The last but by no means least of the three big races in four weeks was the English Schools’ Cross Country Championships. Maintaining form over this intense month is a real challenge, and it was great to see a stellar Herne Hill Harriers turnout of 18 athletes at the Norfolk County Showground, and some outstanding performances. In contrast to the National and Inter Counties, this course was flat, dry and fast, hence especially conducive to those with track speed, albeit the boys’ races tended to default to longer distances than the normal Club Championship races, whereas the girls’ races were shorter.
The best individual performance by a Club athlete came from bottom of age Charlotte Alexander, running for an extremely strong (6 in the top 44 of 345 finishers) Surrey Schools’ team in the IG race. Charlotte committed from the outset, and was always in the lead group. Never far from her was the (U17) inter counties champion, Claudia Lance Jones, and the National and Inter Counties (U15) champion, Olivia Mason. Also moving well were Alex Brown and Olivia Stillman, running for London and Surrey Schools respectively.
As the race unfolded Charlotte, Claudia and Olivia Mason forged away from the rest of the field. The three were locked together with 500m to go, as they exited the main field and embarked on the downhill finish. Olivia won from Claudia, and Charlotte secured a superb third place. This was another outstanding performance for an athlete who is so new to the sport. The third Surrey Schools’ scorer was Olivia Stillman who, building on her excellent National performance, produced her best run to date finishing in 16th position, and helping Surrey to an easy team win. 16th in England, not bad for an athlete who was deemed to be 8th best of the Surrey runners hence started at the back of the pen!
Big congratulations to Wayne Vinton who coaches both athletes, and had prepared them extremely well for the fast course. Alex Brown has had another fantastic season, including third in the National and second in the Inter Counties, but her preparations for this race were badly affected by illness in the days leading up to the race. It was a credit to her that she still committed fully to this race, ultimately finishing 24th, and was part of a silver medal winning London team.
Not too far behind Charlotte’s run of the day by a Club athlete, was Jaden Kennedy’s storming 5th place, whilst also bottom of age, JB. Unlike Charlotte, Jaden made a more cautious start and was back in about 20th on the first of the two field laps. He was however running strongly in what turned out to be a superbly executed tactical race. Whilst his London team mate and trials winner, Oliver Bright, was bashing it out at the front of the race, Jaden was content to gradually move through so that, with 600m to go, he was in 10th place. He had the opposition very nicely lined up and, as they tired from their early exertions, Jaden was able to capitalise by using his finishing speed to move up to 5th place.
An outstanding English Schools’ debut, and another fantastic demonstration that Jaden is a big race competitor. Also in the JB race, two more bottom of age athletes making their ES debut, Jacob Harrison, 156th and Benjamin Harrison, 178th whilst Jacob Alley was 235th of the 345 finishers. To comprise half of the London squad of eight in this age group is some achievement; a tribute to James McDonald’s coaching.
Alongside the success of the Surrey IG team, the London JG team secured an excellent gold team medal. HHH was well represented in this race, with Eva Holland, Poppy Craig-McFeely and Rosie Hammond running for London, Lulu King, Dorset and Susannah Hirst, Wiltshire. Eva, bottom of age, produced an excellent run to finish 51st, and was a member of the winning London team. Poppy, also bottom of age, just missed out on the scoring team, but finished 117th, whilst Rosie Hammond was 149th, Lulu King, 237th, and Susannah Hirst, 277th of the 344 finishers.
In the SG race, Club athletes also comprised half of the London squad, and all four contributed to the London team’s excellent 6th team position, of the 37 teams. The London team was led home by the rapidly improving Julia Tomczak who secured an excellent bronze medal behind the two step sisters Khahisa Mhlanga and Jodie Judd.
I have to declare a conflict of interest in reporting on the next athlete, Ella Newton. Having felt that she had moved on significantly over the winter, I have discussed with her the need to commit more at the beginning of races. Ella certainly did that and was with the lead group of ten for half of the race. During the latter stages she drifted off the back and some runners went by, but she held onto 17th place which was by far her best performance so far on the national stage. Two more bottom of age athletes, Zoe Tompkins and Tatiana Cooke were the next London finishers in 90th and 99th position, whilst Kate Brown completed an outstanding clean sweep of six consecutive English Schools’ Cross Country Championship appearances, finishing 113th of the 301 field.
The London Girls’ teams were second in the aggregate team scores JG, IG and SG, behind Surrey, with Club athletes contributing to the successes of the two strongest teams in England.
The remaining two Herne Hill athletes were Oscar Millard, IB, 149th of 338 finishers, and Laurie Pope, SB, 174th of 324 finishers.
To represent your county or London in the English Schools is a fantastic achievement, and one that will remain with athletes for the rest of their lives. Winning or a podium finish does not guarantee stardom, but many who have done so have gone onto great things. Equally, there are examples of athletes who have finished in the 100s and 200s who have subsequently become internationals. Grit, determination and perseverance will enable an athlete to achieve much. Well done to all who raced at these Championships and to another excellent winter season for the Club’s young athletes.
Our very best wishes to Charlotte and Jaden when competing for England next weekend. We will be thinking of you.
Keith Newton, 19 March 2017