Things came together superbly for Guernsey’s cohesive endurance squads and they emerged with 3 golds and a silver in the 4 “big’ results of the Hampshire County Championships. Individually Lee Merrien brought home gold and Sarah Mercier silver but the Sarnians underlined their growing stature with an overall win in women’s team event and for their first time ever a Men’s team victory.
The senior men’s lineup was truly impressive, with a 16-man team demonstrating Guernsey’s strength in depth. 2012 Olympian Lee Merrien, now also in the role of distance performance coach, was a clear favourite as the 180 strong field toed the line for the 12km event. It is often forgotten that Merrien’s pedigree started with British cross country representation before rising to marathon stardom, but today’s race was a clear reminder. Merrien left behind a very high-quality field to win by 40 seconds. Richard Kowenicki reached the line around 3 minutes later for 7th place, and the fleet of Guernsey runners following afterwards contributed strongly towards team gold and an exceptional victory margin with 60 points to nearest challengers Southampton’s 98, Aldershot were third. The rest of Guernsey’s 6 scoring senior men were: Matt Loveridge (9th), Richard Friedrich (12th), Mike Wilesmith (14th) and David Emery (17th). Tristan Robilliard also made the top 20. Alan Rowe (21st) had the distinction of being first V50 runner.
The absence of Nat Whitty due to injury would have significantly challenged the senior women’s team medal chances in any recent year, but a few new faces to the squad made up the deficit to allow for Guernsey gold. Louise Perrio ran her expected consistent race for 9th but 2006 European marathon champion Ulrike Maisch dug deep for 6th place and newcomer Laura McCarthy ran superbly for 11th. Unsurprisingly, defending champion Sarah Mercier was Guernsey’s top placer in second overall; however, GB International Louise Small overturned last year’s defeat to win overall with a 90 second margin. Overall, with 4 athletes in the first 11 and an individual silver, it was a good day for the senior women and the presence of several rapidly improving athletes gives further hope for future years.
After several consecutive years held at Fleming Park, 2016’s XC Champs faced a shift of venue to nearby Fairthorne Manor. The course at Fairthorne Manor was based around a golf course and campsite area laced with several technical sections through the woods. There were no major climbs but the generally undulating terrain meant that there were few flat and free-flowing sections. More significantly, heavy rainfall had left thick muddy sections throughout the course, and this was amplified throughout the day by the feet of hundreds of runners ploughing it up further. This challenging terrain made going tough but worked to the favour of stronger runners.
Prior the the senior events Guernsey’s youngsters were first up and performed well across the age groups. Jack Le Tissier placed 7th in the U11 boy’s race. The U11 girls managed to grab a team silver and individual gold with Vicky Hancock (1st), Summer Woodhead (3rd), Kate Bain (5th) and Megan Lilley(18th). The team unfortunately lost to City of Portsmouth by one point 27-28 although they were well clear of any other teams and show good promise for the future.
As the day continued and the older athletes took the stage the results continued to roll in. In the U15 boys race, recurrently dominated by established athletes Lachlan Wellington and Zakariya Mahamed, Guernsey cyclist and runner Sam Culverwell went off bravely with the two runners regarded as the UK’s top pairing and was rewarded with a hard earned bronze medal.
In a small but high-quality U17 men’s race, Ed Mason was one of a group of five well-known Hampshire competitors pushing the pace together in the early stages. Mason held on to place 4th. The ensuing series of close finishes saw Alex Rowe and Sammy Galpin take 11th and 12th place respectively. Although without a fourth runner to close the team, it was still a great result for our juniors.
Katie Rowe won bronze in the U20 women’s race. In the U20 men’s race, contested among the senior races, Danny Ray won an impressive race to work up a 40-second gap and take gold. Ray’s team-mates Dan Galpin and Jamie Ingrouille both made the top 10; unfortunately, there was no fourth runner available to complete the team.
This weekend saw great success overall, rewarding the athletes who have put in many weeks of specific training geared towards the event. Several athletes have earned themselves potential spaces in the Inter Counties XC in March or other highly competitive XC events; for others the shift may fall to road racing or local XC competition.
Full results & images http://www.hampshireathletics.org.uk/events/xcc.html
First image courtesy of Paul Hammond, balance J PBisson.