Witton Park , Blackburn, was the venue for the 55th English Schools’ Cross Country Championships. The course was described as ‘challenging with a varied course taking in parkland and hilly farmland skirting some beautiful woodland…’ It did not disappoint any who believe that cross country running should be about hills, mud (but not a mudfest) and fast running sections. Some lost their shoes and fell over, often at the relatively narrow penned start, where 300 plus in most races made the fast dash before a couple of 90 degree turns after 400 metres.
The James McDonald led revolution at Herne Hill Harriers has meant that we have become accustomed to seeing many who normally wear the red and black turning out in what, for a lot of the young athletes, is the highlight of the cross country calendar. This year there were 17 HHH athletes, very few clubs will have rivalled that number. It is easy to take for granted the fact that every year London and county teams feature our athletes in droves. We should not forget the days when getting one or two to this level of competition was considered a triumph.
Most races were dominated by the favourites who were expected to fill podium places. An unknown at this level and the highlight for the Club’s athletes, was Mohamed Mohamud’s brilliant 9th place which secured him a first reserve slot for the Schools’ international in Ireland next weekend. I had an inkling that he was a real prospect, when over the Christmas period I struggled to hold onto him running 18.30 for 5km on the hilly and wet streatham common. I had no doubt on that day that this was a big talent, and he showed glimpses of this since, most recently at the inter counties, but his English Schools run was a major breakthrough onto the big stage. The fast flat sections evidently suited his flowing style, but he combined this with some superb hill running.
Following Mohammed home and contributing to London’s 10th team placing were Turkay Kormaz (great to see this massive talent racing again and combining his football trials with high level cross country) in 28th, and Oscar Millard (bottom of age) in 41st. Mohammed Ali finished in 326th.
The junior girls’ race also had four HHH athletes, albeit two wore the jet black of London whilst the other two were wearing the royal blue and white of Berkshire. Alex Brown had high hopes of a top finish and an England vest after a fantastic season, but had one of those days that we have all had where things do not go to plan. It is to her great credit that Alex completed the race and contributed to an 8th team spot for London, finishing in 86th. She will bounce back stronger and is a great inspiration to all of our youngsters. Eimear Griffin had her best run of the winter with an excellent 29th place, a real return to the level she achieved during the 2013/14 season, and fellow Berkshire athlete Clarissa Nicholls (bottom of age) finished a superb 40th place. Between them, Lucy Olsen had a very strong run to finish 36th, underlining the strength that HHH have in this age group.
The highest team placing for London was 7th in the intermediate girls, where three HHH athletes contributed to the scoring 6. Zoe Tompkins had an excellent run with one shoe to finish 62nd, followed within five seconds by Kate Brown in 69th, and Ella Newton in 75th. Both Zoe and Ella are bottom of age, as is Tatiana Cooke who, having fallen at the start, picked herself up and finished in 140th.
Feysal Nadew, who enjoys the speed of the track more than the mud and hills, finished in 294th in the intermediate boys, whilst it was great to see the return of three HHH athletes who have missed all or much of the winter, Laschelles Hussey (Middlesex) in 79th, Ed Olsen in 113th and Billy Black in 208th. Nathan Bekele produced one of his best runs so far as he moved through the field on this three lap (and three big hills) course, finishing 125th.
Overall, a fine end to the cross country season with a great HHH representation. Well done to all and an enjoyable way to spend my 52nd birthday!
Keith Newton, March 2015