gorecka will have clocked up her third-consecutive National win.
Most likely to join her in the leading pack are her team-mate, Georgia Peel; runner-up in the Southern’s and Melissa Hawtin and Georgia Taylor-Brown.
St Albans AC’s 15-year-old James McMurray; the Southern Champion faces the Northern and Midland Champions, respectively in Nick Jones (15, Wirral AC) and Harvey Brown (15, Halesowen AC) in the under-15 boys’ 4.5km contest.
15-year-old Jessica Judd (Chelmsford AC) will be hoping to improve on last year’s third place by winning the 4km event, following her Southern victory.
Northern and Midland Champions, Katy Wood (14, City of York AC) and Sophie Coldwell (15, Charnwood AC) provide the opposition.
Middlesbrough AC’s Ben Spencer; fresh from his Northern cross victory starts as one of the favourites in the 3km event, with Isle of Wight’s Tom Newnham (13) hoping to replicate the form that took him to Southern victory.
Others set to feature include Dominic Bill (Halesowen AC), James Hatton (13, Charnwood AC) and Jack Crabtree (13, East Cheshire).
Soon to be featured on the ECCA website, Charnwood AC’s Hannah Nuttall heads into the 3km event full of potential, following her Midland victory in only her fifth competitive race.
Northern winner, Bethany Donnelly (12, East Cheshire AC) and Becca Croft (12, WSEH); the Southern victor also compete.