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wins for vernon and steel at liverpool cross challenge

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Andy Vernon

23 November 2013

The 2013-14 British Athletics Cross Challenge Series moved on to Liverpool today (Saturday 23 November) as the UK’s best cross country runners descended on Sefton Park to battle it out for a place on the GB & NI team for the European Cross Country Championships, which will be held in Belgrade on 8 December.

On a cold but dry afternoon the running was fast for the large part and there were four repeat winners from last month’s Cross Challenge opener in Bristol. It was Andy Vernon (coach: Nic Bideau) and Gemma Steel (John Nuttall) who came out on top in the senior races. The top under 23s were Charlotte Purdue (Mick Woods) and Jonny Hay (Woods), whilst the under 20 races were won by Emelia Gorecka (Woods) and Jonathan Davies (Rob McKim).

Senior Men: 9.8km

Andy Vernon, undefeated in the UK this winter, powered away from the gun, opening up a gap of over 20 seconds by halfway. A big group containing all of the main contenders, including last year’s winner Jonny Taylor, could only race for second place from the off.

With a lap to go Keith Gerrard (Art Acevedo) led the chasing group as Vernon moved further ahead. His winning margin was such that he was able to celebrate for much of the finishing straight before crossing the line in 28:47; a very quick time for this course.

20 seconds adrift, Jonny Hay (Woods), an under 23, overhauled Gerrard to finish second overall in 29:04 and indeed there were a swarm of under 23s occupying seven of the top 11 positions. Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) was next senior in fifth overall (29:13), followed by Andrew Butchart (Derek Easton) in 11th, Frank Tickner (Clive Thomas) in 12th and Jonathan Thewlis in 13th.

Vernon, who won this race for the third time in four years, said: “The high fiving was something I’ve always wanted to do; there’s not many races where you have enough room in the bag to do that. It was nice to be relaxed up the home straight and not have to worry about sprinting for the win.

“I wanted to make it an honest hard race. The Europeans isn’t going to be easy so I wanted to emulate that and push myself hard.”

Under 23 Men: 9.8km

Incorporated into the senior men’s race, the first under 23 to cross the line was Jonny Hay in second place overall with a time of 29:04.

Hay edged ahead of second under 23 Richard Goodman (Woods) in the home straight, before a further four under 23s were separated by just 20 seconds in positions 6-9 overall; Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins) was third (29:13), Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) fourth (29:23), Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden) fifth (29:27) and Jack Goodwin sixth (29:33).

Afterwards, Hay said: “Coming into the race I felt pretty good to be honest - last weekend would have been perfect to compete but I had a bit of a bumpy week this week and didn’t feel great but coming here I wanted to be top six overall.

“I obviously wanted to be up there in the under 23s but I knew the under 23s was going to be tough today, and as we saw they were all piled in there. I thought I’d come out here, race hard, and see how high I could get up.”

Senior Women: 8.1km

There was a highly competitive senior women’s race combined with the under 23s but it was Gemma Steel who won her first Liverpool title after a decisive move in the last quarter of the race allowed her to pull away to win by 12 seconds in a time of 26:36.

A lead group of four emerged at the halfway point with Steel leading Lauren Howarth (self-coached), Charlotte Purdue and Steph Twell (Woods). After Steel moved away, under 23 Purdue made second place her own with Twell finishing third. Lily Partridge (Woods), also an under 23, clinched fourth on the line ahead of Howarth, whilst Katie Brough (Andrew Carter) was fourth senior, sixth overall.

Steel was overjoyed to pick up her first win at Sefton Park: “It’s the first time I’ve won here so I’m really pleased, it went well. As my first cross country race of the season I was a bit tentative getting out there but it wasn’t too different to road running today so it suited me really well.

“I made my move with about two miles to go and I knew that if I pushed hard I could get away.”

Under 23 Women: 8.1km

As part of the senior women’s race, Purdue was a clear first in the under 23 category, coming second overall in a time of 26:48. Behind her in the under 23 race, Lily Partridge was second before a fast finishing Rhona Auckland (Joyce Hogg) was third, Jess Andrews (Woods) fourth, and London 2012 Olympian Laura Weightman (Steve Cram) was fifth.

Making her first cross country appearance since the World Cross Country Championships in March 2011, Purdue was pleased with her return:

“It was my first cross country since 2011 but I didn’t feel too rusty. Mick’s training replicates cross country courses very well; on a Sunday we do 10km sessions which are just like this course so it really prepared me well. I didn’t feel nervous at all, I felt really relaxed and was just excited to race.”

Under 20 Men: 6.7km

Jonathan Davies continued his superb recent form with a comfortable victory in the under 20 men’s race. In the opening kilometre it was local athlete Nzimah Akpan (Adrian Webb) who led but by the end of the first lap pre-race favourite Davies had made his way to the front alongside Alex Short (Lisa Pickering) at the head of a huge group.

In the second lap Davies made his presence felt and opened up a gap that continued to grow all the way to the finish, crossing the line 13 seconds ahead of the rest in 20:12.

Davies said: “I felt pressure to an extent but it’s nice to come in as favourite. I know from last year you can go off too hard and die.

“My coach told me to bide my time in the group and when I made my move to make it decisive so I put the pressure on and managed to get away. I’ll head to Serbia with high hopes of a medal.”

There were a number of exciting battles behind Davies though; Matt Shirling (Webb) of Liverpool Harriers moved clear in second on home turf, whilst Short fought with Zak Miller for third place. Short eventually held off Miller for third, as well as the quick finishing Michael Callegari (Nadeem Sheikh) who was fifth.

Under 20 & Under 17 Women: 4.4km

Emelia Gorecka won her third consecutive junior women’s Liverpool Cross Challenge title in typically dominant style. The 19 year old was part of an early group that also consisted of her Aldershot teammate Amy Griffiths (Woods), Bristol winner Lydia Turner (Thomas Millmore) and Bobby Clay (Peter Mullervy).

On the second lap triathlon specialist Georgia Taylor-Brown (Paul Roden) joined the leaders but Gorecka pushed on to quickly open up a winning lead and cross the line in a time of 14:27. Taylor-Brown worked hard to secure second place with a 12 second margin to Turner, third overall in 12:51, and first in the under 17 category. Griffiths finished strongly to place fourth and Clay clinched the last automatic selection spot for the Europeans in fifth place.

Gorecka, who has finished third, first and second at the last three European Cross Country Championships, was delighted with her performance and believes that it bodes well in her bid to win back her European title in Belgrade in two weeks’ time.

“It was really good,” she said. “I felt awesome out there. Every race I’ve done has been geared to this and every session has been geared to it so it was good to come here and feel good.

“I spent the first half of the race settling in and warming up a bit and then once I got out onto the second lap I legged it and just focussed on getting a good leg turnover. I know in two weeks it’s going to be a really quick race so I thought I wanted to surge mid race and I felt really good.”

Elsewhere…

In the first races of the day, the under 11 boys and girls, there were wins for Ethan Hussey (Andrew Henderson) and Georgia Fazakerly. Grace Copeland (Bob Smith) of Wimborne AC and Luke Davies of (Phil Manning) won the under 13 races while the under 15 races were won by Ben Dijkstra and Sabrina Sinha (Mark Newell). The under 17 women’s race was won by Lydia Turner (see above) and the under 17 men’s race was won by Elliott Bowker (Andrew Carter), who also took victory in Bristol.

Full results are available here, and why not try and spot yourself in our highlights video at: www.youtube.com/britishathleticsTV.

The series continues at the Antrim Cross Challenge on 4 January 2014, Cardiff on 19 January 2014 and concluding with the British Athletics UK Cross Challenge Final and UK Inter Counties in Birmingham on Saturday 8 March 2014.

For full details, including the breakdown of prize money which exceeds £30,000 in total, check out the Cross Challenge section on the British Athletics website.

To view the British Athletics selection policies for the 2013/14 cross country season, click here.