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Steve Vernon
Vernon - top Brit in Belfast

 

23 January 2010

Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham & District) and Jess Sparke (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) further proved their cross country credentials with podium finishes in the penultimate round of the McCain UK Cross Challenge series – the Antrim cross Challenge.

Vernon, 2009 UK Inter Counties champion and victorious in the Cardiff leg of the challenge a week ago (17 January), ran a very smart race over 9km to overtake Mexico’s Juan Barrios for the second spot on the final lap having chased him down over the opening four laps.

“I stepped back from Barrios and played a patience game to come home strongly,” said Vernon who made his way through the field from fifth in the early stages to second in 28:40. “I’m on a bit of a roll just now you could say, although that was a much higher quality field than Cardiff.”

“Obviously the World Cross trials are my target, but I have a couple of indoor races lined up, and then in April I go out to the States to do a 5k and 10k on the track – my priority for the summer is the Europeans in Barcelona followed by the Commonwealths, but I’m not sure over what distance yet.”

Kenyan Winner Mike Kigen, a 12:58 5000m athlete, was immense from start to finish, extending his lead from around 20 seconds at the half way point to 51 seconds at the finish (27:49), with Barrios – a 2008 Olympic 5000m finalist - in third (28:51).

In an almost identical demonstration of front running, Ireland’s Mary Cullen, making up for her disappointment in the European Cross Country Championships, was the runaway victor in the women’s race in a manner more associated with European Cross champion Hayley Yelling-Higham.

2009 European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist Cullen took off from the gun and had a gap of almost 40m at the end of the first lap ahead of Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics and Fionnnaula Britton, with Jess Sparke, European under-23 bronze medallist, in fourth.

Cullen’s lead grew in the latter stages of the race and she eventually finished 30 seconds clear of second for the home-win over 5.4km (18:45).

Sparke, who has had an outstanding winter, was an excellent third in 19:26 behind Kalovics (19:16). “It was a great race to be in,” she said. “I felt really strong all the way and now, with the World Cross trials coming up, I just need to keep healthy and injury free.”

“My confidence is growing and I’m starting to feel more and more confident,” she continued. “I was gaining on Aniko a bit and I really tried to chase her down. I’d been excited coming into the race – I knew I was getting closer and closer to Hayley (Yelling-Higham) after my performance in Edinburgh and I’m pleased to have bettered that today.”

Yelling-Higham finished fifth in 19:39.

Scotland’s Sarah Inglis (Lothian RC), competing in the Celtic Cross Country International, was the brilliant winner of the women’s under-20 3.6km race.

Inglis, who survived a horrific car accident in October 2009, was competing in only her second race back following a return to training prior to Christmas. She had a 20m lead at the end of the opening lap, extending her lead to nearly 80m with 800m to go.

“I’ve only had one race back before this,” she said. “I thought I was in decent shape and that I should give it a go, but I’ve not been doing track sessions and I wasn’t really able to judge my times or overall fitness, I can’t actually believe it; it just feels so good to be back racing.”

She was the clear winner in 13:41 ahead of Scottish team mate Beth Duff (East Kilbride) in second (13:48) and third placed Imogen Wolsey (Team Bath), the first under-17 (13:50).

This is Wolsey’s first season of competitive running and her Antrim victory follows a fourth place finish in Cardiff a week ago (17 January).

Callum Hawkins (Kilbarchan) was the brilliant winner in the men’s under-20 5.4km race, also taking the Celtic Cross Country honours.

The European Youth Olympic Festival 3000m gold medallist was in contention from the gun, but didn’t break clear until the final lap, eventually racing clear for a ten second victory (17:36) ahead of Wales’ Dewi Griffifth (Carmarthen Harriers), in second (17:46) - a repeat of his Cardiff performance - and his team mate Ross Matheson (Lasswade AAC) – unbeaten in the McCain UK Cross Challenge as an under-17 in the 2009/10 series to date, but stepping up an age group for international duties today – in third (17:57).

“I felt better today that I have done lately,” said Hawkins, who was an Aviva Great Britain & Northern Ireland junior team gold medallist at the European Cross in Dublin. “I sat off Dewi in the early stages but I took it on in the final lap. The European Cross was a solid performance but my target now is the Worlds.”

Full results can be downloaded below