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UK Cross Challenge Birmingham preview

Senneleys Park
Action From Last Year

A total of 699 athletes have signed-up to begin chasing this winter’s UK Cross Challenge prize pot of more than £9,500 at the first meeting in this winter’s series in Senneleys Park, Birmingham, on Saturday 28 October.

 

Chief among the entries at the first meeting of the 10th season of Cross Challenge series are the 2004 European Cross Country Champion Hayley Yelling, her successor as UK Challenge Senior Women’s Champion Hatti Dean, reigning English National Senior Men’s Champion Peter Riley, the British Athletics Writers’ Association Junior Athlete of the Year Sian Edwards and a host of athletes who relish the hills – and even the contentious stream – for which this course is famous.

 

Here’s a quick run through all the races…

 

11.50am: Under 13 Girls 2.5km (55 entries): Aldershot, Farnham and District duo Emilia Gorecka and Ruth Haynes return to the second city in search of a second success in consecutive weekends after earning medals at last weekend’s ERRA Nike National Young Athletes’ Road Relays. One notable absentee from the entry list is Naomi Speake (Bristol and West), who set a Road Relay course record that suggested she could be a prize contender among the Under 15s at many meetings. But there will still be quality opposition: three of the four athletes above Gorecka in the Power of 10 Under 13 Girls’ 1500m rankings for this summer are in the entry – Georgia Bell (Ealing, Southall and Middlesex) and Emily Fitzhugh (Westbury Harriers) and Georgia Peel (Woking).

 

12.05pm: Under13 Boys 3km (39 entries): Thomas Purnell (Stroud AC), second in the Power 10 1500m rankings this summer, is among a field for whom this Challenge will be a great adventure into the unknown.

 

12.20pm: Under 15 Girls 3km (81 entries): Kate Avery (Shildon RC) bids to repeat her victory of last year in a field that also includes two of the outstanding Under 13s from last winter, Melissa Hawtin (Oxford City) and Katie Holt (City of Stoke).

 

12.35pm: Under 15 Boys 3km (74 entries): The favourite could well be Nathan Young (Mendip AC), a winner of a couple of Cross Challenge races as an Under 13 two years ago, ranked 2nd at 1500m and 3rd at 3000m in the Power of 10 Under 15 lists this summer, and the joint-fastest individual at last weekend’s ERRA Nike National Young Athletes’ Road Relays. But there are several more in the field who has tasted Challenge success – including the reigning Under 13 Champion Ben Connor (Ripley RC).

 

1.05pm: Under 17 and IAAF Junior Women 4km (84 Under 17 and 48 Junior entries): Who would have thought that the asthma sufferer who crossed the line in 15th place in this race last year would become the British Athletics Writers’ Association Young Female Athlete of 2006? Sian Edwards (Kettering Town Harriers) learnt to control her asthma so successfully that she won last winter’s Inter-Counties and English National titles and went on to finish 10th in the Junior Women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Japan, then finished 6th in the 5000m final at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing, China, in the summer.

 

Others among the entry with this winter’s major Championships in their sights include Stacey Johnson (Cannock and Stafford), a Cardiff Challenge winner as an Under 17; Olivia Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield), who is determined to follow sister Laura into the GB Junior set-up; Ellie Sprake (Ipswich Harriers), who enjoyed Under 17 successes last year; and Sarah Waldron (Gloucester AC / Birmingham University), who won last winter’s Belfast Challenge Under 20 race.

 

1.30pm: Under 17 Men 5km (81 entries): The Cross Challenge’s potential to ease athletes through the age groups is proven by the appearance among the entries of Nathan Bibby (Preston Harriers), Christian Booker (Halesowen) and Greg Divall (Royal Sutton Coldfield) who all won the 2002-2003 Challenge races as Under 13s, plus Ross Millington (Stockport Harriers), who enjoyed Under 15 successes in 2004-2005.

 

1.55pm: Senior Women 6km (90 entries): If Hayley Yelling wins, it will make her the most successful athlete in the history of the Reebok and later UK Cross Challenge. She has already succeeded in 16 Senior Women’s races, including the last 4 over this Birmingham course. The only other athlete with as many Challenge victories is Emily Pidgeon (Gloucester AC), currently training abroad, who has scored in 7 as an Under 13, 3 as an Under 15, 2 as an Under 17, 3 as an Under 20, 1 as a Senior.

 

Yelling readily acknowledges that she would not have dreamt of moving out of the realms of the Chiltern League and become the European Champion it had not been for the Challenge. And she lines up on Saturday against her successor as Challenge Champion, Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield), who says: “Senneleys Park is my favourite cross country course. I even used to like the stream until I fell in it last year!”

 

Dean’s most persistent rival for honours last year, Kate Ramsey is lining-up even though she has been suffering viral problems of late to such an extent that she ran for Charnwood AC C team in last Saturday’s ERRA Nike Four Stage Road Relay. Far from as fit as when she almost got into the Norwich Union GB team at last spring’s World Cross, she says: “I wasn’t going to enter the Birmingham Cross Challenge but then I saw they were still taking entries so I decided to have a little run.”

 

A similar adventurous spirit is taking Louise Damen (Poole Runners) to the start line. She won the Under 15 Girls’ race at the very first Cross Challenge meeting, at Bristol in 1997 – when only Seniors and Under 20s ran for points and prizes – and went on to win the 1997 Under 17 Inter-Counties title, 2000 Under 20 Inter-Counties title before finishing 30th on her Senior debut at World Cross Country Championships. Since then she has had “countless injuries and loads of other problems” and is just grateful to be back among the top 10 at National Road Relay standard. “The priority is to stay in one piece,” she says – and it will be intriguing to see how far such a relaxed approach takes her.

 

That said, there are some seriously in-form internationals among the entry including Wendy Jones (Cirencester AC), Susan Partridge (City of Glasgow AC), Jo Wilkinson (Bedford and County), Mary Wilkinson (Skipton) … not to mention Birmingham-based Gemma Phillips (Kendal AC) and former Challenge Champion Tara Krzywicki (Charnwood AC), who are always dangerous.

 

2.30pm: Senior and IAAF Junior Men 10km (104 Senior and 43 Junior entries): Peter Riley (Leigh Harriers), who took the Cross Challenge first prize even though he crossed the Senneleys Park finishing line in second place in 2004, is using Saturday’s race to prove his form over the country before the Norwich Union GB selectors begin to consider the format of the team for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in December.

 

Riley will miss the European Trial that is incorporated into the UK Cross Challenge Liverpool meeting on 25 November because he is running a 10km stage for the Norwich Union GB Team in the Chiba Ekiden Relay in Japan two days earlier. So this is his chance to impress the selectors who will be announcing pre-selections for the Euro Cross prior to the Liverpool races.

 

Riley, first Under 20 at the Birmingham Challenge of 1998, will be seeking his third Challenge victory as a Senior after a spell in which he has established himself as an international marathon runner.

 

Among his opposition will be his training mate Steve Vernon (Stockport Harriers), who relishes tough going and is fresh off a mountain racing campaign; Frank Tickner (Wells City Harriers), the 2001 Inter-Counties Under 17 Cross Country Champion who has already become a Senior cross country international; Mike Skinner (Blackheath and Bromley), who has won the opening Cross Challenge races of the last two winters; Tom Humphries (Cannock and Stafford), who got into the Norwich Union GB team last winter despite suffering a bad back for most of the time; Scottish Champion Simon Plummer (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies); England National Junior Champion Andy Vernon (Aldershot), the European Junior silver medallist last winter; and Keith Gerrard (Newham and Essex Beagles), who had several great battles with Vernon last year.

 

Under 20s include Inter-Counties Under 20 Champion Lee Carey (Nuneaton Harriers), the second under-17 here 12 months ago; Alex Derricott (City of Stoke AC), a winner of seven Challenge races in his progress through the younger age groups; and Nick Swinburne (Morpeth Harriers), who interrupted a promising mountain racing career last winter to earn a place in the Norwich Union GB Junior Men’s Team at the World Cross Country Championships.

 

Start lists for the Events are downloadable below: